Review: The Halkin, London

The Halkin
The Halkin

The Halkin, London
Room type: COMO Suite
Duration: 9th > 12th November
Booked with: Andrew Harper

Needing somewhere after a late business meeting, I last stayed in The Halkin 4 years ago for a 1 night stay.  My partner joined me and both her and I walked away impressed by the decor, size of room and  in room tech.  They say a week is a long time in politics, well 4 years is multiple lifetimes in the hotel industry.  In this time something dramatic has happened at The Halkin.  Either I’ve become more of a snob (highly probable) or it’s become a steaming pile of dog turd.

Pre-sales

I did not engage with their sales team prior to booking, but did want to engage with them for the standard Stay List.   I contacted their reservations team at 22:20 to enquire who to send the Stay List onto; just 10 minutes later came a response.  So far so good. Then radio silence for 2 days.  Whoever replied that first night had clearly reached the end of their Facebook feed, but alas, Facebook is pretty sweet and keeps on giving, so I do recognise I come second to it at all times.  End of day 2 I chase them, which then results in an email just over a day later to acknowledge they’ve received my email.  Over 72 hours between sending the email and getting a response.   This really set the scene for the rest of the stay.

Getting there

A few minutes walk from Hyde Park Station, putting it in direct competition to The Lanesborough and The Berkeley, but only if we’re considering competition to mean that they both are hotels, as otherwise there’s not a lot else they have in common.

Greeted by the sliding glass doors and no doorman, I walked into their smaller-than-death (larger-than-life antithesis?  I’m trying it as a new thing) lobby and headed to check in.  What followed was the worst check-in I’d ever experienced.  First impressions count and just minutes into my The Halkin experience, everything started to collapse in on itself and I began to wonder what I was doing here, rather than The Connaught.  The member of staff, who it turns out was the Duty Manager, kept answering the phone during the entire check-in process.  It is not a way to make anyone feel welcome in any walk of life, but in luxury hospitality it must be one of the seven deadly sins, right up there with chopping Gwyneth Paltrow’s head off.  He then at least had the decency to show me to my room, but then proceeded to keep answering the phone repeatedly, which was distracting him so much that it resulted in the most underwhelming check in guide I’ve ever seen.  A lot of mumbling, a lot of references to “things” being available and a lot left for me to just work out by myself.

Are they short staffed at The Halkin or just short of the right staff?

Setting

It’s in the Asian style of The Setai in Miami, if The Setai had been built in the 1960s, never been upgraded, and slowly decayed due to some category 5 hurricane destroying it.

Reception area
Reception area

Stay List

The only other time I’ve seen less effort was by the writers of Lost in the final series.  Seeing that the COMO Suite is their top suite, there is no doubt I expected more.  Much, much more.  I put more effort into this review and I’m basically the laziest person you’ve (n)ever met.  This is not a cheap stay, so for them to offer so little is unbelievably tight.  They took the time to replace items in the minibar so there was no alcohol, but then all of them are charged for.  Would it really have been so hard to include a proper fruit bowl, some snacks and some juices?  The Goring were prepared to do this for a 1 night stay that cost 6x less than my booking at The Halkin.  Their contribution was providing some lemons, replacing sparkling water with still and putting the temperature high.  Not the stuff of dreams.

The great berries famine of 2016 has finally hit London
The great berries famine of 2016 has finally hit London

Rooms

Back in 2008, scraping together all my few pennies, I stayed in – if we’re being generous – a 3 star hotel near Alton Towers.  This was the best I could afford.  If you got as far as the carpark, bad news: you have diseases that to this day have yet to be named.  Good news: you did not enter the hotel, so you will live, on average, 6 years longer than those who did; you’re also going to be famous one day when they name a disease after you.  What I’m saying is, Chernobyl is only slightly less appealing as a holiday destination.  The Halkin makes me feel worse about myself, as I’m no longer poor and did not have to stay here.  This was an error of judgement similar to invading Russia during the winter.

