It's the place where Rolls first met Royce, and has been a Manchester legend since it was built in 1903, but the Midland Hotel is showing no signs of falling behind the times. It may have been slightly eclipsed by the new giants of The Lowry Hotel and Radisson Edwardian in recent years, but a massive restoration project that began in 2004 has breathed new life into the Midland.
This grand hotel was originally built by the Midland Railway Company to provide respite for weary business travellers, which is why a hotel in Manchester is called The Midland.
As one of the most familiar buildings in Manchester city centre, I'm well used to looking at the exterior of The Midland, usually whilst waiting, waiting, waiting for a tram in St Peter's Square. So I couldn't really have any first impressions walking up to the hotel, but the entrance and lobby area are exactly what you would hope for and expect. High ceilings, mirrors, stately furnishings and lots of class are what you get when you walk into The Midland Hotel, and even the most jaded business traveller would have to be impressed.
Check-in was incredibly easy and it took only a matter of minutes from arrival to be headed for the wall of lifts at the end of the lobby and on our way to the room.
The refurbishment process somehow managed to create nine new rooms - taking the total up to 312 - as well as upgrading all the rest of them. And it is here where the benefits of the facelift are most evident. In a century-old hotel, you might expect the rooms to be rather old-fashioned and dated, but while they are certainly still classic in design, these rooms are now far from past their best. The paintwork mostly looks shiny-new, and the bathrooms are noticeably similar to the ones you'd find in The Lowry (though the Radisson's wet-rooms are sadly absent here).
One of the most obvious improvements is in the televisual department, with a flat-screen TV set on a swivelling stand so that you can point it in the direction of the sofa or the bed, depending on where you fancy watching the box. There are the usual option in terms of channels (basically Freeview plus a few pay-per-view movie channels plus pay-per-oo-er porn channels), and it all works very nicely indeed. Wi-fi internet access is also standard in all the rooms, as is air-conditioning.
One area where our room suffered in comparison with both The Lowry and the Radisson was the view. With The Midland being a big old traditional building, a sizeable proportion of the rooms only get a view of the rooms on the other three sides of the hotel, rather than a glamorous vision of urban Manchester in all its splendour. While this is only a slight problem in a city-centre hotel (it's not like you're missing out on a view of a Caribbean beach after all), there was one more serious issue we had.
That was the bed. At a four-star hotel like this, you expect comfort at the very least from the most important item in the room, but The Midland's beds just aren't that comfy. For one thing, they are too short for a man of by height (6"3), which is just daft these days. How would Peter Crouch cope? Even more annoyingly, the mattresses on the bed were not exactly welcomingly soft, meaning that I woke up early with a bad back. Beds are obviously a subjective issue, and many people would find those at The Midland to be perfectly fine, but quite honestly I didn't.
One of the most popular aspects of The Midland Hotel is its elegance, and nowhere is this more evident than in The French restaurant, which was mostly untouched by the refurbishments because it was decided that altering its classic design would be a big mistake. And they were right, because it's a stunningly opulent room, particularly with two new chandeliers hanging overhead. The menu is equally fancy, so it might not be the place for people with limited palates, while it is worth pointing out that four tieless Beatles were once barred from entering, so don't turn up in a paint-stained pair of overalls...
A new area of the hotel is The Wyvern, a stylish new bar in which to relax and unwind, situated at the front of the hotel overlooking St Peter's Square and the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Of course, The Midland's excellent location means that you are never far away from anything in town, least of all with a tram stop just outside the front door, not to mention Central Library, which is only over the road.