Interview: Ciaran O’Neill

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TSE talks to Ciaran O’Neill, managing director of Bishop’s Gate Hotel and partner of Soda & Starch Pantry and Grill.

When did Bishop’s Gate Hotel open?

In 2016 and since opening we’ve exceeded both occupancy and business targets. We are going from strength to strength. 

Can you tell us about the history of the building?

The overall design of Bishop’s Gate Hotel has captured the attention of those who recognise the importance of aesthetics.  When you are creating a boutique hotel experience there are so many aspects to consider and the fact that Bishop’s Gate Hotel is a Grade B1 listed building was a very important factor in the whole design process. The building, which is situated in the heart of Derry’s Cathedral Quarter dates back to 1899. 

It was important to sensitively restore the fabric of the building to its Edwardian grandeur.  When I received notification that Bishop’s Gate Hotel was shortlisted in the prestigious RIAI Irish Architecture Awards 2017 in the Restoration / Conservation category and in the ‘Public Choice’ Award I was ecstatic. The RIAI Irish Architecture Awards are the premier architectural awards in Ireland and they recognise excellence in design and the contribution made by architecture to society for everyone’s benefit.

TripAdvisor continues to feature you in the top rankings, tell us about this year’s accolades?

TripAdvisor unveiled that Bishop’s Gate Hotel in Derry-Londonderry features in its annual UK Travellers’ Choice awards for the second year in a row. Last year, we ranked second on this coveted list, and Bishop’s Gate takes the No. 3 spot for 2018. Featured in three categories, the ratings are an indication of the continued appeal of Bishop’s Gate and demonstrate the consistently high standard of customer service that is delivered to all visitors. Based on reviews from millions of travellers, Bishop’s Gate is in the top 1% of hotels in the United Kingdom. The categories are as follows: Top 25 Hotels – United Kingdom (3); Top 25 Luxury Hotels – United Kingdom (7) and Top 25 Hotels for Best Service – United Kingdom (11). 

What is your biggest achievement this year?

If ever a new hotel has made an impact since it opened, it has to be Bishop’s Gate Hotel! Following a recent assessment from the AA, Bishop’s Gate Hotel has been given a coveted Rosette Award for the dining experience in The Gown restaurant.

It is wonderful that we are now getting recognised for the quality of the food offering. We have a committed team of talented chefs in the hotel.  A Rosette is awarded for the quality of the restaurant, the service provided and the standard and presentation of the food. Less than 10% of restaurants in the UK have a Rosette Award.

What dining options are available?

The Gown Restaurant is the jewel in the crown but we offer a variety of different dining options with casual food served in the Wig Bar and  private dining menus for both 7 London Street and The Northern Counties Ballroom, as well as Afternoon Tea in the Hervey Library.

What can visitors expect in terms of service?

We strive to ensure every visit is special, whether it is a formal occasion such as a wedding or simply friends enjoying lunch or afternoon tea in The Wig & Gown Champagne Bar & Grill, which is fast becoming a destination restaurant. Delivering the best accommodation, food and service is our priority and we will continue to work tirelessly to provide experiences that exceed expectations.

Bishops’ Gate Hotel was voted winner in the team category at the 2018 NIHF Hotel Receptionist of the Year Awards. What is the secret to building a great team?

I’m absolutely thrilled with this award and I want to thank the fantastic team that we have at Bishop’s Gate Hotel.  Without them these endorsements would simply not have been possible.  We’re now in our third year of business and going from strength to strength. It’s an exciting time for us.  Our reputation for excellence and high-quality service is well known, as is the ongoing work we undertake to ensure unrivalled levels of expertise. This is all an integral part of the Bishop’s Gate Hotel experience and the reason that our guests keep coming back. 

Are there any other awards that you would like to mention?

Bishop’s Gate has won a host of other local awards since it officially opened in 2016. The hotel featured in The Irish Times – ‘100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland’, and it was voted ‘Hideaway of the Year’ in a Georgina Campbell hospitality guide.  Georgina is one of Ireland’s leading food and hospitality writers. Talented receptionist Laura Curran won the NI Hotels Federation ‘Hotel Receptionist of the Year 2017’, while her colleague Stephanie McCarron was voted runner up. During last year’s North West Business Awards Bishop’s Gate was named as ‘Guest Accommodation Provider of the Year’.

What makes Bishop’s Gate Hotel unique?

I know people might think I’m biased, which is why I’d say come and visit and find out for yourself what makes Bishop’s Gate Hotel unique.  You’re guaranteed a heady mix of ingredients. For starters, there’s a generous dose of Derry hospitality, delivered by genuine, friendly people from those on the reception desk, to the bar staff and the restaurant team. Then there’s the rooms, they’re like a little slice of paradise!

Tell me about your business venture in Derry’s Craft Village?

Soda & Starch Pantry and Grill, a new restaurant located in the heart of Derry’s Craft Village, opened its doors to the public in March. The menu will appeal to ‘foodies’ who love tantalising, wholesome Northern Ireland cooking. It is a partnership. I am working with Head Chef Raymond Moran.

The restaurant offers passers by the chance to relax and take a break whilst visiting the North West. With a variety of delicious foods and drinks on the menu, it’s a place to unwind in friendly and welcoming settings. Using locally sourced produce, Soda & Starch Pantry and Grill is designed to cater to different tastes and appetites as it offers a range of options, from a simple sandwich lunch through to a four course formal dinner. 

What motivates you?

I am at a different stage of the journey than I was 10 years ago when I was motivated by success and promotion. Now that I have been part of the team to create something special in my home town – opening the award winning Bishop’s Gate Hotel – it is more about ensuring that we consistently deliver on the high standards we have set ourselves.

Bishop’s Gate Hotel is a family business. There is a sense of achievement around job creation and an attachment to the bigger community of our city. The energy and passion of the team at the hotel has the ability to recharge the passion on the ‘not so good’ days.  

Who inspires you?

People in general. I tend to see the best in people. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

In our industry this can be a challenge and striking the correct work life balance is always difficult.

I was a competitive golfer at one stage but now play for fun when I get the chance. I am guilty of loving dogs! Our most recent project is a new Great Dane puppy who I must say is keeping my wife, Anne Marie, and myself a little pre occupied at the moment in ‘Project Raising Wilbur’!

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