There’s no denying that The Grand Hotel on Broad Street previously looked a bit…well…dated. Things have changed. It’s no longer a Thistle hotel, but a Mercure, and they’ve certainly spent a great deal of time, effort and most likely money on updating and renovating the 150-year old, Grade II listed Victorian building.
The 182 bedroom Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel has been updated throughout (well, almost throughout) to blend its beautiful Victorian architecture with a nod to Bristol’s street art scene. The façade is beautiful, and I’m pleased to see they’ve kept the stunning signage above the main entrance…but walk inside, and the hotel has a very different feel compared with before.
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The lobby is bright and airy, full of colour thanks to its plush sofas and easy chairs, all in different styles which give the reception area a relaxed feel. It’s possibly a little too relaxed: the check-in desk has been pared right down to a simple table with two laptops…a very modern feel that completely belies the exterior.
That said, the service we were greeted with was friendly and efficient, and we were directed to our room on the third floor, with a choice of the lift or the stairs, which take you on a warren-like route through the building. The stairs are normally an area where less attention is paid when a hotel is revamped, but that’s not the case here: there was plenty to look at on the walls on our journey up, including modern art pieces and old photos of Bristol.
Our home for the night was a suite on the third floor: a beautifully decorated room with sage green walls, and fittings and decor that combined the modern with a nod to the hotel’s heritage. Walking in, we were right in the heart of the room with the king size bed to our left, complete with wood and leather headboard and a stunning metal lamp, and more modern touches with the work from local street artists framed above it.
Opposite the bed, a large wall mounted TV with an extendable arm to change its position, and a workstation complete with a brightly patterned chair that added a splash of colour. We loved the little touch of a complimentary mini jar of honey from the hotel’s own beehives on the roof (more on that later), and were impressed with the addition of a Nespresso machine plus mini bar with free Coke and water (standard in suites and Privilege Double rooms), as well as the standard tea and coffee making facilities. One small niggle: we’d have liked more Nespresso capsules included, rather than one each of three different types.
Beyond the workstation was a small but cosy living area with a sofa, and armchair and a beautiful angled lamp, and a window with views of the carpark, which could be hidden with curtains with a blackout lining.
I had a little work to do after we arrived, so settled down on the sofa with my laptop to connect to the free WiFi (which seemed to work absolutely fine) – I loved the window between the two parts of the room, meaning you can still have a conversation despite the half wall.
The lounge area led through to a dressing area with hanging space, robes and slippers, a safe, hairdryer and ironing board, and then through again to an attractively tiled bathroom complete with very low bath with shower above, and complimentary Mercure toiletries.
The plan was to head to the hotel’s swimming pool for a quick dip before dinner, but sadly it wasn’t to be. The pool – plus gym, sauna and steam room – are accessed through a door that’s actually outside the main entrance of the hotel: a door which, when we reached it, was plastered with a sign saying that the facilities were closed. A real shame – and something that I’m surprised we weren’t told about at check in.
We loved the room…but what would our evening meal bring? We were intrigued about the hotel’s new food and drink offering: Keepers Kitchen & Bar, which promised “a twist on traditional British cuisine with an imaginative menu that also features homegrown honey sourced from a hive on the hotel’s roof.” They apparently have around 40,000 bees and their own in-house keeper…and, unsurprisingly, their honey features quite highly on their menu.
It also features quite highly in the restaurant and bar, with plenty of bee-themed decor: honeycomb-shaped wire decorations on the back wall, honeycomb-inspired lampshades…we really did love the design of the place, and the fact that the bar with its huge neon Keepers sign (and which was very busy with people enjoying post-work drinks when we arrived on the Friday evening) is separated slightly from the dining area.
We were seated at a round table at the back of the restaurant, listening to music from MGMT, Damien Marley, Gorillaz and others while we chose our food and drinks. It was the drinks we started with, and I couldn’t resist ordering their Purple Rain cocktail (£7.50), which promised a combination of vanilla vodka, Chambord, apple juice and fresh berries. I loved the presentation, and the drink itself was summery and refreshing, with a lovely sweet flavour.
The food choice was a little trickier…it’s rare that I’ll look at a restaurant menu and not have at least a dish or two immediately catch my eye, but I’m sorry to say it happened here. It’s a very diverse menu: think sharing boards, a huge list of burgers (including some that are very different to the norm), pizzas, salads and mains that range from mushroom pappardelle with courgette, walnut, tarragon and Stilton to glazed pig cheeks with cider, peas, potatoes and a caramelised apple jus.