Nothing feels 5 star in The Halkin.  Perhaps it would have 4 years ago, but certainly not now; certainly not under closer inspection.  The bathroom is the most illogical, badly thought out mess I have ever seen.  Clearly a design decision was taken that it was better to have a bit more space in the living room than to have a toilet that did not sit in the middle of the bathroom.  With only 1 toilet, it is advisable not to eat spicy food if you’re sharing the room with anyone.  Although the good news is that if anyone is sharing with you, they will not want to see you ever again, so great is the shame.

Bedroom
Bedroom

Walking into the COMO Suite, you can go straight on into the deranged bathroom, right into the cramped bedroom, complete with its own wardrobe that won’t close properly and a light that won’t turn off, or left into the living room, complete with decor from another century.  From the living room you can walk outside onto the outdoor balcony, feel the cool air and help you clear your head to wonder what the hell you are doing here.

Bathroom / monstrosity
Bathroom / monstrosity

Let’s take a look at some of the design decisions:

  • Touch screen, bed side table controls, which were actually used by The Lanesborough.  Tech has moved along since the 1870s and it’s time to catch up.
  • State of the art sound system that makes it sound like there’s a loud thudding coming from the bathroom all night.  Only can be upgraded to silent mode if you speak to management the next day. (No Bose or equivalent sound system)
  • Decor that looks like it was stolen from a Cambodian tourist shop
  • The bathroom, which is a whole other heap of pain
    • A single vanity.  In their top suite.  Did war break out when I wasn’t paying attention?
    • Towels my nan would be proud of
    • Shower door that doesn’t even close properly
    • Toiletries are so hard to squeeze, but luckily you’ll be so angry that it will count as therapy.  If I were a cynical man, I’d also mention that they advertise you can also purchase them.
    • Weak shower pressure
    • The shower has the floor indented to make the shower head taller, but it’s still almost touching my head.
    • Air freshener that looked like it was stolen from a janitors cupboard
  • A wooden monstrosity in the living room that completely destroys the space
  • A bed so hard Tower of London inhabitants would be terrified of it
  • Only one plug on the desk in the living room and nowhere to plug in anywhere in the bedroom.
  • Ceiling that is falling to pieces and has poor craftsmanship everywhere.

I guess they do have pretty awesome blackout blinds, so let’s give them some credit: blinds, rollerblinds and curtains is definitely going above and beyond the call of blackout duty.

Living room
Living room
Living room
Living room

So what is their value proposition?  It’s cheap and offers a good amount of space.  ~£700/n for 64sqm room in 5 star hotel in Knightsbridge – good luck getting that elsewhere.  Yet the room has nothing of note that makes it worth that cost.  I would rather stay in a 35sqm room at The Berkeley for £500/n; hell, I’d rather sleep in the lobby of The Connaught.  For once I am going to proudly boast that my photos make the hotel look better than it is, rather than the usual other way around.

Balcony
Balcony
Balcony
Balcony

When you’re relived to go back to your house which has no furniture, you know it was a bad hotel visit.

Amenities

It’s a boutique hotel.  I get it.  There isn’t much here.  But there really isn’t much here.  In fact, why am I still here?  What did I really do to deserve this?

  • A bar – perfect to drink away your sorrows
  • The same room is used for their restaurant which has the same menu as in-room dining
  • A Michelin star restaurant
  • Gym

Spa

There isn’t one, which is actually a positive, as it would only suck if they did.

The
The “air freshener”. Likely what the spa would use as a body lotion.

Activities

Each COMO Suite has its own balcony, so with enough planning, good wind conditions and a hint of luck, you can jump head first and end your suffering.

Food

Not bad, actually.  Breakfast is one of the hardest meals to get right, with only The Lanesborough and The Beaumont offering something I would choose to visit.  The Halkin will not be adding its name to that list, but it does a reasonable enough job, with reasonable enough prices.  Lunch and dinner is the same menu, but the two meals I had were surprisingly good. I would not eat here if I were not staying here, but I would not be upset at the prospect, whereas I will spend the next 4 years regretting having stayed here.  Their Michelin star restaurant, which I did not visit, is clearly so popular they offer hotel guests a 5 course tasting menu for £49.

