After a 20-year hiatus, a £45million refurbishment and an unexpected pandemic, The Grand Hotel finally welcomed guests back through its doors earlier this year to experience this revitalized Birmingham institution.
After a glamorous launch, rave reviews and a celebrity stay from Tom Cruise, it looks as though Birmingham finally has a destination hotel to draw visitors from around the world. The rebirth of this iconic building couldn’t come at a better time, with the Commonwealth Games heading to the city in 2022.
Five months on from launch, DLUXE Magazine returns to see if it’s still riding high and earning its newly -bestowed title of ‘Best Places To Stay’ by the Sunday Times. Sarinda Bains went along for an overnight stay and Afternoon Tea treat and shares her experience here*…
From Grand History to Bright Future
Originally opened in 1879, the hotel is housed in a Grade II* listed building on Colmore Row. The building’s spectacular façade oozes luxury, and in its former life the hotel attracted everyone from film stars to royalty through its doors.
Fast forward to today and the newly restored hotel manages to perfectly marry Victorian splendour with 21st century attitude. The building’s stunning original features pay homage to its storied past, whilst the addition of a central courtyard, the luxurious Madeleine Bar and New York-style Isaac’s Brasserie add a trendy, contemporary experience befitting modern Birmingham.
Location and Surroundings
The hotel is located an easy 5-minute walk from Birmingham New Street Station. When I say an easy walk, I’m speaking as someone that is directionally challenged – and even I managed it without trouble! For those arriving by car, Snow Hill Station car park is just around the corner.
The building itself overlooks St Phillips Cathedral and the surrounding green space of Cathedral Square in a calmer area of Birmingham’s usually bustling city centre. Within stumbling distance are some of the finest bars and restaurants in the city, and in less than 10 minutes’ walk you can reach the historical treasures of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery or indulge in some retail therapy at the Bullring & Grand Central.
Check-in & First Impressions
Upon entering the hotel, it’s hard not to be impressed by incredible restoration work that has taken place. The ornate new entrance on Church Street is flagged by carriage lamps welcoming you into a stylish reception area.
The welcome is warm and the check-in process quick and, from that moment on, the service is friendly and efficient. The staff across the hotel and bars are knowledgeable and passionate about the building and its history, and nothing seems too much trouble. I even received an email on the way up to my room, welcoming me to the hotel and recommending places to eat in the city during my stay – a lovely touch for visitors who may be unfamiliar with the area.
After leaving my bags in the room (more on that later), I went off to explore some of the hotel. I made a point of walking down the spiralling main staircase to the first floor, emerging between gilded marble pillars onto an original, colourful mosaic floor. It’s amazing how such a simple experience of walking down the stairs can feel so luxurious – and it’s no surprise this is one of the most instagrammable spots in the hotel.
The first floor is dedicated to meetings and events, with eight rooms accommodating different group sizes and including an internal courtyard – a new feature for the modernised hotel and a real boon for a location that struggles for outside space. It gives off beautiful roof-terrace vibes, complete with twinkling outdoor lights and a pergola draped in climbing greenery.
From here, I went down to the ground floor event spaces and the main event: the Grand Ballroom. The heavy wooden doors are a fitting entrance to the space, with tiny cherubs adorning the handles and greeting you as you walk in. The space is genuinely breath-taking, with double-height and intricately carved ceilings with hanging lights and gold leaf detail. The room is the definition of grandeur. I was lucky enough to see it set up for an event later that evening, with banquet seating and tables flourished with shining silverware and elegant candelabras. I expect it will be an in-demand venue for lavish events and weddings for up to 250 people.
To the side is the dimly lit Horton’s Bar, named after Isaac Horton, developer of the original 19th century hotel. It is an intimate space with the sophisticated feel of an old members club, providing an ideal private space for larger groups.
There are 185 guest bedrooms, all meticulously created by Robert Angell Design International. I stayed in a Junior Suite overlooking the leafy green oasis of Cathedral Square.
The décor is classic, with neutral walls contrasted by statement furniture in leather and velvet, bringing the glamourous feel of the public areas into the bedrooms. It’s the small details that elevate the experience, from the vintage rotary telephone to the Nespresso coffee and a Marshall radio on the bedside table, it is a stylish but comfortable space to relax.
The bathroom is bright and white, with a walk-in waterfall shower, separate bath and double sinks complete with an array of Molton Brown toiletries. There’s even fluffy gowns and soft slippers to ensconce you after a hard day of sight-seeing in the second city.
