TRAVEL GUIDE: The Fitzwilliam Hotel
Ulster's latest luxury hotel is billed as a blend of city chic and country retreat. And the owners have got the balance just right.
From the outside, the Fitzwilliam Hotel on Great Victoria Street, Belfast, is a huge jutting sliver of angular glass and metal.
But inside, you’re welcomed by a glowing gas-flame fireplace in the centre of a sleek lobby.
Books line shelves above white leather sofas.
It seems that no matter how hard the designers have tried to be cool, they couldn’t help adding a dollop of warmth.
I checked in on February 11, — because the place was booked up for the whole of the Valentine’s weekend.
Most of the warmth of the hotel comes from the staff, who are friendly and professional without being overbearing.
They offer to park your car in a private car park — although it doesn’t come cheap at £17 a night.
My room was on the fifth floor, along dimly-lit corridors that bring to mind the set of a classic film-noir set.
They are decorated in thick monochrome carpet — with sparkling mirrored doors.
Inside, the monochrome theme continues, but the room is flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling windows that offer you an impressive rooftop view across Belfast.
A double bed sits in the centre of the room, with bath and walk-in shower behind it, tucked away behind panels.
It’s all about the personal touches, with a white bathrobe left out and a flat-screen TV that flashed up a welcome message with your name when you switch it on.
There are vintage black telephones on either side of the bed with everything else tucked away discreetly.
But the highlight of the stay was most definitely the restaurant. The much-vaunted ‘Menu by Kevin Thornton’ opened last year to a storm of publicity.
It’s overseen by the celeb chef who named it after himself — after he won two Michelin stars for his food at the Fitzwilliam’s sister hotel in Dublin.
Dotted around the restaurant are a few lonely businessmen and women toying with their Blackberries but as the night goes on, couples and parties pour into the restaurant.
The food has been criticised for being a bit dated and stuck in the 1980s but Thornton says it’s all about a mixture of the sumptuous and the wholesome.
And the plates I polished off were testament to that.
I had stuffed quail for starters, followed by steak and chips and a chocolate fondant with honeycomb ice cream. Wines are available by the glass, and the coffee is superb.
If you get bored, there are spinning wooden partitions between tables that act as “3-D sculptures” which customers are encouraged to toy with.
The space is broken up by subtle lighting and dramatic, spindly high-backed red chairs.
The £20million Fitzwilliam lives up to its billing as a haven of corporate slickness mixed with a slightly surreal country manor. It’s also keen to promote itself as the newest in a clutch of luxury hotels that have sprung up in Belfast over the past few years.
The hotel went up in the long derelict corner of Great Victoria Street and Grosvenor Road.
Next door to Belfast’s Opera House and just across the road from the Crown bar, it has a lot to draw in the tourists.
And if its Valentine’s Day booking was anything to go by, it should continue to do well.