Has another great railway hotel makeover worked out?
Disclosure: I was invited to stay at the Amba Charing Cross for review purposes by the hotel’s PR agency. Both accommodation and a meal for two were hosted on a complimentary basis. Other PR agencies, incidentally, are welcome to note this for future reference. I often need a hotel in…
There are some hotels you expect to be near the top of the Tripadvisor list for London hotels. The grand old dames that have the atmosphere and gravitas; the stylish new additions that get wall-to-wall press coverage; the classy renovations of historic favourites.
Amongst that crowd, the Amba (which was in 4th at time of research), stands out as an oddity. Where on earth has it sprung from?
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Well, a bit of further digging reveals it to be the old Charing Cross Hotel, and part of the Guoman group. It is, essentially, an old station hotel that has been tarted up and rebadged in an attempt to appeal to a different market. On the surface, this is not overly promising.
But location counts for an awful lot. The Amba is right next to the entrance to the Charing Cross Station. Not only that, it sprawls above it. And while Charing Cross isn’t the most useful of London’s stations for heading to airports or elsewhere in the country the next morning, it’s right in the heart of what most visitors have come to see. Trafalgar Square is a few strides away, Covent Garden and the West End theatres are within half a mile.
In this part of London, there are plenty of absolutely horrible hotels, all grotesquely overpriced because they can get away with it. The Amba could probably get away with hideously dated and expensive too. Let’s face it, if people are stupid enough to spend the best part of £100 watching musical theatre, they’re going to fall for pretty much anything hotel-wise.
From the outside, the Amba looks like it falls on the hip townhouse boutique side of the accommodation fence. It also looks considerably smaller than it actually is. At reception, chirpy staff bear badges with London Landmarks – from the London Eye to the Highgate Cemetery – under their names. Presumably, it’s their favourite London place, but they all seem suspiciously mainstream for that to be a true independent choice.
Drinks are offered, keys are cut and porters fly in to carry bags. They are also needed to escort guests to the room, as quite frankly the place is a maze.
On the way to the room, via two separate lifts and a bridge, the past incarnation becomes clearer. It’s all ballrooms, corridors wide enough for two ladies in comically huge Victorian dresses to pass each other, chandeliers and grand staircases. This was one of the big station hotels that had fallen on hard times. But, like those at St Pancras and Kings Cross, it has undergone a significant revamp for the 21st century.
The room itself is an executive room – reasonably sizable without approaching the level of a suite, and with a notably cloud-like superking bed as a centrepiece. There’s also a chair and fold-out sofa-bed with purple and gold floral motif patterning. The bathroom too has a decent amount of space, although much of it seems wasted, with a shower over the bath at the end, and then a lot of what seems like corridor space by the basin and toilet.
The towel rails are heated, there are robes in the wardrobe and out of the window is a decent view of the London Eye.
If this seems like an uninspiring description, that’s because there’s not an awful lot to say about the room. It is studied neutrality done well, and with a couple of excellent extra touches. On the desk, there’s an iPad provided for guest use, while both sides of the bed have an in-built plug socket and two USB ports. This is massively handy for those travelling with plenty of gadgets that need charging.
Best of all, however, is the mini bar. Which is free. Granted, the stocking of said minibar is minimalistic (chocolate, couple of local beers, small bottle of pinot grigio, crisps, two cans of Coke and two small water bottles), but it is still entirely welcome.
Dinner is an odd experience. The restaurant doesn’t quite seem to have that magic knack of pulling in guests from outside, although there are a few guests dining there. Prices are gladdeningly reasonable, however – £15.95 for the pan-roasted breast of corn-fed chicken with pancetta, girolle mushrooms, tarragon and red wine jus seems fair enough. And it tastes good without ever lurching into the territory of something to get excited about.
That’s something that sums the Amba up, really. It isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel too much. But within those confines of not rocking the boat, it does a rather good job. If the mark of a good hotel is struggling to find anything to complain about, then the Amba is a very good hotel. It is clearly designed with guests in mind, and that’s a compliment that can be paid distressingly infrequently.
Would I choose to stay there again, though? Well, that’d depend on whether it’s possible to ferret out a good rate. Booking four weeks ahead for a weeknight in August, I found advance rates of £193.80 a night. Somewhat surprisingly, that rate went up to £258 for a weeknight in January. Neither’s outrageously unreasonable for London prices, but it’s too steep to count as a great value-for-money find.
Amba. The Strand, Charing Cross. 0871 376 9012.
All content copyright David Whitley.