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Hotel Review: You can bank on luxury at The Merchant of Belfast

As Kenneth Branagh’s movie catapults Belfast back into popular culture, we took the train from Dublin to the five-star comforts of The Merchant Hotel

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The Great Room at The Merchant Hotel in Belfast

The Great Room at The Merchant Hotel in Belfast

The Merchant Hotel

The Merchant Hotel

An Art Deco-style bedroom at The Merchant Hotel

An Art Deco-style bedroom at The Merchant Hotel

Bert's Jazz Bar

Bert's Jazz Bar

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The Great Room at The Merchant Hotel in Belfast

Banks can be stressful places. Explaining your overdraft, and that little black dress you simply had to buy, doesn’t always go down well with the manager.

So, it was with the biggest wry smile that I arrived into the former headquarters of Ulster Bank for an overnight stay at what is now a five-star hotel. The Merchant Hotel has been in operation since 2006, located in this historic ‘A’-listed building with dramatic frontage on to Waring Street in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.

The irony of being up in Belfast to pamper myself in the former home of the very banking institution that kept me on my financial tippy toes back in the 1990s only made this little indulgence all the sweeter.

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The Merchant Hotel

The Merchant Hotel

The Merchant Hotel

Arrival & location

Arriving into Cathedral Quarter, the hotel was easy to find and the check-in process at the reception desk, located on Skipper Street, was speedy and courteous.

The waiting staff had me and my wheelie bag up in my second-floor room within minutes, pointing out the features, including the spa area and gym, along the way.

If you are travelling from Dublin, the Enterprise train from Connolly Station takes you to Lanyon Place, about 2km or a 10-minute taxi ride (my fare was £5.60/€6.76) from the hotel. For an extra €10 each way, you can treat yourself to first class (be sure to book online — I paid €59 return, but it would have cost an eye-watering €99 at the station). I arrived to find no first-class carriage on the 9.30am train, but the return journey went without a hitch — though there was no catering on board. 8/10

Service & style

The historical building was enhanced by a £16.5m/€19.9m extension in 2010, and guests will find themselves sashaying between the two. A night at The Great Room restaurant or The Cocktail Bar, with its antique Baccarat chandeliers, for example, could be followed by Bert’s Jazz Bar, which has a 1930s New York vibe, French bistro menu and live jazz seven nights a week, and on Sunday afternoons (there’s a £10/€12pp) charge on Friday and Saturday nights). There’s also a spa with Elemis and Voya treatments, hydro pool, gym and rooftop hot tub with views over the city. 8/10

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An Art Deco-style bedroom at The Merchant Hotel

An Art Deco-style bedroom at The Merchant Hotel

An Art Deco-style bedroom at The Merchant Hotel

The rooms

The bedrooms are Victorian-style at the front of the house and Art Deco-style in the extension. I found myself in one of the latter — bright and spacious, the two white leather and steel armchairs were homages to the Bibendum by legendary Wexford-born furniture designer Eileen Gray. While I suspected she might have groaned at the sight of the metallic leather-fronted, bi-fold wardrobe, it did boast generous hanging space, robes, a good steam iron, ironing board, a mirrored vanity table and a safe.

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The walls were decorated with black-and-white fashion photographs and, while there was a super-king-sized bed with an array of plumped pillows, it was the bathroom that really stole the show in Room 222. I had requested a room with a bathtub rather than a just a shower. Yes, I am one of those people who love to soak in the bathtub on a break and, happy days, because The Merchant have a thing about tubs too. A glass door led to a turquoise tiled marble bathroom with Art Deco-style chrome taps, mirror, fittings and a very generous-sized free-standing bathtub. Over the next 20 hours, I had no fewer than three baths, and also used the walk-in marble shower, complete with seat. I went home shiny! 8/10

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Bert's Jazz Bar

Bert's Jazz Bar

Bert's Jazz Bar

Food & drink

Dining alone can be grim but, to be honest, I was looking forward to this experience because I had company — the room. The Great Room is one of the most ornate, high-ceilinged dining rooms on the island, and the former banking hall boasts four Corinthian columns which frame the Victorian interior with fruit and foliage frieze, glass cupola and giant chandelier. I wore my gold Dries Van Noten coat so as to fit in. The diners around me were mostly couples, and the noise from a group of people I couldn’t see, but could definitely hear, didn’t last too long.

Conor, the assistant restaurant manager, guided me through the à la carte menu and I ordered a starter of local scallops followed by an Irish beef fillet Rossini. Both were delicious, and I partnered the beef with a glass of Côtes du Rhône Réserve Des Armoiries — one of the suggested pairings on the restaurant’s six-course tasting menu (€84pp plus €42pp for five wine pairings).

After a pause to digest (and admire the ceiling’s plump, cherub-like figures a little more), I ordered a selection of Irish and French cheese with matching condiments.

Breakfast the next morning was an opportunity to survey The Great Room in daylight and peruse newspapers and magazines available via a QR code on the menu. Naturally, I had the Ulster fry, complete with potato bread and soda farl — but I did, I’ll confess, momentarily flirt with the idea of that morning’s special order of an omelette with Parma ham and goat’s cheese. I wasn’t driving, so didn’t hesitate for a second to also order porridge served with Irish whiskey cream and honey. Totally yum. 8/10

The bottom line

This is a destination hotel and I’m sure there are guests who barely go outside during their stay with all that is on offer. That said, I must say, Belfast is highly navigable on foot. The shopping area around Victoria Square is a short stroll away and, if you have retail therapy in mind, do check out the Anthropologie store on Arthur Street, and for designer fashion, Envoy of Belfast is a gem and located on Wellington Street near City Hall.

Insider tip

There are plant-based tasting, dinner and lunch menus as well as separate vegetarian, vegan, gluten and nut-free afternoon teas.

Local 101

Belfast is very navigable on foot. Turn left out of reception for a short stroll to City Hall and shopping at Victoria Square.

Rates

The Spring Awakening deal has B&B, a bottle of Prosecco and use of the hydrotherapy areas from €125pp midweek or €192 at weekends. Bairbre was a guest of the hotel. themerchanthotel.com


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