Our journalist GEMMA WEIR and her friend, Jodie, leave the kids behind and enjoy a ‘Mum’s night off’ in the Bishop’s Gate Hotel, Derry.
It isn’t very often that we get to escape from the little humans for any length of time, so when we do, we want to make sure that we do it in style! Derry-Londonderry was our city of choice. In a world of travel restrictions, we have discovered that, actually, we have everything we could want on our own little patch of land; we even had the sun on this occasion! Sure we could have been anywhere in the world!
About an hour and a half up the motor way in the little Kia Picanto, no face masks or security checks for the journey and a lot of reminiscing and laughing, and we had arrived. Bishop’s Gate Hotel, right in the heart of Londonderry. We parked the car directly outside the door and swanned in thought the plush revolving doors to hand the keys over for valet parking… (My other car’s a Porsche!) It’s strange, that little touch really took the stress away for a city stay. We all know what parking can be like and how enthusiastic the guy in the yellow stripe painting truck gets when he gets to the heart of a city, so this was a real little touch of convenient luxury and set the tone for the rest of our stay at Bishop’s Gate.
I would challenge anyone to find a warmer welcome than the one we received on blustering through those doors. We had arrived much earlier than the check in time so that we could really get our city step count up for our break. A warm smile behind the counter happily took our bags and gave us lots of information about the city and pointed us in the direction of where we wanted to go.
There’s something truly lovely about returning to your accommodation after an afternoon eating and shopping to be handed your sanitised room key and be called by name as your told “Yes, your room is ready and your bags are already in your room. Come with me and I will take you to your room.” There was no humphing of puffing about with our bags jammed with three pairs shoes, the minimum requirement for a one night stay!
I was impressed already.
There’s no ignoring the giant elephant in the room when it comes to leaving the safety of your own home these days, the dreaded Covid-19 that has been filling our news feeds and turning the whole world into clean freaks; it could be argued that a stay somewhere new, away from your own doorstep could be a little bit daunting and perhaps, maybe, one that some folk might opt to give a miss. I would like to reassure the more apprehensive travellers, that I instantly felt at ease in Bishop’s Gate. They had been mindful of everything. From room keys sanitised in sealed envelops to arriving at the door of our and breaking the hygiene seal before we could enter as an additional signal that all was safe and good to go… Even the remote control for our television in the room had been sanitised and sealed in it’s own protective packaging! The room was sparkling clean and we instantly knew that we were well looked after.
We were accommodated in a superior twin room – Jodie and I have been friends from the age of four, but Jodie is still averse to any form of cuddling, so this particular room set up ws perfect for our trip. The beds were big and comfortable. Is there anything better than flopping down on a clean crisp bed after a hard day eating and shopping, knowing that you don’t have to make it again when you get up? The room was large and very stylishly decorated and the bathroom was something else! With beautiful white tiling and large mirror, the space was luxurious and modern; I think I could have parked my car in the shower, and with its large no messing about spray head, I’m sure it would have came out gleaming. One of my pet peeves in a hotel is a rubbish shower, Bishop’s Gate have scored another point here! The Rituals mini’s are also a little reminder that we were in the midst of quality!
The Bishop’s Gate Hotel is pretty unique and is a piece of history. Dating back to 1880, the Northern Counties Club was formed in the city by members of the local gentry who had served during the Crimean War, who originally gathered in No. 3 St. Columb’s Court. As the club gathered momentum and grew , it was necessary to find larger premises and so at the end of the 19th Century the present building, which at the time was used as 2 private residential buildings, was purchased for a £1200 price tag!
The revolving door (the one we swanned through previously) was installed in 1916, and the frosted windows on the doors and windows at ground level even come with a story too – After the partition of Ireland in 1921, Derry-Londonderry became a border city (bringing with it, civil unrest), the frosting was purposefully installed for secrecy, so that no-one outside the building could see the happenings inside!
Throughout the years of use by the Northern Counties Club there have been many famous visitors – including Winston Churchill, W.B. Yeats, Field Marshalls Montgomery and Alexander and artist Derek Hill. You can more about the buildings fascinating history over the the website https://www.bishopsgatehotelderry.com/
After a busy day in the city, we enjoyed putting our feet up for half an hour before dinner. We were invited to dine in the Crown Restaurant in the hotel and we were ready we headed down for a pre-dinner glass of bubbly in the Wig Champagne bar, just off the restaurant. It was clear to identify the judicial theme going on here, as if the name didn’t give it away to begin with. In an ode to the neighbouring court house as many of the club members were members of the judiciary (of course they were!), the legal easel theme is yet another reminder that we were sitting in a piece of history. The Wig lounge had, back in the day, been a reading room, until it was converted to a Billiards room instead as members had arrived at the decision that gentlemen did not have the need for reading… (I have jagged jokes that could be inserted here about how, looking more presently at our current judicial system, perhaps, it may have served just as well as a reading room! I shall however refrain and remark that our pre-dinner drinks were very well received indeed!)
Everyone knows that hotel food is good. Perhaps a little predictable and often telling if the chef is particularly under pressure with a wedding or some other large table booking that makes the liken on your plate, just every so slightly in the dry side… On this score, Bishop’s Gate need a standing ovation all round! The menu was fresh and different, with a just few of our old favourites on there to not rock the boat too much, and the quality was fabulous. I enjoyed the goats cheese Tatin, followed by the fish dish of the day which was a perfectly pan-fried hake with a leek veloute and these little courgette frites that I’ve been craving ever since I have come home. A lady would have stopped there, but I was with Jodie, so I tucked into a delicious creamy Panna cotta with buttery shortbread. This was an amazing feast! The service was phenomenal, everyone was socially distanced and our service and food certainly didn’t suffer. There was a lovely ambiance on the Crown Restaurant too, with soft lighting and natural colours, it lent itself to understated elegance. Very well done!
We were in the perfect location for a little night time dander around Derry and to visit a few little pubs and get to know the city a little better when the sun went down, so after I had burped Jodie, we set off into the night for a couple of hours. Being Mother’s who have ventured out into the world, we had one main goal in mind for the highlight of the evening… Bed! As we carried our high heels back up the hill to the hotel and plunged into our respective beds, we both had a deep, comfortable sleep knowing that in a world gone mad, we were as safe as houses! Surely that’s gotta be the number one goal for any night away… Sleep!
The morning Brought with it more food… I had the vegetarian eggs Benedict, a quirky twist on an old classic, soda farl filled with halloumi and mushrooms, crowned with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce… I didn’t see what Jodie got, she hoovered it, and for someone who likes to have a wee moan about something, anything… she said nothing apart from “yes!”… I’d say that’s a breakfast win!
Bishop’s Gate Hotel, thank you for wonderful stay. The history of this boutique hotel makes for a really different hotel stay, the location is superb for exploring the city, the food is well worthy of the road trip alone and of course… You fed us with class! This was a fantastic way for two Mum’s to break free and remember, they’re worth a bit of luxury!