Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bellinter House, Co. Meath

We recently spent a night at Bellinter House near Navan in Co. Meath. This hotel has been on my hit-list for several years now, but I could never quite stomach the expensive rates charged. Firstly, I can't stand hotels that charge per person, and secondly, I can't really get my head around a hotel charging more than €100-150 for a night's B&B. Only 5 star venues in great locations with perfect service can justify big-buck rates. Thanks to Boards Deals, I was able to secure a mid-week B&B stay in Bellinter House and two 30 minute spa treatments for the excellent value sum of €99.

The very first impression of Bellinter House is that of slamming on the brakes. The entrance is located on a bend with no signage beforehand. It makes me wonder how many people sail past, rubbernecking at the entrance they've just missed. A short drive leads to a fine example of Palladian house, designed by the same architect responsible for Russborough House, Carton House, Powerscourt House and lastly, Leinster House. Bellinter House has had a mixed history passing through the hands of landed gentry, the Sisters of Sion,and the goverment before finally arriving into the hands of the current owners.

As we climb the steps to reception, we are greeted by two running kids and their nanny. I can safely assume she was the nanny due to her ethnicity and the fact that Mammy and Daddy were following behind. I sigh. A luxury night away with spa treatments just doesn't seem the same when there are rugrats involved.

The public areas...
Stitch and Bear - The lounge at Bellinter House
The Lounge at Bellinter House
All the receptions rooms are interlinked allowing us to wander from hallway to games room to bar to lounge. Only the library is separate, presumably to allow for some quiet time. Original features have been maintained, but there is a minimal amount of the expected period furnishings. Instead, there are leather loungers, velvet sofas and cowhide rugs. Fantastic Minotaurine paper lamps feature on the walls. Later in the night, when sated after dinner and full of wine, these provide a focal point for thoughtful gazing.

Stitch and Bear - Bull head light Bellinter House
Paper lighting at Bellinter House
We arrive straight from work, so we don't have much time before our dinner reservation. We  head to the lounge for a pre-dinner drink. Sitting on the comfortable seats, looking out the sash windows, we breathe deeply and relax. Big, tall rooms are always a good influence on me. It makes me wonder why we have an obsession with building box-like, identikit homes and apartments. Why have we abandoned the scale and elegance that our ancestors enjoyed?

Himself is pleased to find that the bar sells pint bottles of Guiness (priced at €5.20) while I go for a mojito. This is despite the fact that I cannot find a price list, an omission which comes back to haunt me the next morning. The mojito turns out to be quite poor and bitter, mainly due to the use of too-old limes, so I choose a much better glass of Sauvignon Blanc (€6.50) for my next drink. 

Later that night, after dinner, and after the children have gone to bed, we invade the games room to play pool. Dimly lit with mis-matched balls, it's immense fun and feels like a secluded spot.

Stitch and Bear - The games room at Bellinter House
Pool table in the Games Room at Bellinter House
The food....
Dinner is not included in our deal, but when booking we were offered the option of dining at Eden for €25 per head. The restaurant is located in the old basement which turns out to be a space even more sparse than upstairs. I  can't bring myself to like the swivel chairs and orange carpet. The menu offers plenty of choice and we enjoy the dishes listed below. Overall, the food is good in a traditional way. I get the feeling that Bellinter House is somewhere the whole family could eat. Meat & 2 veg grandparents all the way down to little ones will be satisifed with the food on offer.
  • Crispy slice of pork belly served with scallops, mixed Shiso cress, pancetta crisps and honey & soya dressing. Perfectly cooked scallops and very tasty.
  • Eden Smokies - smoked haddock, cherry tomatoes, scallions, creme fraiche and melted cheddar cheese. I'd been informed beforehand that I had to try the Smokies. Having done so, I now offer the same advice to all my readers. They are addictive.
  • Pan-seared fillet of beef, green beans & champ. The menu offers peppercorn sauce, which is a substance that I abhor so I request another sauce. The waitress looks at me as if I have two heads, but after some guiding, she suggests that the chef might be able to offer some garlic butter.
  • Braised pork belly served with crushed pea mash potato, carmelised onion and Calvados sauce. A massive portion of pork belly arrived. Clearly Bellinter House is used to catering for men with large appetites.
  • Chocolate pear and caramel gateaux with pear sorbet. Now why would anyone list a dessert as gateaux and then offer a single-serve dessert portion that bore no resemblance to a slice of gateaux. Descriptions - they're important.
  • Vanilla creme brulee with hazelnut biscotti
Stitch and Bear - Eden Smokies at Bellinter House
The famous Eden Smokies

Stitch and Bear - Braised pork belly at Bellinter House
Braised pork belly - enough for two!

