Hotel insider stays at the Observatory Hotel in Sydney - perhaps the only world-class hotel in the city.
The Observatory Hotel, Sydney
The welcome. You get a great sense of elegance as you enter. The exterior of the building is nothing to write home about but inside it feels like a Palladian villa. The lobby stretches left and right and resembles an orangery with soft, enveloping sofas, pot plants and Australian art works on the wall. The centre of the lobby is overlooked by an elliptical balcony. The owners - the Orient Express group - have allowed the hotel to maintain its alluring Euro-Australian feel.
The rooms are large and homely and feature lush fabrics decorated with native Australian flora and fauna. Suites have a good-sized sitting room. I loved the signs in the non-smoking rooms that warned if guests disobeyed and had a crafty smoke, they would be hit with an Australian $300 (Dh990) bill for cleaning. Quite right. Above all I remember the hush of the place: carpeted corridors, solid walls and a sense of calm and stillness.
Ask the concierge. Michael Anderson is not just a concierge; he is a super-concierge. There is nothing he does not know about Sydney. He has been with the hotel since it opened 15 years ago and has assisted Saudi Princes, Hollywood A-listers and CEOs of some of the world's biggest corporations. He even found time to get me a charger for a slightly out-of-date Sony Ericsson mobile phone I was borrowing.
The scene. Quietly and with no fanfare, the Observatory Hotel has become a hangout for media-shy celebrities visiting Sydney to perform, shoot a film or attend a premiere or book launch. Past guests include Gwyneth Paltrow, Kylie Minogue, Michael Palin, the Duchess of York and the British concert violinist Nigel Kennedy. For my money, it's also the most romantic spot in town so expect honeymooners, plus couples celebrating wedding anniversaries. I met one couple who were halfway through a round-the-world ruby wedding extravaganza.
Loved Galileo, the hotel's restaurant. The Japanese chef Haru Inukai has created a fusion of flavours from France and his native land. There is a multi-course degustation menu which is a great way to test his skills and the variety of his dishes. A tip: don't eat anything for the entire day before because the portions are generous. Hated the rooms at the front of the hotel because they can be a little noisy. Try to get one at the rear, not only are they quieter but you'll also benefit from magnificent views over Sydney Harbour (some rooms on that side have sun terraces).
The verdict. Possibly the only truly world-class hotel in Australia. European style meets Aussie warmth and history, topped off by a superb and romantic restaurant. It's the only address you need in Sydney. The Observatory Hotel 89-113 Kent Street, Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia Tel: +61 2 9256 2222 The Observatory Hotel Doubles from Dh1,280