Steve Braunias checks into the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel, downtown Sydney
Style: Built in 1924 and now one of the many beautiful sandstone piles sensitively renovated throughout Sydney. Newspaper magnate John Fairfax got it knocked up to house the Sydney Morning Herald, and there are nice little touches of its inky past here and there. It has a cupola on the roof and the rooms have a curious motif of mock corrugated iron.
Check-in experience: A small army of suitcase lackeys mill around the concierge desk.
Room: I was upgraded to a 56sq/m, one-bedroom studio spa on the top floor. It had a full-length mirror, a divan, and a Juliet-style balcony to stand on and look at the cupola. The TV had 20 different genres of movies, including documentary, adult, sci-fi, and foreign, but the programming was a bit eccentric — Bad Santa 2 was in the war category.
What’s in the neighbourhood? It’s a 10-minute stroll down the hill to the Opera House, and about the same distance to Hyde Park. Many other beautiful old sandstone piles, all sensitively renovated, form a magnificent skyline along with great big tower blocks of glass. They provide canyons of much-needed shade.
Something to eat? From room service, Friday night dinner was a tender piece of lamb with a potato and garlic mash; and a chocolate mousse. Both were first class. Breakfast was in the Business Lounge, which serves cured meats, cold salmon, Bircher muesli, and little carafes of watermelon juice in a mini fridge. Lunch was taken away from the Business Lounge, where I made up cheese and ham sandwiches spread with mustard taken from little jars; and fresh strawberries. Saturday night dinner was at the hotel’s Bentley restaurant, a dark, groovy space with a bar. I went all-out and got the most expensive whiskey — $36 for a Kentucky bourbon, so hot and so sharp that it plunged a knife, satisfyingly so, into my spine — and the $180 degustation, which frankly bored me to sobs. It took two hours to serve 15 dishes. There was a kingfish hauled shivering from waters near the Antarctic, there was a crab beaten into a tasteless pulp, there was an ingeniously prepared wafer-thin slice of beetroot, there was a honeydew melon sorbet as smooth as glass. Most of it tasted real good, some of it didn’t, and all of it was served with a pretentious flourish, which suggested each dish was an artistic statement that had taken years of struggle, torment and epiphany to produce. Really I wish I’d just ordered a chop or something.
Bathroom: Spa bath, guest toothbrush and razor, cute little bottles of shampoo and the absence of something that one never, ever sees in the best rooms — a toilet brush.
Price: $388 per night.
Contact: 27 O’Connell St, downtown Sydney, ph 0061 2 8214000.