Stitch and Bear - Fillet steak at Bellinter House
Fillet steak - with garlic butter
The next morning, we're back in the same venue for breakfast. As well as the familiar, dreary continential buffet, we are also offered a selection of fresh-cooked dishes. The menu looks tempting, but it takes ages to get a waiter to take our order. The staff display an amazing failure to make eye contact and we eventually resort to grabbing the manager and asking (a little rudely it must be said) for service. Other tables around us suffer the same lacklustre service.
 
The freshly-cooked dishes are a nice change from the normal heat-lamp breakfast. My French toast with marscapone and berries is delicious, if drowning in berry coulis. Less is more. However, the long delay for service means that we are running late for our spa treatments and I have to wolf it down.
Stitch and Bear - French toast with marscapone at Bellinter House
French toast with marscapone & berries
The spa...
We had both chosen the 30 body polish as part of our package, and we very much enjoy our treatments in the Bathouse. A mixture of sugar and lavender is used to scrub off all the badness and then we are left to relax in loungers with a snack of smoothie & fruit, which is very cutely served in Villeroy & Boch delph. We planned to continue our relaxation in the pool and sauna, but we find that the pool is infested with children. Any continued feelings of relaxation quickly disappear.

The room...
Our room was located in the West Wing and first impressions are good. A large white fluffy bed, a flatscreen TV on the wall and a well-appointed bathroom. Tea making facilities are provided via a set of 8 mason jar which contain everything from coffee and herbal teas to tea cakes. The ceiling is high, with exposed wooden beams which have been washed with white paint.

Stitch and Bear - Teacakes in the bedroom at Bellinter House
Tea cakes in the bedroom
However, things just don't work out for us in the room. The night is boiling hot, despite the fact that we've left the two small windows open. The rough finish on the plaster doesn't cut the mustard in the retro-chic stakes and the lighting control panel results in me blinding himself twice while on a late-night trip to the bathroom. I wonder what is wrong with basic switches. All that aside, despite a night of tossing and turning in our sauna, I can testify that the beds are comfortable.

The verdict...
Bellinter House is an elusive venue - it's all shabby chic, but with distincly unshabby prices. At checkout I am stunned to learn that my mojito costs €14. This leaves a sour taste in my mouth as I hand over my credit card. Leaving aside the sauna bedroom experience, I am somewhat happy with our stay. There is a lot of charm here, but it needs to acquire some polish.

Bellinter House, Navan, Co. Meath
Tel: +353 (0)46 90 30 900
Twitter: @BellinterHouse
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7 comments

Colette said...

Good grief, €14 for a Mojito? Outrageous. I thought prices had to be displayed for customers. Otherwise, a lovely post with beautiful pictures, and fair comments too.

CarolineO said...

Found your blog thru Boards, love the reviews and the photos!
Ouch - €14 for the Mojito!!!!

CharlieB said...

Rugrats? Infested with children? Chip on the shoulder?

dudara said...

Re the children comments: What I don't really mention is that Bellinter House is a relatively compact space. Although the games room and library are good spaces for children, they won't always stay in them. One child stomping around on the wooden floors in the lounge is very noticeable.

WiseMóna said...

Can't believe I missed this post! Seriously - €14 for a mojito is criminal especially with the old limes used. Regarding your comments about the children - eh - I like to get away from mine from time to time and feel the same way as you when I want just a bit of grown up space. We take the kids to 'kid hotels' where there is A LOT of space - large pools, kids discos/activities to wear them out.......nice little review though. We are going somewhere special at the end of September and your review has made me want to study the 'price list' a little more closely ;0)

Anonymous said...

Agree with your comments entirely. We couldn't even read at night as the rooms were so dimly lit. Totally unsuitable for the elderly as @I found out too late ( brought my 82yr old Mum ) Anyway I won't be going back anytime soon...very disappointed.

Ros Cunningham said...

still the same folks - never opt for late arrival. We were assigned E7 - room in east wing with bath and hand held shower - tiny and right over boiler house at back. it was 99 euro each for myself and hubby (I have had total hip replacement so the bath with hand held shower was not an option - a replacement room was given next day but it ruined our two day relaxing weekend and a stiff apology was not enough to ever make me go back there again. I was courteous with my complaint and was offered no recompense for the unpleasant experience - might venture there for tea and scones just to wander through the grounds but will never again stay there :(

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