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Do yourself a favour and stay at the Sofitel Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour has always been the gold crown of tourism in Sydney, but as recently as a few years ago the area had started to lose its lustre. The city’s crown was in need of some polish. In response, and with public support, the government set about a massive project of urban renewal: public performance spaces, terraced landscapes, the glittering geometric facade of the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre.

It seems right that a luxury hotel would take full advantage of this explosion. What better jewel for Sydney’s crown than the city’s first 5-star hotel built in over 15 years. Enter the Sofitel Darling Harbour.

Stepping through the gold revolving door we’re greeted with “bonjour” and a unique style. Hotel General Manager Greg Brady describes it as a mashup of French Art de Vivre and local culture. Each Sofitel hotel shares a link with a unique French city to describe its style. Sofitel Darling Harbour has its links with Marseille, a trading port not unlike Darling Harbour. Stone and gold art deco accents are contrasted against earthy tones and weathered wood, evoking Sydney’s Aboriginal history and the trading ports of old. Art installations hang in the ground floor void like giant jellyfish or a fisherman's netting. The exterior of the hotel also channels this aboriginal heritage, where ochre nearer the ground floor (earth) transition into dazzling blue glass (sky).

The bathroom of our Deluxe Corner Room at sunrise. Picture: Nathan Dukes
The bathroom of our Deluxe Corner Room at sunrise. Picture: Nathan Dukes

The glass facade extends for 35 floors, where it terminates at Club Millésime, a privileged lounge space set aside for members and guests residing on floors 28 and above. The space enjoys breathtaking panoramic view of the harbour through double height windows, inspired by the expansive vistas you might see in the exclusive rooftop clubs of New York City or Hong Kong. Guests are serviced here by the dedicated Ambassador Team, who can handle private check in/out, breakfast, or a glass of champagne.

The warm tones and French embellishments extend to the rooms, where the door handles, drawers and bed heads are inspired by the leather suitcase trunks of yesteryear. Modern amenities compliment the classic luxury styling without being overbearing or pompous. Given our proximity to the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre, business travellers will appreciate the hotel’s 500Mb internet connection.

Fabulous Sydney city views. Picture: Nathan Dukes
Fabulous Sydney city views. Picture: Nathan Dukes

The showstopper though is the bathroom. In our Deluxe Corner Room an enormous freestanding bath holds court, enhanced by the fabulous city views that stream through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The space is perfect for detoxing your mind. This writer feels at once a close connection with the surroundings and a sense of protection from the hum of the busy city. Some will enjoy the darkened rain shower, while others will appreciate the architects gave the humble toilet a five-star view. Come morning early risers will appreciate the warm sunrise glowing over the silhouetted city skyline from their Sofitel MyBed King Suite, a prestigious collection designed for Sofitel’s luxury hotels.

Cocktails by the Infinity Pool. Picture: Nathan Dukes
Cocktails by the Infinity Pool. Picture: Nathan Dukes

Take a trip to the pool and you be greeted by even more spectacular views across Darling Harbour. The infinity pool beckons even on a cool day, and one could think of no better place to enjoy a drink from the poolside bar, like a local Sydney Cider or a summer-sweet margarita. So much of the hotel is framed around the view. And why not? The building is positioned so 75% of the rooms can appreciate Darling Harbour vistas. We’re far enough from the city to appreciate it’s beautiful skyline without being surrounded by it. There’s always something to see on the horizon, be it by the pool, the gymnasium, or the Atelier Restaurant.

Described as a French grill, Atelier combines southern French cuisine with local produce, and seafood plays a large part in the menu. Entree Crab and Prawn salad with Cos hearts and shallot vinaigrette compliment Salt Cod Brandade with Radish salad and crostini.

We enjoyed the Charcuterie Board with mozzarella, iberico ham, fig chutney and pickled chillies.

The Charcuterie Board at Atelier Restaurant. Picture: Nathan Dukes
The Charcuterie Board at Atelier Restaurant. Picture: Nathan Dukes

For mains, Asian influences are present in the crispy skinned duck breast , where beautiful crunchy vegetables contrast with the spiced apple chutney and smoky duck textures. Those willing to share might enjoy a Tomahawk Steak with garlic confit and wilted spinach or Baby Back Pork Ribs with smashed thyme and mustard potatoes.

Fortunately we had room for the Salted Caramel dessert, with Caramelito tart, almond frangipane, rose petals, and almond brittle ice cream. Bon appetit!

Modern styling and art deco influences describe the Atelier Restaurant space. Soft lighting lets shadows dance across the warm glow of ochre, gold and wood textures. Sydney’s maritime history is reflected in the weathered wood panelling, or the glass cellar wall where a selection of bottles have had messages placed inside.

“We become blind to these beautiful little touches that we don’t see and we don’t understand. I always point those out to our guests. Here’s a little bit of detail you have to look at and appreciate,” says General Manager Greg Brady.

“I reflect back on those historical links and tell the story of what the hotel is. How it sits in this precinct, how it’s been developed and what's unique about the hotel.”

The sophisticated Champagne Bar. Picture: Sofitel Darling Harbour
The sophisticated Champagne Bar. Picture: Sofitel Darling Harbour

After dinner drinks can be enjoyed in the adjacent Champagne Bar, where the art deco themes are elevated, and the ochre tones contrast against the cool blues and golds of the city in twilight. The perfect spot for a bottle of Tyrells Hunter Valley Sauvignon Blanc, or a cocktail from the evolving menu, like the Suze: a famous aperitif from the south of France.

Some of these features might fulfil the Sofitel’s distinction as luxury five-star establishment, but that honour goes to the staff. Like the “bonjour” or a smile at every opportunity; the attentive welcome team that greet you in front of the desk; the waitresses at the restaurant who take your order at eye level; or the mixologists who are equally interested in friendly conversation as they are mixing an exquisite cocktail. These are small things, and may not be to everyone's tastes, but we found it added warmth to the hotel experience rarely seen in 2017.

Nathan Dukes travelled as guests of Sofitel Darling Harbour. Published with permission from The Hedonist Magazine.

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