The bed itself is soft as a cloud with plenty of pillows (no waking up with neck ache here!). The rooms have been sound-proofed, so the bonus of being right in the heart of the action on Colmore Row is complemented with a peaceful night’s sleep – win win!
The hotel has Grand Accessible rooms adapted with wider walkways and roll-in showers for disabled guests. For those looking for something extra special, the Grand is home to a penthouse suite with a super-king four poster bed, marble bathroom, its own bar and table football.
Rooms start from £134, comparable to other city centre locations offering a touch of luxury.
Time for Tea: Madeleine
On the ground floor both guests and non-residents can enjoy Madeleine, the hotel’s stylish cocktail bar. The Parisian décor features modern chandeliers and pink and navy velvet furnishing against dark wood panelled walls.
Afternoon tea is served here every Wednesday to Saturday, and I was seated at 4pm to sample it for myself. After a glass of champagne, I picked from a selection of teas – whilst there are familiar English Breakfasts and Earl Greys on the list, I decided to branch out and try something a little out of the ordinary.
My choices of Lapsang Souchong (a dark, smokey tea) and Silver Needle (a light and fragrant option) were quickly served in delicate red and white china pots. Re-fills of both tea and champagne were offered throughout the experience.
The food followed shortly after, served on a traditional cake stand and generously portioned. I enjoyed a palate cleansing beetroot and goats cheese tart, and three finger sandwiches with a variety of fillings. A choice of plain and raisin scones was served with clotted cream and, unusually, clementine jam. I was a big fan of the clementine jam, which had a spiced fragrance of cloves and cinnamon – it tasted like Christmas.
For someone who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, I was blown away by the cakes. First up, a lemon tart which had a crispy outer shell and soft, oozing centre. Next, a blackberry macaron. I usually find macarons overly sweet, but the sharpness of the blackberries balanced the sugary, chewy patisserie perfectly. I saved the best until last: a chocolate financier dipped in dulce de leche and filled with chocolate crème… I’m salivating at the memory of it!
Late night at Madeleine
Later in the evening I returned to Madeleine to sample the cocktails on offer. The bar was transformed, with a roaring fire, low lighting and vintage table lamps creating an intimate feel. It was fairly busy but hotel guests are given priority for walk-in tables. Both the member of staff on the door and the server remembered me from earlier in the day and welcomed me warmly, a nice touch which exemplifies the high standard of service throughout the hotel.
The cocktails are divine. I started with the Madeleine Martini – a pineapple and raspberry flavoured take on the classic, but I was drawn in by the mention of ‘lemon tart air.’ When it arrived it was topped by what looked like bubble bath! The airy topping tasted like a mixture between candyfloss and sherbet – sharp but melted instantly in the mouth leaving a lemon-y aftertaste, complementing the raspberry of the martini perfectly. The bar staff were also happy to take classic cocktail orders not listed on the menu, serving an expertly mixed Old Fashioned on request.
Birmingham is spoilt for choice when it comes to cocktail bars but Madeleine perhaps takes the crown as the city’s most glamorous location, and is certainly home to the best martini I’ve ever tasted!
New York Style at Isaac’s
In the morning breakfast was served in the hotel’s restaurant, Isaac’s Brasserie. It is a New York-style venue, adorned with gleaming white and green tiles and comfortable booth seating. Breakfast was offered as a buffet with plenty of options to build a Full English (complete with black pudding) or lighter continental breakfast of your choice. The only criticism of my entire stay is that the breakfast plates were on the small side, making it difficult to fit a full breakfast onto a plate… a problem easily remedied with an extra visit to the buffet!
Isaac’s is open to hotel guests and non-residents for lunch and dinner, serving American comfort food ranging from burgers and steaks to lobster. The bar is well stocked and welcomes customers visiting just for a drink.
The glamour of the hotel is easy for all to see, and the fabulous refurbishment has restored The Grand Hotel to its former glory days at the pinnacle of luxury in Birmingham. But this isn’t exclusive luxury. Whilst the surroundings are impressively lavish, there is no pretention here; everyone is made to feel welcome and at ease. As magnificent as the refurbishment is, it was the little details and 5-star service that made this stay extra special.
Value for Money 4/5
The Grand Hotel
Colmore Row, Birmingham B3 2BS, UK.
+44 (0)121 827 9600
*We were gifted a stay at The Grand Hotel with Afternoon Tea in return for a review – all opinions are our own.