West End welcome
It first welcomed guests in 1909 when the price of a single room with breakfast was not far off 30p in today’s money. Indeed the Strand Palace is something of a museum piece with a collection of its vintage photos and artefacts held in the V&A museum’s archives, including its 1920s revolving door and a room key recovered from a First World War trench in Normandy.
I have often walked past this 785-guestroom hotel but until now I’d never set foot inside – nor was I aware of its fascinating history.
But most immediately apparent to me as I enter the dazzling lobby with its art deco touches is the impact of a major multi-million-pound revamp.
Budge or boutique?
This has the feel of a grand Manhattan hotel or an ocean liner – all in a prime location handy both for business and leisure travel.
My deluxe double room has a classic, uncluttered and therefore relaxing design – while it is also thankfully very quiet. Furnishings, including a table and two tan leather chairs, stay in the monochrome/muted brown section of the colour chart. The bathroom has a geometric floor and a shower with controls conveniently set away from the shower head itself – none of the usual getting splashed with cold water before the water heats up. Toiletries are from The White Company.
Wining and dining
I have dinner in Haxells, a large, art deco-inspired space on the ground floor. The menu’s British Classics section offers beer-battered fish and chips and sausage and mash, while other options include steaks, sandwiches and salads. I opt for the fresh grilled tuna salad with quail’s eggs and olives and the fish comes perfectly rare in the middle. I then counteract this uncharacteristically healthy choice with a very generous portion of a tasty, ultra-sweet Eton Mess topped with a chorus of fresh berries.
Breakfast is served in the same space, where I power through the buffet. But it’s not the only in-house option – there’s also New York-style brasserie Joe Allen Restaurant. Billed as the “West End’s canteen”, its walls are lined with show posters and its brunch dishes include waffles, pancakes and the intriguing-sounding “Eggs Joe Allen”. The hotel also houses the New Zealand-influenced Sacred Café, which connects the lobby and the Strand. I also take a glimpse at the vivid jewel-like pinks, purples and blues of the bijou Gin Palace bar – whose signature cocktail is the Berry 372, a mix of “three berries, seven mint leaves and two different types of gin”.
All in all, while nobody could argue that the area is lacking in food or drink options, the hotel’s venues hold their own and are worth knowing about as hideaways from the busy streets outside.
Worth getting out of bed for
Where to start? Theatre-land, Waterloo Bridge, Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square and Somerset House are minutes away. I go for a long amble including a saunter along the South Bank as the sun starts to set. But there are also many less conventionally touristy haunts. For example, if you keep walking east you end up on Fleet Street, and shortly after that, the City, while there’s the BFI Imax on the other side of Waterloo Bridge, boasting the largest cinema screen in Britain. Transport to King’s Cross or Euston is a quick hop on the Tube, and you could take the Piccadilly line direct from nearby Leicester Square to Heathrow.
My room comes complete with publications including lifestyle mag The Covent Gardener and a book entitled Strand Palace’s 500 Hidden Secrets Of London that you can buy from reception. The latter invites you to “leave the beaten track and explore unknown and surprising places” – such as a Turkish pool hall that hosts club nights and indoor golf, and the shores of the Thames where you can “mudlark” for Roman coins.
Guest book comments
This historic hotel has earned its “palace” moniker with a striking overhaul – combined with a hard-to-beat location and signposts of under-the-radar attractions – all in all making for strong appeal to a broad range of visitors.
Double rooms at Strand Palace start from £110 per room per night. Strand Palace, 372 Strand, London WC2R 0JJ (020-7379 4737, www.strandpalacehotel.co.uk) @StrandPalace