Deanna O’Connor checks in to the perfect city centre pied à terre, and doesn’t want to leave.
Now that we’re allowed talk about decadence once again, I can freely confess my favourite indulgence: booking into a Dublin hotel, even though I live in Dublin. Location is everything of course, and it has to be in the city centre.
Christmas is the best time to do it, especially one of those Fridays in December when the world and his wife are out on the town and the chances of getting a taxi dwindle with every passing hour, taking the joy out of a celebratory night.
My latest go-to spot is the new look Conrad, on Earlsfort Terrace: conveniently located bang in the middle between city centre shopping and the late-night haunts of Leeson St, it ticks every box. After being refurbished floor by floor over the course of just under 10 months, with a staggering €13m budget, this leading hotel is virtually unrecognisable.
Thoroughly reimagined, it oozes a comfy, luxey, expensive sophistication. The feel, for me, has echoes of 1920s New York, cruise liners, a certain elegance, a sprinkling of Great Gatsby.
General manager Martin Mangan told me that the Conrad hotels and resorts are all individual one-of-a-kind hotels that reflect local culture and the cities and locations they are in. “It was important for us to create a sense of place, and I believe we achieved this through our design narrative of nature and literature,” he said. Local influences aren’t worn too heavily, however. There’s no hokey Irishness here; the design goals have been expertly and sensitively achieved.
While the welcome from the doormen and reception staff is satisfyingly warm and familiar, the new lobby area is brand new and a triumph of subtle and elegant design.
The lobby was inspired by the work and vision of Ninian Niven, architect of the Iveagh Gardens, and it manages to marry the historical and floral reference points of the gardens’ rosarium with a modern finish in a very special way.
Conrad hotels and resorts are all individual one-of-a-kind hotels
New additions to the 192-room hotel include a new ground floor lounge and bar, and all-day dining in the brasserie. As Martin Mangan explains, “The Coburg is a true brasserie experience complete with terrazzo floors, brass and leather detail with a strong equestrian theme; and Lemuel’s is our new Signature Cocktail Bar and Lounge.”
The food is more than a cut above standard hotel fare, with an array of delights on the menu that made it staggeringly difficult to choose from. This is a spot I would happily go back to for lunch, dinner or a light bite any time. The standout emphasis on the menu is seafood, whether it be mussels, oysters or the lobster-laced temptations.
Lobster mac ‘n’ cheese is just about the most sumptuous-sounding dish you can imagine – maybe order one to share, as it is just incredibly rich. The classic steaks and burgers are all there too, but for those on a lighter diet, I can highly recommend the Yellowfin Tuna Nicoise Salad, with seared tuna steak cooked exactly to order – healthy and hearty at its best.
For a quick lunch, or late-night bite for the weary traveller, the selection of sandwiches is excellent. It’s not often you get a choice of lobster roll, croque monsieur and a reuben on the same menu. Sometimes the simple things are best and all the favourites are there.
A WELL STOCKED BAR
Named after Lemuel Gulliver, the fictional protagonist of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Lemuel’s Lounge and Bar is a the perfect setting to settle down for an afternoon tea or a finely crafted cocktail.
The cocktail menu takes inspiration from the literary classic, with wittily named drinks ranging from The Man Mountain (a sweet and sour mix of Jameson Black Barrel whiskey, apricot brandy, vermouth and lemon juice), to the captivating floral Isle in the Sky (a mix of Dingle Gin, lychee liqueur, lemon juice and lavender foam).
Out of season now, but come summer we’ll be back for a Beer & Loathing – a quirky take on the Aperol Spritz, with grapefruit juice and pilsener. The house champagne is Henriot, with a variety available by the bottle and magnum, from the reasonably priced Brut Souverain to the special occasion-worthy Cuvée des Enchanteleurs.
Wines are predominantly New World-focused and the gluten-free are catered for on the beer menu with a very drinkable Green Pils Gluten Free, which stands up well against the craft delights from Eight Degrees and Galway Bay that are also available.
The by now obligatory gin menu includes a well-chosen selection of nine Irish gins apart from the international classics, including the award-winning orange-based Thin Gin from Waterford. Whiskey-lovers are lavishly catered for with a wide range of pot still, single malt, single grain and blended whiskies on the menu as well as a variety of poitíns, a selection of Scotch whiskey covering various areas of production, plus American, Canadian, Taiwanese, Japanese and Swedish whiskies.
The rooms have a chic new look with modern art and quality furnishings, from the finest rugs from Foxford Woollen Mills to coffee table books you want to curl up with (my room had fascinating reads on the Irish in Hollywood and an inspirational design tome by Orla Kiely).
The beds are divinely comfortable, and guarantee a great night’s sleep. And in the morning, opening your curtains to a view of the majestic National Concert Hall on Earlsfort Terrace makes you appreciate just how lovely some of Dublin’s architecture is.
The contemporary styling of our suite was not too minimal, however; it struck just the right note between chic and comfort. Hardwood flooring and lime oak-panelled walls offset the crisp lines and subtle palette of greens and greys that create a relaxed and inviting feel.
Bathrooms are well appointed and also well stocked with generously sized quality toiletries from Aromatherapy Associates, and nice touches like a loofah scrubber for those who appreciate a really invigorating scrub.
The food is more than a cut above standard hotel fare, with an array of delights on the menu that made it staggeringly difficult to choose from
As a city centre hotel, the business traveller is always going to be a key customer for the Conrad, but even the leisurely guest still demands that the technology be up to speed.
Manager Martin Mangan assured me that, “As a brand, Conrad focuses on connectivity and ensuring our guests remain connected, and this is never more evident than in the technology we have deployed across the hotel. We invested in a new broadband infrastructure that provides speeds up to 200MB – the fastest you will find in any hotel in Dublin with the latest technology.
“Our new guestrooms are equipped with multiple USB charging, US and European sockets, iHome docking stations, 48-inch Samsung latest generation TVs, wireless telephones and a bespoke workspace that looks into the room with everything integrated into it.
“In our bars and restaurants we incorporated plenty of power points in accessible locations and USB points to work and charge your devices – we are very conscious that today’s traveller is carrying multiple devices and needs access to great wi-fi and technology that delivers.”
Technology plays its part even before you check in, as you can bypass the front desk queue during busy times, and check in online and order room service before you arrive via the Conrad Concierge app – what could be better for the tired traveller who can’t wait to drop their bags and chill out?
As Mangan says, “The ever-changing face of hospitality is dictated by the needs of our guests and what they are looking for. Certainly, time is a real issue for people – so anything we can do to save time for our guests…”
WITH TIME ON YOUR HANDS
The Conrad has plenty of ideas to help guests make the most of their free time, with a range of advice on activities catered to the amount of time at your disposal.
The group has put together a 1/3/5 programme for each city it is present in, with itineraries suited to one, three or five hours.
From a tour of Teelings Distillery to Kilmainham Gaol to seats at the hottest tables in town, Dublin’s delights can be served up to suit your time and tastes – the Conrad concierges are ready to make sure you are never at a loss to make the most of the city you are visiting.