This was until I discovered citizenM hotels, and notably their hotel in Bankside, London. Rooms start from £109, have free wifi, soft king-size beds, rain showers, a 24/7 canteen and the sort of quirky, trendy interiors that make me want to redecorate my whole house. So what's the catch? I went all Hotel Inspector and hopped on a train to London to find out.
Their Bankside hotel is located in a quiet street on the southern bank of the Thames, about a 7 minute walk from Southwark tube station - a great base for exploring London from. I love Bankside and Southbank; with the Tate Modern, Globe Theatre, Borough Market and lots of great restaurants, bars and pubs on your doorstep, you could spend a weekend exploring without having to stray too far from the hotel.
When we strolled into the lobby, I did have a bit of a 'wow' moment. It's hard to not be impressed by the contemporary décor - all retro seating and lighting, quirky ornaments and books and brightly coloured murals. The lobby expands into a bar area, huge seating area with computers, canteen and seating area for eating. It's such a funky open space, buzzing with people grabbing a beer, eating lunch, holding meetings or tapping away on laptops.
Slow check-ins are an absolute bugbear for impatient me (me, who frowned and huffed incessantly last week when queueing for about 10 minutes to check into a hotel at Heathrow) but to say this was a breeze would be an understatement. A bank of computers allowed me to tap in my surname, and it instantly recognised my booking, notified me of the cost and spat out my room key. Friendly, chatty hotel staff were also there to help if there were any issues. The whole time we were there, the staff constantly said hello and asked if we needed anything and wished us a good stay (I don't think I've experienced such positive, warm hotel staff before).
Armed with our room keys, we took the lift up to our room. I must admit that at this point I was prepared for the 'catch' to be the room itself - with such an impressive lobby and check-in facility they had to scrimp somewhere, and I was sure that the room size would be it. I was pleasantly surprised upon opening the door however - and immediately struck by the great use of space, and again the stylishness of the interior. Soft lighting filled the room with a purple glow (more on this later), and whilst the room wasn't huge by anyone's standards, everything had been thought of, and had a place.
The shower and toilet were contained in a 'pod' - a sort of separate compartment in the room - but the shower was a huge rain shower (and - a small thing, but the AM and PM shower gels, one to 'revitalise' and one to 'relax' smelled just amazing).
The king sized bed was at the foot of the room, with the TV hung on the wall at the foot of the bed. The whole foot of the room was also a floor to ceiling window, giving views down into the atrium below (you have to make sure you shut the blinds before you get changed as you can see into other people's rooms!)
But here's the really cool bit... the whole of the room, from the blinds to the temperature, the TV channels to the lighting, is all controlled by an iPad that sits neatly on your bedside table.
You see that colour wheel on the iPad? That's how you change all the colours of the lighting in the room, how cool is that? There's also preset settings like 'Business Meeting' or 'Movie Night', which adjust all the lighting, blinds and TV for you. Hitting movie night lowered the blinds, dimmed the lights and meant we could access their huge bank of movies to watch (at no extra cost) on the widescreen TV. There were tons of really recent movies - we settled in on the comfy bed and watched Straight Outta Compton; it felt so cosy and relaxing (the hotel is also incredibly quiet and there's no road noise, nor did we ever hear any noise from the other rooms). One more thing - if you use Apple TV you can also use that in the room, and there's free wifi throughout the hotel - such a bonus for people who resent paying £5 a day for wifi when you've already paid for the hotel (that's whingy old me again!)
We had arranged to meet some friends who live in London at the hotel bar for a drink before heading out for drinks and dinner. I hopped in the rain shower whilst getting ready - it was the perfect temperature and pressure and the towels were fluffy and soft - no complaints here!
The bar itself is similarly cool, with a reasonably priced cocktail menu and a wide selection of wine and beers.
You can just see the 'canteenM' behind the bar area. It's a big open plan 'larder' and hot food area stocked with sandwiches, salads, sushi and a hot dish. Whilst we were there the dinner dish was a curry - we didn't have it but it looked delicious. You can serve yourself from here 24/7 - there's also an M&S Food right across the road from the hotel if you want to do a Percy Pigs run!
We had planned to go out for more drinks with our friends, but with the great selection of drinks, comfy seats and great atmosphere we ended up just staying at the hotel bar! (There's a stash of board games in case you get bored - but we didn't have to crack open the Cards of Humanity as we were having lots of fun just catching up and enjoying the ambience - and the wine).
We returned to our room and, I must admit, had a great night's sleep - it was just so quiet! (We had a courtyard facing room, which I would definitely recommend - although it's generally quite a quiet area so I imagine you'd find the same for the majority of rooms there). Although the hotel was already majorly ticking my boxes, I was holding out for the breakfast before I made my final assessment, and I fell asleep dreaming of croissants and bacon and eggs....
The breakfast is available for £13.95 per person, and included a huge selection of warm pastries and jams, yoghurt, muesli or cooked breakfast items (the usual fare - hash browns, tomatoes, bacon, eggs etc). I loved the really unique touches, like the Lemon and Earl Grey Marmalade - it felt more like an independent organic café than a hotel chain breakfast.
We settled into the cool seating area with our feast of a breakfast and reflected on our stay. It's fair to say we both absolutely loved the citizenM Bankside (and if you think I'm over-egging this then just check out their TripAdvisor reviews - it's ranked 67 of over 1000 hotels in London). We both agreed that it was cool but not so cool that you didn't feel at home in the bar in jeans and a t-shirt - just comfortable and quirky, with happy, friendly staff and a great atmosphere. I'm not normally one for sitting alone in public places, but I'd be happy to curl up in a chair with a book or my laptop and sip a green tea all afternoon in their lobby area. It's just that kind of place where you feel content to just sit and watch the world go by.
As much as I want to be a stern and unforgiving Hotel Inspector, I couldn't fault the citizenM Bankside Hotel. From the handwritten note in my room welcoming me to the hotel - to the fact that I never saw a member of staff without a big smile on their face, it felt welcoming and warm; just what you want from a London hotel stay. I'll definitely be returning, and I'd have no hesitation in recommending - make sure you bookmark it for your next London hotel stay!
Prices for rooms start at £109 - as an example, a room next Saturday 19th is £135. Breakfast is £13.95 per person. I was offered a hotel stay in exchange for a review, but all opinions are my own.