By Jenny Hewett
Feb 25, 2021
SYDNEY IS NOT SHY OF ASSETS. First of all, the sun shines here with such fervor that it feels like you’re looking at the world through a glitter filter most days. Then there’s the glowy Opera House and arching Harbour Bridge, the creme-caramel beaches, and the bright ocean pools. The harbor city is a natural beauty. It has leisure-suit luxury written all over it.
And yet, besides a few new boutique stays, much of the hotel scene has been stuck in a fuzz of stuffy mega chains and tired five-stars that fail to reflect the playful culture and bougie personality of this city. Hold on tight, though, because the seagull has landed. And this time she’s wearing Prada. Billed as the city’s first ‘six-star’ hotel, Crown Sydney arrived late last year with a splash. And we’re never looking back.
Towering over the waterfront at Barangaroo, an evolving heritage and cultural precinct that’s sprinkled with hip eats, bakeries and bars, the all-glass Crown Sydney twists 275 meters into the ether and each of the 349 rooms and 22 villas boast different layouts and influences of the harbor. There’s an air of opulence from the moment I enter the lobby, a grand space with an illuminated spiraling atrium. Throughout the skyscraper there are 14 signature restaurants and bars, including the habitually booked-out Nobu, as well as a spa with an infrared sauna and vitality pool. And then there’s the casino, which at the time of writing has controversially been unable to secure its gaming license.
But the showpiece is without a doubt the fifth-floor terrace infinity pool, the likes of which you’d expect to find in L.A. or Singapore, but seems like an anomaly in a city where residents have free reign of its huge, gorgeous shoreline. But as I look around the wet deck one blissful afternoon, I realize this is what Sydney’s been missing. With its buzzy vibe and Ibiza-esque beats, A$350-a-day private cabanas (complimentary cheese plate or fruit platter and soft drinks included), water-tight security on entry, plush daybeds and designer-clad clientele clasping cocktails, this is Sydney in all its vertical-resort glory.
And the higher you go, the more lavish it gets. Its rare these days to ascend 17 stories up in Sydney and find such flooring views. My one-bedroom Opera Executive Suite, which has a cheeky backside glimpse of the Harbour Bridge and vistas out over the west side of the harbor, is luminous with natural light owing to the floor-to-ceiling glass that wraps around the lounge area and part of the bedroom. Everything is high-gloss from the jet-black marbled bathroom to the muted silver wallpaper and giant metallic columns.
I pad across the stylish marbled rug into the bedroom to find a plush king-sized bed that sends me straight to sleep the moment I hop in. I’m blaming the luxe Frette linen, cloud nine sort of stuff. Getting up is never easy when the slumber is this inviting, but I can confirm the breakfast is of the up-before-9 a.m. caliber, a Covid-friendly, show-stopping buffet running the gamut from eggs Benedict and dumplings to gelato and a chocolate fountain. You name it, they’ve probably got it.
The same could almost be said for my ensuite. It’s well-stocked with amenities from Aussie brand Grown Alchemist and bathing is a dance between the deep, egg-shaped tub with inbuilt TV, or the high-tech rain-shower, depending on your mood. The latter has three different nozzle patterns that are operated via a touch-point on the wall, so you can opt for a high-pressure single stream (a godsend for thick-haired folk), or more of a monsoon-type vibe. I’m a wash-and-wear kind of girl, but I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t take the A$426 Dyson hairdryer in the drawer for a spin.
The in-room tech does more than claim that it’s state of the art—it feels it. And not just because it’s up-to-date (you’ll find both USB and the newer USB-C charging outlets), but it’s also intuitive, meaning it won’t send you on a late-night turn-out-the-lights safari. The journey to my suitcase, however, is a little longer than expected. Due to the layout of the bedroom, the luggage stools in this suite are, rather strangely, placed in the lounge area rather than near the wardrobes, which are on the meager side.
One thing not slender: Sydney’s appetite for talked-about new tables. Given that international borders remain closed for now, domestic interest in the hotel is off the charts, with Peruvian-Japanese Nobu already hard to get into and its off-shoot, 12-seater sushi degustation Yoshii’s Omakase virtually impenetrable at the time of writing. Sydney’s Nobu may not ‘wow’ with the architectural fish-trap brilliance of the Dubai outpost or the luxury Atlantic-Ocean setting of its Malibu sister, but diners can expect all the usual suspects, including popcorn shrimp and black-eyed cod, plus seasonal seafood and some impressive cocktail work by the booze-smiths. Another Pisco, please.
Everyone in Sydney might be talking about Nobu right now, but Woodcut is a mighty opponent. The open-kitchen venue is a warm space flowing out onto the ground floor terrace and dishes are arranged on the menu by the way in which they’re cooked: fire, steam, smoke and ice (meaning, raw). The offering is extensive to say the least, right down to the selection of wood-oven breads—we’re talking slow-ferment sourdough, sesame bread with sheep’s curd and pomegranate, miche boule with cultured butter, and grilled Tasmanian black garlic bread.
Helmed by Sunny and Ross Lusted, former owners of The Bridge Room, the concept feels fresh and exciting, and is propped up by a staggering 22-page wine list. I had sworn I’d never eat octopus again, but the dish cooked on the ash grill and drizzled with charcuterie dressing on a bed of Greek skordalia, made me momentarily forget all about My Octopus Teacher. But the most theatrical part of the dinner is also the simplest: gothic-chic dessert of fresh cherries on ice with white chocolate and honey, a fairytale in every bite.
The whimsy steps up a notch on level three at the Teahouse, an ornate bar and tearoom with a vintage imperial feel. Think jewel tones of fuchsia and aqua alongside giant silk lanterns that have been exquisitely fashioned into private seating areas, complete with peacock embroidery. It’s a special space and an obligatory post-lunch spot for those tucking into the lunch-only yum cha at Silks. There are no trolleys here—instead fill up on polished versions of Cantonese dim sum in a luxury harborside setting, with scallop and lemon myrtle dumplings with chives, baked crispy barbecued pork ‘bolo’ buns and congee all on the menu. Dine at night to order the a la carte lobster with egg and truffle.
Meanwhile, cutting-edge Italian chefs may have spent the last 30 years trying to informalize the culture of dining, but at a’Mare, chef Alex Pavoni (owner of oft-hatted Ormeggio The Spit and seaside Chiosco) is bringing back the fuss. His Italian eatery is an homage to authentic Italian cuisine and that perfected style of service. There are no white tablecloths here, however the polite waitstaff are ever-present, with pesto and burrata mixed on a cart next to the table. “My grandmother used to make this one,” Alex says, as I bite into the casoncelli, smooth, ravioli-like morsels filled with caramelized pumpkin and mixed with sage and hazelnuts. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.
With this urban resort, Sydney’s skyline certainly has a new star. And there’s not a lot to fault.
crownsydney.com.au; doubles from A$674