The breakfast a la carte offering is plentiful, especially for a boutique hotel, but they’re not going to win awards for naming conventions, as they have an English Breakfast and then English breakfast as options.  One is not in fact an English breakfast, so take your pick and choose carefully.  They do not stoop to the depths of depravity by including a line to tip, so hats off there.  But then they decided to bill me £8 for drinking water in the room on departure.  48 hours later and I’m still waiting for a response as to how they can charge £8 for drinking water.

Every good at The Halkin comes with a “but”.  Even the delicious birthday cake they made came 90 minutes later than when it should have.

Iberico Ham. Not the good kind, but it's a tenner, so let's not throw stones.
Iberico Ham. Not the good kind, but it’s a tenner, so let’s not throw stones.

Service

Ignoring the Duty Manager’s wonderful introduction, it is actually quite hard for me to comment on the service, as I’ve done as much as possible to avoid being in the hotel.  During my stay I’ve twice eaten dinner at The Connaught and been out as much as possible.  My only interaction with any staff was therefore limited to room service, complaining about the non-stop banging noises coming from the bathroom, check out, lunch and once again speaking to my ol’ buddy, the Duty Manager, to ask if they could clean up the dining room table after having breakfast there.  So how did that go?  A+ for room service, really no complaints here and when I asked for breakfast to be delivered for 10:30 it was setup perfectly on my return to the room.  For the noise complaint, lots of apologies, although no attempt to offer anything for the fact that it kept me awake all night.  Then good ol’ Duty Manager.  Could he take some instructions of getting the room tidied and see it through?  Hell no.  4 hours later it was still there and I had to call down again.  I think if I’m feeling generous we’ll say they got 50% of their interactions right.

There feels nothing rude with any of the staff interactions, but none of them would be come close to falling under luxury.  Even when ordering lunch they just put the soup down and walked off without explaining anything.  Whilst checking out, our bags were taken to the front and then left for us to take to the taxi itself.  A fond fare wall and a lasting moment to remember them by.

Worth Knowing

Size isn’t everything, ladies.  That’s my pick-up line, but also applicable here.  Do you want bigger or better?  The Halkin offers good value in the size of the rooms, but poor value in everything else.  There’s also nearly no phone reception in the rooms, nor a reliable Internet connection.  Their hope is you cannot contact anyone else to complain.

The Good

  • Location
  • I guess their logo is pretty good

The Bad

  • Everything

The Luxurious

  • Generous with the space

Conclusion

A hotel is more than a room.  As I’ve repeated before, a luxury hotel is about how you feel.  The Halkin started off bad and did not really improve itself at any stage.  This is my second time in a COMO Hotel.  The first being The Metropolitan in South Beach, Miami, November 2015.  It too is highly rated in Trip Advisor and that too I took the top suite, but I checked out a day early, returned to my usual haunt of The Setai and truly appreciated it again.  Deja Vu.  I will not be giving COMO another chance.

The Halkin is all the proof that was ever needed that Trip Advisor accounts for diddly jack shit in terms of real world opinions.  Whilst it can be useful, you have no idea what the expectations of the average reviewer is, unless you really delve into it and their history.  At the time of writing, The Halkin ranks #5 for London hotels, so to have reached this ranking it seems their target audience must fulfil this criteria: 1)  never have stayed in a 5 star hotel before, so have no expectations, 2)  have an IQ lower than an Alsatian.

If you stayed in the cheapest room, had no expectations of stay lists, didn’t care about seeing your room, weren’t bothered by people talking on the phone when you check in and about the room maintaining some sense of decency, then this is the place for you.

It turns out money can buy you happiness – you just need the money to be able to afford to stay elsewhere.

Ametsa restaurant
Ametsa restaurant

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