Tried & Tested

Hotel check: The Portland, Manchester, a Thistle Hotel

23 Aug 2011 by Tom Otley

Background Thistle is spending considerable amounts of its portfolio of UK properties, and rebranding many of them to reflect their heritage, as is the case here, with The Portland Hotel.

What’s it like? The forbidding stone facade disguises a modern refurbished lobby area with comfortable and colourful seating including large high backed sofas and a computer terminal for paid access to the internet.

We arrived early - around 1145 and were told our room would not be ready for another hour but the receptionist was personable, friendly, made sure to check with housekeeping about the room and took our bags so we could go out for lunch. On our return, as promised, the room was ready. Throughout the stay the staff were excellent, which was fortunate, because it was not without incident.

Where is it? Right in the centre of town, almost next to Piccadilly Gardens and a short walk from Piccadilly train station.

Room facilities There are 204 bedrooms including 12 suites on floors one to seven with a range of views including out onto Portland Street, onto Hope Street and onto an inner courtyard. Normally these internal-facing rooms would be quieter, particularly at the weekend when Manchester’s famous nightlife goes into full swing, but as we found on the first night, the air conditioning units and other facilities are located here and kept up a constant noise making sleep difficult in our sixth floor room. In addition our shower curtain needed laundering and the room did not smell pleasant. The next morning I asked to be moved, giving the reasons, and another member of staff helpfully found a room directly across the corridor – moving from 641 to 638 so we could just carry our belongings into it. This overlooked Hope Street at the rear and was much quieter.

Both of the rooms were small, though they had a work table, television and safe. The first room had robe and slippers, the second not, but that might be because it was not prepared for a guest, and perhaps I should have carried them across the corridor. It’s worth noting that although the rooms have been refurbished, the walls are very thin, and falling asleep in the evening I could clearly hear the man next door having a conversation with his wife. The rooms are smart, the bathrooms less so, mainly because they cost so much more to refurbish and so still have the brown-ish marble sink tops and old fashioned taps. They are also quite small so that it’s difficult to get in as the door opens inwards.

In our second room the remote control did not work for the television, but we were not in there long enough for it to matter and so I simply left a note to that effect in the room. Both rooms also have smoke or fire detectors on the ceiling, which flash quite brightly every six seconds, though you only notice this once the lights are off and you are trying to go to sleep. Lastly, the corridors have also been refurbished, but there was paint flaking off the walls from damp close to our room and a very musty smell, perhaps because there was no fresh air circulating (for our second room I could leave the window open partially during the day, then close it at night, which helped).

Restaurants and bars The Portland Street Restaurant has an adjoining bar and serves breakfast, lunch and evening meal. We had breakfast there on two mornings and were impressed with the choice and once again with the service. The full buffet including juices, cereals fresh fruits, toasts and breads as well as a full selection of cooked items (bacon, eggs two ways, sausages, beans, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms) and you can order from a menu as well. The second morning the apple juice tasted very strange so we pointed it out and after investigation it seemed that the wrong amount of water had been added to the concentrate and this was quickly fixed. I also thought the orange juice was unpleasant and smelled like vinegar, but the restaurant manager thought it more like “baby orange juice” so we agreed to differ.

Business and meeting facilities There are eight meeting rooms in total, the largest of which seats 300 people theatre-style.

Leisure facilities There is a Thistle “Just Gym” in the basement – oddly named in this case, since there is also a very small swimming pool and spa bath.

Verdict: this is a solid hotel with very good staff – I spoke at some length to three of them, all of whom were excellent. Manchester has a lot of hotel rooms in this category, however, and there are several large hotels very close to The Portland including the Mint Hotel, Ramada and Aurora. The noise in the internal facing rooms needs sorting out, and some more money needs to be spent on the bedroom corridors since it creates the wrong first impression after the smart lobby.

FACT FILE

How many rooms 206 rooms and 12 suites.

Room highlights There is a large flatscreen TV in every room, wifi courtesy of BT Openzone (payable) and tea and coffee making facilities.

Price Internet rates for a midweek stay in a Standard room in October 2011 started from £107 for a flexible rate (£97 for advanced purchase with restrictions). Breakfast is available at a supplement to that rate for £10, dinner bed and breakfast £30).

Contact: 3-5 Portland Street, Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester; thistle.com

Tom Otley

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