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People & Service

People & Service

Our Service

At The Merchant Hotel we pride ourselves on impeccable service and every team member aims to exceed the expectations of all of our guests. We are committed to making sure your stay is as smooth and relaxed as possible, from the moment you arrive until your departure and upon every future visit.

Our People

We know that at the heart of 5 Star service is the people. As Northern Ireland’s only AA 5 Red Star hotel we ensure we employ only the best people, train them to the highest possible standards and then continue to enhance their skills and knowledge on a regular basis. Many of our staff have been with us for a long time and all are committed to ensuring you experience excellence.

John Paul Leake

Head Chef - The Great Room Restaurant

What is your first culinary memory?

When I was 11 years old I stayed with a host family in Belgium. This was a culinary awakening in many ways. In particular, I vividly remember the Grandmother preparing and cooking rabbit. I was transfixed by the process and surprised by the soft delicate flavour. I still talk about that flavour today.

Can you define the moment when you realised this was the industry that you wanted to work in?

When I was fifteen years old I completed a work experience in a hotel kitchen. I was hooked. I loved the excitement and the buzz of the kitchen and just knew it was the right environment for me. 

Where did you train and complete your work experience?

I worked in a few established restaurants in Belfast for 5 years before travelling to Australia and Southeast Asia. Upon my return, I relocated to London to further enhance my culinary skills. Whilst here I worked at the Michelin star Mirabelle restaurant for Marco Pierre White for over two years before joining the world renowned two Michelin star restaurant, The Square, under Phil Howard. I then moved on to the Orrery restaurant for a further 2 years before returning to Belfast to pass on this world class experience from London and to showcase the great produce Ireland has to offer.

Can you describe one of your most memorable experiences throughout your career?

I was working in the Mirabelle one day when out of the blue, I heard someone shout down the lift shaft, ‘John, John, lets get these partridges sorted’. It was no other than my idol Marco Pierre White!

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Our wonderfully unpredictable Northern Ireland climate means local produce is only available for a short window. We try to incorporate as much fine local produce as possible so I work closely with suppliers.

Have you ever cooked for any high profile customers or events, if so, who and what did you cook?

I have cooked for everyone from high profile dignitaries to the biggest artists in the world such as Madonna, Robbie Williams & Kylie. Most tend to go for the healthier options like salads or grilled fish! Personally, the highest profile in my eyes have been the Gallagher brothers and Sir Alex Ferguson. Sir Alex even came into the kitchen to pay me a visit!

What is your favourite meal to eat?

I love all kinds of seafood dishes. It is hard to go past a good old eggs Arlington to start the day.

What is your favourite dish to cook?

Beef wellington simply because it takes time to prepare and precision cooking to get it right.

Who is your favourite chef of all time and why?

I have a lot of respect for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I love how he revived the whole ‘farm to fork’ ethos and how he uses his creativity to use the entire produce with minimum waste. I think it fits very well with what we do best here in Northern Ireland. From a restaurant perspective I’d have to say Marco Pierre White. He is really the godfather of celebrity chefs. I admire his simple, clean but elegant style of cooking. 

What are your views on the changing face of the NI culinary scene?

It has exploded in recent years. It is fantastic to see so much diversity and choice out there. Eating out has become a very accessible experience which is great news all round.