Instead of starters, we opted for two dishes from Keepers’ “for the table” menu, beginning with the “warm hand twisted pretzel with spinach and Pecorino dip” (£4.50). The pretzel itself was perfect: good and fluffy inside, with a crisp shell and loads of flavour from the poppy seeds. The dip, though, we were confused about – when presented with what you see in the picture below, we weren’t convinced that “spinach and Pecorino” was right…and on tasting, it had a very tangy, odd flavour that just didn’t appeal. We were told, though, that it was definitely Pecorino, but it’s not something we’d order again…
We also chose the crispy potato gnocchi with tomatoes and Parmesan (£4) which definitely hit the spot – it truly was beautiful. The gnocchi were dense in the middle and slightly crispy outside, mixed with fresh tomato segments and decent-sized chunks of cooked garlic. We could quite happily have ordered more of these.
The mains, sadly, were pretty disappointing. My Brixham burger (£11.50) certainly looked the part, and promised fried soft shell crab, roast lemon, garlic, chilli and prawn mayo. The heavy board it was served on was attractive, but took up a huge amount of space and obviously caused issues for the serving staff…and the burger wasn’t much better. There was no crab flavour at all, with the greasy batter dominating, and while the prawn mayo topping was enjoyable, the bun was too dense. I couldn’t taste the promised lemon, garlic or chilli at all either. No such complaints about the triple cooked chips, though, which were truly fantastic: a good size, seasoned to perfection and with the requisite amount of crispiness.
For Chris, the fish and chips (£11.50), served on the same awkward tray. The fish was cooked well, but the batter, while lovely and herby, had a bit of an odd texture. The chips, like mine, were fantastic, and the tartare sauce good and tangy…but the mushy peas were awful: they had a strange, egg-like smell to them which carried through to the flavour, which was very offputting.
His sticky toffee pudding (£5.45) made up for it: a dense, sweet slab of pudding with a generous pool of thick, toffee sauce, and a scoop of clotted cream ice cream that had plenty of flavour but melted far too quickly.
My “brownie ice cream sundae” (£6.45), though, was a bit odd. I was expecting (and hoping for) a glass full of brownie chunks, ice cream, plus the honeycomb, berries and chocolate sauce promised on the menu.
What I actually got was the below: a jar filled with three scoops of ice cream, the flavour of which was tricky to determine as they were surrounded by a sea of what I can only describe as thin and weak chocolate milk. And, balanced on top, an entire ring doughnut, and a chocolate brownie. Half the elements promised on the menu were missing, and the whole thing was a bit of a let down…plus I honestly don’t know how you’re supposed to eat this thing. Doughnut and brownie first? There’s nowhere to set them down while you eat the ice cream before it melts…who knows…
We left Keepers and headed upstairs to our room, pulled the blackout curtains and called it a night – and had a seriously comfortable night’s sleep. The mattress was firm, the pillows not too soft, as they have a habit of being in some hotels, and the blackout lining in the curtains worked. The only thing that did affect our sleep quality was the fact that our room was so close to the lift and stairs and didn’t have great soundproofing, meaning regular disturbance by passing traffic.
The next morning, after a blast under the powerful rainfall shower in our bathroom, it was time to head back down to Keepers for breakfast, which is served from a side room off the main restaurant. There’s certainly plenty of choice: fruit-infused water and two different juices sit alongside a variety of cereals, while at one end there are two coffee machines dishing out lattes, cappuccinos, espressos and more. Opposite the juices are the traditional big silver domes starring all the elements of a cooked breakfast, along with yoghurts (plain only, which surprised me), fresh and tinned fruit, and a toaster where you can toast your own bread, before slathering it with various local jams, the hotel’s own honey, Marmite, Nutella or butter.
You’ll also find a selection of mini pastries at this end, from Danishes to pains au chocolat – there was a decent amount of choice, with something for everyone.
The hot food was refilled regularly, so everything tasted nice and fresh – and the fried eggs even had runny yolks, which made me happy. The scrambled eggs were beautifully creamy, the bacon just crisp enough, and the sausages packed full of flavour – a great way to start a Saturday morning.
After breakfast, check out was simple and efficient, and done with a smile – I’ve got to say, we were impressed with the service throughout our stay, from everyone from the reception staff to those at Keepers. In my view, the Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel is a great shout for visitors of all sorts: leisure visitors will enjoy its location in the heart of the city centre as well as its leisure facilities (when they’re open), while business travellers can benefit from free WiFi and a variety of function rooms. There’s free car parking on-site for hotel residents too, which is a massive bonus given its location.
Would we recommend the Mercure Bristol Grand? Absolutely, for an overnight stay it was comfortable and we loved the blend of the old and the new in the hotel’s new decor. I’m reserving judgement on Keepers, though: while the breakfast was good, our evening meal just didn’t cut the mustard, especially given the number of great restaurants nearby.
Please note: our meal and stay were received free of charge, but this in no way impacted on our opinion. We were not obliged to write a positive review, and the venue did not see this review before it was put up on the site.