I love nothing better than being a tourist in my own city and this week I got to do just that when a friend invited me along on her night out in Belfast’s Queen’s Quarter.
I have to confess that I only live a hop, skip and a jump away from that area, but when I heard she was staying in Tara Lodge (@taralodge4star), a hotel just off Botanic Avenue that I always drive past, I was intrigued to see what it is like inside.
Visiting a city hotel can often mean it’s hard to park, but not so here, as there is guest parking behind the main hotel – already a tick in my book. When inside I was pleasantly surprised, I don’t know what I expected, but the contemporary look and friendly reception staff made my first opinion a positive one.
Calling yourself a boutique hotel can be tricky as it already ups the expectation level, but I needn’t have worried as the modern design that starts in the reception flows to the rooms upstairs. Muted colours, cosy beds and the added extras like chocolates in the room, shortbread biscuits, an iron and a hairdryer mightn’t sound like much, but when you regularly stay in budget hotels, these are touches that make your stay memorable. I know you aren’t meant to spend a lot of time in your room, but I was seriously tempted, especially as there is a well stocked DVD collection – Pretty Woman anyone?
DVD wrestled out of my hand I was off to Beatrice Kennedy (028 9020 2290) on University Road for dinner – I haven’t been here for a while, and I think it was for Sunday lunch, but how the place has changed. The interior is still the same, but the vibe has changed for the better. A new front of house team and menu makes the place feel a lot more relaxed, but still keeping the white linen and homemade delights that give the restaurant its unique edge. We opted for the pre-theatre menu of two courses – lots of variations for the meat or fish lovers. The reasonably priced wine was a nice change, especially as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc always seems to be the more expensive choice on the wine list.
The Lyric (@LyricBelfast) was next and the good thing about dining in this area meant that we were able to walk to each location, allowing us to take in the scenery as well as burning off a few calories to boot. I love The Lyric and make a point of going to a play every few months. The latest release, The Pillowman by award winning playwright Martin McDonagh running until 19 April, is a dark comedy with some spectacular acting talent. The story is close to the bone, which might prove difficult to watch if you are easily offended – but apparently we are meant to do things that challenge us….and my friend thought it was the best thing she’s ever seen, so you can’t get better a recommendation than that.
As it was a dry night we decided to walk the short trip back to Tara Lodge and arrived to a friendly greeting from the 24-hour reception team. It makes such a difference to see an actual person at the front desk and the family feeling of the business shines through, especially with the welcome we received. Being a weeknight we were happy to retire early and we were advised not to miss breakfast, so wanted to be bright and breezy the next morning.
Although Tara Lodge does not have a restaurant or bar, it does make up for it with choice of cuisine for breakfast. Pancakes and maple syrup, bacon and eggs, porridge the list went on and there was definitely no scrimping on quantity or quality. What I did notice was the distinct lack of Irish accents over the buffet and apparently most of the business comes from outside the north. I guess I can see why as I’ve been living her for thirty something years and have never stayed.
After raving about it all week this will change, especially as the price is so reasonable and the location is perfect if I am heading out in the city. As my new house is not quite ready for visitors, I’m wondering if I can encourage a few more friends to stay in Tara Lodge, and being the good friend that I am, of course I will have to keep them company!
By Grainne McGarvey
Spotting local hidden gems from the world of beauty, health, fashion, tourism and hospitality. I have my ear to the ground (quite literally) to keep you up to date about the new or interesting products and services from our neck of the woods. If you know one – get in touch on twitter @grainnemcgarvey or at www.pulseprni.com