GAZING from the turret windows of my hotel across the Tay, with Captain Scott’s RRS Discovery and both rail and road bridges in view, there can hardly be a better vantage point to observe Dundee undergoing a remarkable renaissance.
And my hotel is a building which has already experienced a transformation. The former Mathers Hotel, which was once a temperance abode before falling into disrepair for decades, has now risen like a phoenix from the ashes to become Malmaison Dundee – the city’s newest, hippest, most sumptuous place to stay.
Located in Whitehall Crescent, a stone’s throw from the railway station, the hotel is in the heart of the new waterfront development, with the V&A museum being constructed nearby.
Despite only opening in February, it scooped four trophies at the 2014 Scottish Hotel Awards last month including overall City Hotel of the Year and the Gold Laurel for Exceptional Achievement.
As soon as they cross the threshold, guests are welcomed by one of Malmaison Dundee’s most gobsmacking features – the magnificently restored Victorian grand staircase which sweeps up six storeys topped by a glass dome. Closer observation reveals that its decorative wrought iron filigree is made up of the interlocking initials “M” and “H” from Mathers Hotel. Long encased in concrete until it was chipped away by builders renovating the premises, the initials, which by synchronicity happen to be those of Malmaison Hotel, have now been reproduced on glass panels.
The purple-carpeted staircase, flanked by moody dark walls and large gilt mirrors, leads up to the Brasserie restaurant on the first floor. On either side of the doorway are large portraits of Emperor Napoleon and Josephine whose Château de Malmaison was located on the outskirts of Paris.
Before dinner in the Brasserie, my teenage son and I explored the adjoining Malchemy bar. While I was quite taken by the plump velvet cushions, decor and impressive wine list, my son soon felt at home after noticing the familiar Scottish beers on offer such as BrewDog IPA and clocking the music being played was by cool jazz vocalist Gregory Porter.
The Brasserie, with its magnificent view over the Tay and the Discovery, was almost full on a Thursday evening. The room was buzzing with a mixture of business people, a large well-behaved group of young women, couples of varying ages, a family, and a mixed group of 20-somethings.
Our waiter was attentive and friendly, took pride in his job and was knowledgeable about what was on the menu. My appetiser of fritto misto which consisted of a tempura of squid, tiger prawns and courgettes with a sweet chilli dipping sauce was yummy and generous enough to be a main course. I stuck to a fishy theme, following it with pan fried sea bass, sautéed chorizo, black olives and new potatoes. My son had prime steak capriccio and a strip burger for his main course – cooked on chef Steven Frei’s Josper charcoal grill.
Fifty per cent of the restaurant’s wine list is by the glass, but if you have deep pockets, the champagnes on offer include magnums of Krug Grande Cuvée NV at just under £500.
The hotel also has a small private dining Discovery room seating 12, ideal for family or work celebrations as well as a number of rooms of varying sizes for hosting weddings and business functions.
At street level is the Malbar for a range of treats ranging from cocktails and champagne to morning coffee and croissants, bar snacks and sandwiches. Decorated in aqua blue and silver, its bar area has widescreen TVs, but there are also a number of booths for private chats, and tables on the pavement terrace. Bubble Time on Fridays offers champagne and cocktails at a reduced price.
While the theme is quite glamorous, the wit and essence of Dundee is to be found in the pictures of famous cartoon characters such as Dennis the Menace and Gnasher and their pals which adorn the walls of the hotel’s 91 rooms, including the club, suites and supersuites plus five rooms with wheelchair access.
The hotel, part of a chain of 13 which first opened in Aberdeen in 2008, is an ideal base to explore the city, with many highlights within easy walking distance. The McManus art gallery and museum is a short hop away, as is Dundee Rep Theatre, the Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre, the Mills Observatory and shopping venues such as the Overgate and Wellgate centres.
But despite my best intentions of discovering more of Dundee I found myself deciding to stay put and just enjoy the luxury of my surroundings. Admittedly, I had been given a suite of three rooms for my stay. The massive bed with faux bearskin bedspread and purple velvet headboard was fabby for lounging while flicking through the complimentary magazines and munching a bar of chocolate.
I was spoiled for choice with not one, but two large flatscreen TVs and a bathroom with a claw foot bath, and fig and olive toiletries. But the best thing of all was being able to lie in the aforementioned bed and just gaze at the Discovery, surely the most shining jewel in Dundee’s crown.
• Malmaison Dundee, 44 Whitehall Crescent, Dundee DD1 4AY. Prices start from £99 per room per night, B&B, tel: 0844 693 0661 or visit www.malmaison.com