Dublin: Conrad, Ophelia and I


“Hello, Miss Sander. This is Jack on reception. I’m calling to check that the furniture has been removed from your balcony…”

Welcome to the Conrad Dublin – a five-star, centrally-located hotel, with a please-all level of service, fine on-site food and drink, box-fresh feel from a recent refurbishment, and excellent in dealing with acts of god. Everything you want from a city break abode. Granted, the latter isn’t usually on my check list, but when ‘ex-hurricane’ Ophelia swept in unannounced during our stay, it was a welcome extra.

The news of Ophelia’s surprise visit, came on the morning of our departure. There I was lulling in the comfort of the 300-thread count sheets of our king-size bed (which translates in real life terms to, ‘very soft indeed’), doing the modern day procrastinative pastime of choice, scrolling through social media, when I come across the news. A storm was about to hit southern Ireland; causing disruption to transport, closures of public buildings and parks, and stern warnings to stay inside. Moments later, I was dropped by text by the airline, in the manner of a cowardly lover. We had no choice but to pray the hotel had room to put us up for another night (thankfully, they did), and travel back the next day.

Luckily the place we were advised to remain inside had all-day access to fuel and water: Alfie Burn’s pub, with a pool table and 35 craft beers, Lemuel’s cocktails to cheer the mind, The Coburg to fill the tummy… There are worst places to ride out a storm.

Breakfast slid smoothly into mid-morning nap, to an afternoon in Lemuel’s, working our way through Gulliver’s Travels via a cocktail menu inspired by the journey taken by the book’s protagonist. Writer’s Block, Monkey See, Monkey Do, Ship on the Rocks, all fun and deliciousness, making imaginative use of various Irish spirits. With the wind blowing so hard against the windows we could see the glass move, we paid head to the advice to stay put, despite it looking – albeit rather blustery – beautifully blue outside. We warmed up on wild mushroom soup, and then, after a couple of hours of the teasing wall to ceiling outside views, we ignored said advice to stay in and went for a two mile, walk to the beach. That’s how set up their soups leave you. Or perhaps it was Lemuel’s adventurous spirit coming through the cocktails…

Our Dublin trip started two days earlier. An autumnal Saturday morning flight in and airport shuttle to just outside the hotel meant we were checked in and heading out to explore by lunchtime, with a pocket map of suggestions on where to go, handily drawn up by concierge, Jack, based around the sort of things we said we wanted to do. There was a great traditional pub with a quirky back story for lunch (Hairy Lemon), another for a drink and a ‘session’ later (O’Donoghues), as well as other sights and streets of interest.

The hotel is brilliantly located, five minutes from Merrion Row, even less to St Stephen’s Green – a serene park with ancient trees, duck ponds and public art – which exits onto the top of Grafton Street, the main shopping row where you’ll find the usual collection of high street stores, and narrow streets veining off in all directions, housing independent shops sporting everything from Angora throws and antiques to diamond rings.

Temple Bar is another five minutes from there, or you could head down to the Liffey, taking the Ha’Penny bridge across to pubs and bars a plenty, and a lovely little bookshop, The Winding Stair, selling a good selection of new and second-hand Irish literature. There’s a hop on hop off bus ticket you can buy, but it’s such a walkable city, I wouldn’t bother. In addition, to helpful suggestions a la concierge, the hotel has 1, 3 and 5 hour itineraries, geared around highlighting the local culture, art and food, to help you #stayinspired, as the Conrad hashtag goes. Having never been to Dublin before, we came armed with a few pub and restaurant recommendations from friends, and a reservation or two at the hotel, but otherwise planned to make it up as we went along, so some direction was helpful. Plenty to keep us busy for the next two days.

A hearty meal and a drink is never far away when you’re in Dublin (there are over 700 pubs, alone). Though, you can do worse than spend at least one of your evenings dining in at Conrad Dublin. Ask for one of the semi-circular corner booths at The Coburg brasserie, for a proper cosy spot to snuggle in for dinner. Expect local ingredients and familiar classics with Irish influences: think, Guinness Onion Soup with the cheesiest Gruyere crouton floating on top, and a teeny tiny loaf of Guinness-spiked soda bread popped on the side. You’ll dream about having that soup again the next day, and will be pleased you asked for the recipe for the bread.

Expect something meaty to follow – a delicious rack of Irish lamb with a rich rosemary jus, perhaps, or a fillet of beautifully pan-fried market fish of the day. Truffle and parmesan chips, you’ll keep plucking at even though your brain has long registered you’re full. You probably won’t be able to fit in dessert, because the portions are hearty, and you’ll want to leave room for a Lemuel’s nightcap, after the delicious one you supped on pre-dinner. But if you do, you’ll have plenty of traditional puds to choose from, such as chocolate fondant with whiskey ice-cream. The Children’s Menu deserves a special mention, for going beyond the usual fish fingers and chips offerings, with some nicely thought-out dishes.

Breakfast is also served in The Coburg, when the space takes on a completely different feel as the early morning sun shines through the windows, and a buffet is laid out for you to casually pick at, alongside an a la carte that includes everything from avocado toast to a full Irish breakfast. Afternoon tea at Lemuel’s is also worth a look, with a sweet and savoury selection of treats, inspired by, you guessed it, Gulliver.

The hotel’s décor takes inspiration from the city’s surroundings and culture – from hints of the Iveagh Gardens in The Coburg, to cartography and other nods to Irish novelist Jonathan Swift’s literary classic, in Lemuel’s. The hotel entrance has a bit of a Gatsby thing going on, with a striking black and gold, semi-mirrored ceiling covering the steps to the main entrance. Inside, it’s a pretty palette of sherbet greens and pinks, and soft velvet furniture you’ll find yourself caressing as you walk past. There’s a conference-y area that’ll tick the right boxes for corporate groups and events, and a business room, which is very handy for printing off boarding passes. A fitness center too, but with such a walkable city, I’d opt for cardio al fresco instead.

The 192 bedrooms are pleasingly quiet, with views ranging from office blocks at the back – not as bad as it sounds – to the National Concert Hall at the front. But this isn’t really somewhere you want to sit in and stare out from. If you’re not eating and drinking downstairs, or sleeping up, you’ll want to be out and about. The bed warrants a mention; to say I was excited about getting trapped there for another night is an understatement, and that is a large part down to that bed. It’s draped in a pretty Irish weaved blanket, with those ridiculously soft sheets and squishy pillows hotels seems to have the connections to get hold of. In our King Premier Room with Balcony, we also had a velvet sofa, a desk to take care of business (put our shopping on), Nespresso machine, iPod dock, and wall-consuming 48-inch flat screen TV.

There was nightly water and turn down Butler’s chocolates, which will always be welcome. The Daily Irish Times was left outside the door each day too, which was a nice touch. In the bathroom, Aromatherapy Associates amenities were generously dished out, while a card in the room highlighted that there was a selection of other grooming brands you could have instead, including vegan, men’s and Shanghai Tang ranges. As far as hotels going, they have all the boxes ticked.

Whether you’re looking for a central spot to stay on a first or fiftieth visit, or somewhere to sit out a storm with a book and carefully crafted beverage, Conrad Dublin is a craicing choice.

For more information about the Conrad Dublin, and to book, visit www.conradhotels.hilton.com. For more information about Dublin, including what to see and do, what’s on and insider tips, visit Dublin Tourism’s official site at www.visitdublin.com.