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The South Bank is home to a sleek new venue. Louise Troy pays a visit to the Park Plaza County Hall and finds plenty to impress behind the hotel’s acres of glass
It’s a cold, crisp spring afternoon and here I am just 10 minutes away from Waterloo station, bathed in sunlight and pleasantly warm too. Where am I? In the atrium of the South Bank’s new events venue, the £100m Park Plaza County Hall, which opened on 1 February.
The whole building is a testament to the beauty of glass, showing how it can bring light and colour to any landscape. It’s everywhere: large panes cover the entire front of the hotel, giving passers-by the chance to see into the futuristic atrium and the mezzanine restaurant and lounge.
Step inside, and there are glass lifts overlooking the building’s hollow core, ready to take you up to the huge glass skylight 14 floors above. And the restaurant, Spectrum, is so named because the light coming through the glass frontage splits into the colours of the rainbow as it crosses the dining room.
It all looks fantastic, but surely keeping it clean must rival painting the Forth Bridge as one of the country’s most relentless tasks? ‘It’s basically non-stop,’ says Chris McFall, director of sales. ‘I have to resist buffing off handprints with my sleeve, because I’m going to wear out my cuffs.’ However big the Park Plaza’s window-cleaning bill, from a client’s point of view, it’s worth every penny. Most of the hotel’s 398 rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, with many overlooking Big Ben and the London Eye. The venue’s six meeting and function spaces are similarly bathed in natural daylight – a huge asset for event organisers.
Better still, it’s triple-glazed – and a good job too, as the traffic is always busy around the hotel’s prime South Bank location. Just over the road is the site of what will be the newest addition to the brand, the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge. When this opens in two years’ time, it will have a staggering 1,000 bedrooms and a subterranean ballroom that will hold 1,200 people.
Park Plaza County Hall’s rooms fall into four categories: superior, studio, junior suite and penthouse. There are seven of the latter, and McFall is keen to point out their events potential. Each luxury apartment has a private balcony that can hold up to 30 people for a cocktail reception or summer barbecue.
Fourteen floors up, the roar of traffic fades to a murmur, and the building itself shelters you from the prevailing wind. The rest of the events space is more conventional, but no less functional.
There are six meeting rooms (four on the first floor and two on the second), which come in pairs, separated by a sliding screen to make them more flexible.
As you’d expect in a new build, the meeting rooms are all equipped with Wi-Fi, blackout curtains and the latest audiovisual equipment, including mounted plasma screens. They are decorated in the hotel’s signature colours, fuschia and turquoise, which you can see on everything from the bellboys’ shirts to the lights on the pillars outside.
The catering doesn’t let the side down either. Walking into the Millennium Suite, I find the leftovers of a buffet lunch. There are no sad sandwiches with curled-up edges here: instead, square glass plates are laden with crisp salads and fresh fruit, with chocolate brownies and shot glasses of raspberry coulis for pudding. The buffet and banqueting menu comes from the team that runs the Spectrum restaurant, and the emphasis is on fresh, seasonal modern European food.
‘We’re starting out quite focused with the food,’ notes McFall. ‘By restricting the menus slightly, we can make sure we do the simple things right.’ More delicacies are laid out in the Executive Lounge, on the second floor. It serves buffet meals throughout the day, and can be used as a breakout space or an events venue in its own right. The L-shaped room can hold 70 for a drinks reception, and there’s a sheltered, triangular balcony to make the most of summer evenings.
The lounge on the mezzanine layer of the atrium can also be used as a breakout space or for delegate registration, while the whole foyer is occasionally pressed into service as a party venue. At the opening night party, for example, 250 guests circulated throughout the restaurant, bar and lounge. They had a chance to appreciate the hotel at night, when it transforms from a venue that’s focused on light, to one that’s all about colour. The pillars outside the atrium light up in pink and blue, and there are ‘light bars’ installed above Spectrum restaurant. These can be programmed to flash, pulse and glow in any colour – particularly useful for companies looking to give a subtle branding touch to a corporate dinner.
It’s just as well the team behind Park Plaza County Hall is focused and professional, because the building itself has such a colourful, light-hearted feel. On the way down from the penthouses, McFall and I have to wait an unusually long time for a lift.
When it arrives, there are a couple of holidaymakers and their two children inside. They’ve clearly been going up and down in the lift just for the fun of it, scaring themselves by watching the 14 floors drop away beneath them. I’d normally be tut-tutting over this parental indulgence, but in this hotel, with these views, I almost want to join them.
Address: 1 Addington Street, SE1 7RY
Tel: 020 7769 2477
Email: [email protected]
Number of function rooms: 6
Putney Suite (35/30/35)
Westminster Suite (30/20/30)
Millennium Suite (60/40/60)
Battersea Suite (30/30/30)
Vauxhall Suite (37/30/37)
Lambeth Suite (25/20/25)
Contact: Chris McFall, director of sales
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Spring 2008.