The Merrion Hotel Dublin – Five star luxury where expectations are surpassed
Arriving on foot at the 5 star historic Merrion Hotel might have appeared a little eccentric to say the least; after all this is one of Dublin’s most prestigious addresses and across the road from Government Buildings where our Ministers beaver away at running the country. The Concierge took my arrival in his stride. The front lobby has a gleaming marble tiled floor complete with Doric columns and a discreet desk. It is only a few short steps to the Reception which is located in one of the original drawing rooms. The layout of the Reception is impressive as it gives a much warmer welcome than some of the purpose built reception areas associated with modern hotels. It was hard to resist looking at all the paintings and interesting framed original theatre programmes on the walls as I made my way to my bedroom. I love hotels where you can meander around looking at interesting ‘tit bits’ of information. It goes without saying that my check-in was seamless, with a most pleasant young man bringing me to my room and offering to tell me a little of the hotel’s history. I listened very attentively – even though being a true Dub I had a fairly good idea of the local history.
The Merrion Hotel comprises Nos. 21, 22, 23 and 24 Merrion Street, four stunningly beautiful Georgian houses, built in mid 1760’s, which are Grade 1 Listed ensuring that their provenance remains flawless. There is no doubt that the planners of the 18th century got it right when laying out the street design. The location of the hotel is a step’s throw from the exquisite Merrion Square, one of several small parks located in the heart of Dublin city. Other nearby parks include the larger St. Stephen’s Green, which is a public park and the smaller more refined Fitzwilliam Square.
The hotel is located at the very core of the city’s world recognised cultural sector. Several of my favourite Dublin haunts are within a short walking distance; The Museum of Natural History (known locally as the Dead Zoo!) is very close. Just a little further down the road is the National Art Gallery, which has just re-opened a newly refurbished wing – so more wonderful paintings on show. Slightly further away but still within a short walking distance is the National Museum; National Library and the National Concert Hall. One cannot overlook the nearby Royal Hibernian Academy, which plays host to regular exhibitions of eclectic modern art and sculpture. It is therefore no surprise that the owners of the Merrion Hotel have over the years acquired an art collection themselves that has achieved renown. Adorning the walls throughout are paintings by some of Ireland’s best known modern artists such as Roderic O’Connor, William Leech, Jack Yeats and Mainie Jellett. This is a hotel that mirrors its captivating cultural location.
The Bedroom: The Merrion Hotel comprises 123 rooms and 19 suites. Great care has been taken to retain its rich interior and mostly Irish fabrics and antiques reflect its original architecture. The room I was allocated overlooked Government Buildings, a building made with Irish granite and Portland stone. Adorning the parapet opposite were some fascinating Allegorical statues, which brought history to life close up and personal. My bedroom, No. 284, was symmetrical with a charming configuration and large king size bed facing the two front windows. Excellent lighting from several china lampshades meant that I didn’t have to use the main light. The walls were a delicious restful shellcove soft green and the built in wardrobes in the same matching colour making the room even more spacious. Pale coloured regency style furniture, including several gilt mirrors presented a soothing ambiance. A lovely note from Peter MacCann, the consummate General Manager and excellent host, made me feel very special. So did the fruit and a ‘pressie’ of some pots of jam and relish from their ‘Pantry’. In addition to the ubiquitous television carefully placed so as to enjoy from both the sofa and the bed was a Bose radio – a nice little luxury. In the well appointed large bathroom there was a separate shower with step in basin, which meant that it was never going to leak on to the floor. As well as separate bath tub there was a bidet (quite rare in Irish hotels but de rigueur on the Continent) and correct towelling for same and of course plenty of high quality toiletries.
However, it was the small unexpected extras that put the room in the category of being outstanding. Some of the more unusual items proffered were things like little button fasteners (most men hate having to sew on a shirt button on their travels!). There was also an interesting door sign for any guest who might have a hearing or other difficulty in the event of an emergency. I was very taken with this level of extra care being lavished on their guests.
The Restaurant: Under the baton of Executive Head Chef Edward Cooney the food in The Merrion Restaurant is superb. For dinner I opted for a Crab Brulée with pickled cucumber, which was a magnificent combination which was both smooth and tart and definitely woke up my palette. This was followed by Spiced whole roasted Wood Pigeon with sautéed wild mushrooms, confit potatoes and a cranberry jus. This was beautifully cooked medium rare; important as pigeon can be quite dry and the cranberry jus kept it nice and moist. Not a morsel was left on my plate! Dessert was an interesting concoction of a White Chocolate Mousse Fraisier with lemon marshmallows and strawberry champagne sorbet. This was a delightfully photogenic dessert and full of flavour. It would have been absolute perfection if it had been served at room temperature, which would have given the texture more complexity.
The Cellar Bar is situated below ground level with access from the hotel and also from the street. These are the original arched wine cellars of the Houses and restored to their former glory . Here there is a touch of the Hobbits with lots of nooks and crannies and perfect for those in search of less formal dining or just a well deserved drink after work. It is a cool place to hang out with divine cocktails and more casual dining. The lighting in this subterranean space is clever and there is no sense of claustrophobia. Being close to our Government buildings I get the feeling that plenty of political intrigue and deals were done here – if only the walls could talk! At the same level is a splendid Roman style Spa, small gym and swimming pool. I know I should have gone there before dinner as no way after that gorgeous meal – next time!
Drawing Rooms: The Rococo plasterwork and original floor beams in the drawing rooms epitomize the style and elegance that the wealthy Irish merchants and nobility enjoyed when living in these quintessentially grand townhouses. These included luminaries such as Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. The rooms join the four Houses together as one with the opening of one drawing room to the next. The soft furnishings offer guests understated grandeur with comfort. There are six magnificent private dining/meeting rooms located on the ground and first floors, all with original plasterwork. A small clubby small bar to the front of the hotel is decorated in large leather chairs and does make you feel that it is a pity that smoking cigars is no longer permitted (only for a second!).
The courtyard gardens overlooked by many of the bedrooms deserve a special mention. With its box hedges, water feature, cosy little hideaways and niches it is a perfect place for stealing away for a quiet read or indeed a special rendezvous or sneaky cocktail. The nearby Terrace provides a more cosmopolitan feel and definitely a place to enjoy the renowned Merrion Afternoon Tea on a sunny summer day.
The restoration of these four magnificent Georgian houses, which had gone through some rather difficult and sad transitions during the early part of the 20th century, is due to the great foresight and of the owners and a General Manager who have a vision and the ability to bring it to reality. Great hotels always try to exceed their guests’ expectations. In The Merrion Hotel guests are wooed as well as wowed with several inspired and creative touches that give an unrivaled experience that is so elusive in many supposedly five star hotels. Everyone loves to be pampered and The Merrion does it with style and genuine enthusiasm.