In Hungry Concierge, we travel the world to spot hotels that operate with their guests’ food and drink needs squarely in mind — hotels, both big and small, that are located in neighborhoods rich with bar and restaurant options. Because there’s nothing worse than having your trip derailed by crummy room service.
Thirty years ago, heading to Ireland to stay in a five-star hotel and dine on some of the best food in Europe wasn’t on anyone’s agenda. Oh, how times have changed. This fact proves especially true when it comes to eating in Dublin, and no, we don’t mean just nibbling on braised cabbage and downing pint after pint of frothy Guinness…though that’s fun, too. Instead, taste the bounty of the Emerald Isle at trendy eateries around town and witness how elevated cuisine melds with works of art at the Merrion Hotel in the city’s center. Whether you decide to stay at this lauded property or not, you should at least make an effort to eat there for both tea and supper.
The former takes place in the drawing room, which, like the venue, speaks to the late 18th century and features a handful of the hotel owners’ personal Irish art collection. Said art is part of the inspiration for pastry chef Paul Kelly’s art tea, an afternoon event that starts out like any other high tea. This means a pot of your choice from a list composed by the hotel’s two tea masters; piles of perfectly made scones with plenty of clotted cream and jam; tiny tea sandwiches like the Shanagarry smoked salmon with lemon glenilen butter and O’Donovan’s loin of ham with tarragon and Dalkey mustard; fresh slices of lemon cake and portercake; and a glass of champagne if you feel so inclined.
But wait, there’s more. After you experience this elegant feast, the smiling server will bring you the art portion of the meal, a spread that includes three expertly made pastries modeled after three works in the hotel’s collection. On a visit this past April, Kelly worked with the paintings Gombeen Men by John Boyd, Frying Pan, Funnel, Eggs & Lemons by William Scott and Path Mo’orea by Pauline Bewick. For the Boyd, Kelly stacked lemon and raspberry mousses, much like the strip of color found on the painting, and topped it with a custard-filled berry. He basically painted the picture in sugar for the Scott piece and took a delicate pastry puff and layered chocolate “trees” to represent the palms in Bewick’s painting. The creative desserts turned out to be art in themselves, but tasty-looking enough to devour. As a bonus, if you wish to learn more about the art beyond what’s made into pastry, book a private tour of the collection with a representative from the National Art Gallery, located right across the street.
After such a lavish afternoon spread, you will want to rest up considering an equally impressive dinner awaits. Said dinner takes place at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant (the only one in Ireland) featuring chef Guillaume Lebrun, who has been there since it opened in 1981. Funnily enough, the Merrion didn’t open until 1997, after Guilbaud had already garnered one star for his restaurant. Guilbaud moved his eatery over to the hotel as soon as it started running, and it’s there that the venue picked up the second star. Currently, the space’s design scheme lies in limbo as an impending remodel is in the works, but for now you can relax in the natural-toned dining room at one of the handful of round, sturdy tables, a heavy-set style throwback to the early 1990s.
When dining at the restaurant, consider the carefully curated French menu, a list that has featured items such as the surprising and perfect blue-lobster ravioli with split-curry dressing; king crab and cucumber maki with gin and mint; Wicklow lamb resting in a Basque pepper stew; and a filet of Irish beef paired with roasted foie gras. Desserts also stun, if for the plating alone. With psychedelic creations including the cosmic apple and slow-poached apricot with baked amandine orange blossom ice cream, you might be inclined to pass up the plate of Irish cheese. But don’t — for any reason — let this one go. For starters, it’s not a plate they serve but instead a plate of your choice, hand-picked from a whole cart of locally made cheesy wonders coming from some of the finest dairies in the United Kingdom. After the meal you will be grateful you decided to stay at the Merrion, both for the comfortable, high-end accommodations and the ability to roll yourself right to bed.
The Merrion consists of four historic Georgian homes combined and renovated to create one giant living quarter that boasts 142 bedrooms, 19 of which are suites. A standard booking consists of a luxurious queen-sized bed decked out in crisp linens modeled after soothing gray, blue and pink patterns from the 18th century. If you are feeling fancy, make sure to request accommodations overlooking the garden, which happens to also include cityscape views with the Wicklow Mountains in the distance.
It’s rare that a space can maintain the look of a Georgian mansion and still have the modern comforts travelers long for. Such is the case with this stunning property, part of the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio. Even one step inside the doorman-guarded entrance, you can’t mistake the era this lavish hotel aims to replicate. First, there’s the marble entryway complete with a neoclassical winding staircase and roaring fire, perfect for warming up after dashing about the rainy Dublin streets. You will also notice the art — a lot of it — and the reception area is just the beginning. Head into the lobby and plop down in a plush chair so comfortable that you may not readily get up. If for some reason you need to wait or just have the desire to wander, head through the drawing room to study the array of paintings lining the wallpapered walls. A short turn in the garden should have you ready to rest, eat or explore more of the hotel. Aside from two restaurants, the second being the Cellar Bar and Restaurant in the basement of the building, there’s Bar No. 23 and afternoon tea service in the drawing room. The Merrion offers a gym, spa and pool, which completes the neoclassical feel by sporting white columns and a mural on one of the walls.
As if the lavish Merrion itself wasn’t reason enough to stay there, the neighborhood the hotel is located in proves just about perfect, especially since Dublin is best seen on foot. For starters, you are right across the street from the National Gallery, a free-to-enter institution that features a lot of Irish art. Oscar Wilde was born nearby, and within walking distance you will find the famous 136-year-old park St. Steven’s Green. You can even take a short jaunt to Trinity College and see the Book of Kells and wander the historical halls of academia. This spot also happens to be a shopping destination, so make it a two-for and stock up on Irish wool sweaters, tweed and souvenirs. Then, if you have a hankering for a pint of Guinness, the traditional Irish pub O’Donoghues Bar is the place to do it in. Best of all, it’s stumbling distance from the Merrion’s gilded doors.
The Merrion Hotel
Merrion Street Upper, Dublin 2, Ireland
From 350€ (about $388) per night