Leslie Ann Horgan checks into Dublin's new InterContinental Hotel for a short and sweet city break.
Just as the stadium down the road is still referred to as Lansdowne Road by many, it may take some time for the InterContinental in Ballsbridge to shake the name of its previous incarnation. For although the hotel was officially taken over by the InterContinental Hotel Group on January 1 of this year, it's still widely referred to by locals and not so locals as the Four Seasons.
A hotspot of the Celtic Tiger era - the hotel's famous Ice bar was offering sushi to its celebrity clients in the days before either was a common sight in Dublin - the five-star managed to survive the worst ravages of recession to retain its place as the most D4 spot in Dublin 4. But would it be a case that this rose, under another name, would still smell like Chanel No.5?
Being something of a Celtic Tiger cub myself, I had both eaten in the hotel and enjoyed its cocktail menu on several occasions over the years. I'd always wanted to get a look at the rooms, and checking into the new InterContinental they didn't disappoint.
The former Four Seasons in Ballsbridge
Padding down a long, opulently-carpeted corridor to my plush room - all marble bathroom and enough space to park your Louis Vuitton trunk - I couldn't help but wonder what famous feet had travelled this route before me. As it turned out, some were to travel the route after me as Take That checked in later that day. There may only be three of the manband left, but they still draw a sizeable group of excited fans (now evidently of the age that they can afford to check into the same plush hotels as their idols).
Alas, the only stars that we spotted were those out over Dublin Bay when we pushed the double windows in our room wide later that night and curled up in armchairs to watch the twinkling city lights.
Earlier in the evening, we enjoyed the Chef's Table menu, which you can 'commence, continue and conclude' for €55 per person, or enhance with wine or craft beer pairings for €85 each (alternatively, the wine list begins at €9.50 for a glass and €36 for a bottle).
My pressed ham hock terrine starter paled in comparison to my companion's seared Kilmore Quay scallops, but the seared sea bass with Dublin Bay prawns, spinach crisps and pomegranate dressing was divine.
Cupcakes at the InterContinental
The portions are modest, but the food is so flavoursome - no scrimping on the real butter here - that a little goes a long way. The surroundings were another story, however. The Reading Room where we ate lies just off the Lobby Lounge, both of which are rather open. In the boom years they were places to be seen, but I would have preferred if the American golfers in T-shirts and shorts - not to mention the five Communion girls, with six assorted siblings, running round til after 10pm - were less visible.
Far nicer is the Seasons restaurant with its courtyard views, where the breakfast buffet costs a substantial €21 per person.
The highlight of our stay was meeting the staff, who were without exception the kind of friendly that you can't fake, which makes for a relaxed rather than stuffy atmosphere. The vast majority were with the hotel since before the change of ownership, and many told us that they were delighted to see it bustling again with an evident mix of pride and relief.
As far as I could see, not much - if anything - has changed at the hotel in its new incarnation. The prices are still high, the plush Celtic Tiger carpets and the odd celeb are still there, but the artist formerly known as the Four Seasons has character - something that it seems will remain whatever the name on the door.
The InterContinental is located on Simmonscourt Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. A one-night stay for two people, including full Irish breakfast and late check out, is €240 per room until May 31. Call (01) 665 4000 or see intercontinental.com/dublin
Relaxing at the spa
1. Sunday brunch
New to the menu at the Seasons restaurant is Sunday brunch, offering three courses plus tea or coffee for €45pp. Wise diners will go for the modest 6oz steak, leaving plenty of room for the huge array of sweets at the dessert buffet. These butterfly cupcakes were almost too good to eat. Almost.
2. Get active
Walk off the rich food with a stroll on Sandymount strand or through nearby Herbert Park, which is bursting with blooms and cherry blossoms at this time of year. The more energetic can make use of the jogging map supplied in each room... It marks out two and four-mile courses.
3. Treat yourself
Book in for a Personalised E'Spa Facial (55 minutes, €100) - which features a somewhat nerve-wracking UV test to highlight any damage or problem areas on your face - then wash away any last traces of stress in the thermal suite. This is not a spacious destination spa, but peace can come in small packages.
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