Self-catering is often seen as a good budget move for a week or two on happy hols with lots of time to play with.
But how about for a night or two near the heart of London, when time can be a bit tight?
Sounds like hard work, especially after driving 200-odd miles to get there, but the plus points far outweighed any minus ones.
The first and most obvious plus about staying in the Marlin Apartments in Empire Square was the location just south of the River Thames, around three minutes from Borough station on the Underground’s Northern Line, and only about ten minutes from London Bridge station, just along Borough High Street, giving access to the Jubilee Line as well.
I had to be in Camden within an hour of getting to London from my home in the Pennines, so after registering with Marlin’s 24-hour concierge and parking my car in its pre-booked, on-site underground bay, it was a gentle stroll to Borough station to pick up an Oyster card to cover two days’ travel.
Once that was bought, along with free advice on how to get a refund for any unused amount, it was only a matter of minutes before we boarded a regular-as-clockwork Tube train (no strike that day!) for a painless trip to my recording studio date in Camden, renowned as one of the liveliest parts of the capital.
Job done, it was out into the vibrant atmosphere of Camden High Street and Market and its mad,eclectic mix of shopping and circus, followed by a trip to the beach.
The beach? Yup, because someone in the bright ideas department thought it would be a wizard wheeze to have tons of fresh sand, a beach bar and loads of deckchairs on top of The Roundhouse entertainment complex just a short walk away at Chalk Farm and have holiday hits blasting out into the bargain. Cool idea, even if the weather was also a trifle cool, but a great way to relax with a drink and a chat away from the frenetic streets below.
A Tube ride back to Southwark and it was time to get a feel of our apartment before we changed and had a wander around the area.
First impression was just how handy it was to get to and once inside, how spacious it was, with everything you could want to relax and look after yourself, including a fully-equipped modern kitchen with place settings, plates, cups, glasses etc for four people, along with a dishwasher to put them in if you want to cater for yourself, plus a fridge, cooker and microwave.
As well as a very usable kitchen area, there’s a desk where you can get down to work if the occasion demands, with computer connection and free WiFi, and a lounge area where you can sit back and relax and enjoy a great view over the rooftops, with glimpses including the London Eye, Tower Bridge and the Tate Modern.
If you do want to eat in, if only for a snack before going out on the town, then there’s a handy Tesco store only yards from the front door where you can get the essentials. But if you really want to treat yourself, head just a few hundred yards down the road, past The Shard, to the delights of Borough Market, a fabulous treat for the senses that has to be near the top of any must-see list.
The range of food on offer from every corner of the world is amazing, with a great choice of home produce from this country, too, so you can buy the the makings of a sumptuous banquet to rustle up back at the apartment. The only trouble is that you’re almost spoilt for choice, although you can cut down on some of the work involved by snacking as you walk round – running the risk of giving into temptation too much and filling yourself up well before your planned dinner time.
It took iron discipline to ignore the meze and sit down with just a sweet Turkish coffee at one stall and watch the world go by for a while (although a certain Slimmers World member was seduced by some Argentinian street food from nearby Portena), but then the lure of Bedales with its 400-plus lines of wine proved too much and it was time to sit by an upturned wine cask to use as a table for a delicious bruschetta snack with goats cheese and tomatoes and a glass of pink fizz. Well, wandering around a market looking at food and drink can be hard work!
Back to Empire Square and it was decision time – do we cook, or put our epicurean delights in the fridge to take home and nip out for a meal instead?
Laziness won the day, encouraged by virtually having our own place to relax and unwind and take our time getting ready, even though it wasn’t a really dress-up occasion. But suitably washed and brushed up, we headed back towards the market, armed with a recommendation from helpful Marlin staff to try the Slug and Lettuce on Borough High Street. Not a Big City fine food establishment you might see on Masterchef, but surprisingly good, helped immeasurably by front-of-house staff Sylvia and Small Magda, who many a silver service restaurant would give their eyeteeth to have on their team. Goodness knows how many covers they had over the course of the evening, but trade was non-stop and the two of them never stop smiling and no table was left uncleaned or unattended. I haven’t been so impressed for a long time.
And you know what? The food was served hot and on time and it was very good, too, with the added bonus of well-priced wines and a Wednesday deal meaning it was two-puds-for-the-price-of-one. Total bill for a well fed and watered pair was £36, which for central London was more than reasonable, I thought.
Rates for staying at the apartment were competitive too, with other Marlin locations to choose from, all of them handy for transport links and with a choice of bedrooms suitable for singles, couples or families going mob-handed where self-catering really comes into its own.
The Marlin website is worth taking a good look at, because you can pinpoint just where you want to be in relation to various spots across town, such as near Tower Bridge, Aldgate, St Paul’s, Limehouse and Canary Wharf, and how you can easily reach them by bus or Tube, even if you’re a stranger or don’t get to London very often, as in my case.
WARNING: Do watch out for pickpockets, masquerading as Transport for London. In my naivety, I chose to drive into town and just set my sat-nav without giving the Congestion Charge a thought. It’s just for Londoners, right? Wrong!
I drove my low-emission Prius along Southwark Street to get to the apartments’ private parking, left the car there for two days and used the Tube; then two days later, did the journey in reverse. Imagine my delight at getting a Congestion Charge fine of £65 for the trip in, followed by another £65 demand a couple of days later for the trip back out.
Thanks, London, for being so welcoming. How many out-of-towners must fall into that trap every day, especially at holiday time? The need to pay the small change in advance really should be flagged up more, because it could mean your budget trip costs more than a weekend in Majorca.
Marlin Apartments has six prime locations with 24-hour reception across the centre of London and the City, with more than 700 serviced apartments for business or leisure, all within 5 minutes of the Underground; with short stays from one night as well as long-term lets.
Prices start from just £100 at Empire Square London Bridge and from £220 at Canary Wharf.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7378 4840