It’s 6am, Sydney time, and Mrs Smith and I have just arrived in the city’s CBD, a little exhausted, despite the generous flat-bed upgrade on our flight from London. We are here on a ‘bleisure’ trip – business mixed with pleasure – starting with the latter at Establishment Hotel. Approaching the giant metal front door, tucked away in a cul de sac, I notice a few weary revelers leaving Establishment’s basement nightclub, Tank. They look about as fresh as we are after our very different all-night session.
A bright-eyed girl from reception shows us to our room. All I can focus on is the bed, which, raised on a platform, hovers before me like a much-craved mirage. Mrs Smith quickly goes to work on making the room as dark as Darth Vader’s wardrobe and we slump onto the squishy mattress.
Waking a few hours later, I appraise our surroundings afresh. One of 31 rooms, ours has a New York-loft feel: exposed brickwork, muted greys and creams and a chocolate brown-painted, beamed ceiling. Mrs Smith runs a bath (apparently a decadent use of scarce water that we rainswept Brits wouldn’t understand); I opt for the (far more economical) rain shower that, with its oversized head, lives up to its name. A folding door means the bathroom can either feel like an extension of the bedroom (when Mrs Smith needs to call for a cocktail from her tub) or shut off (to contain the downpour sound effects while I shower).
As Mrs Smith attempts to banish all traces of jet-lag with the fragrant Bulgari freebies, we discuss how gracefully this Jane Fonda of a hotel is ageing. Now nine years old, it hasn’t become old-fashioned or rough around its minimalist edges. Fuchsia cushions and velvet sofas may come and go, but the heavyweight stone and wood flooring, gleaming marble panels and simple dark-wood furniture stand the test of time and fashion like a Savile Row suit.
We enjoy a late breakfast in the hotel’s Gin Garden. Cleverly renovated with a glass ceiling and the original stonework still bearing fire scars (the building almost burned down in 1996), the room is dotted with six-metre potted bamboo plants that tower towards the light. A grand accompaniment to my Vegemite toast, they better suit the room’s evening personality as a very cool hangout, adjoining Establishment Bar.
When I say bar, try a 42-metre-long, marble-fronted counter that’s studded with grand iron columns, modern light-bulb chandeliers suspended above. This luxe labyrinth also has a bar called Hemmesphere and a sushi bar. Establishment, the building that houses Establishment Hotel, is a stylish multiplex (not two words I ever thought I’d write together) for grown-ups and it works. You could, in theory, live within its four, five – I don’t know how many – walls and pretty much do or eat something different every night for a week. If ever Sydney were to come under attack, locals would do well to check in here.
We’re both Sydney virgins (you won’t find many of them, a witty Aussie later informs me), so obviously Mrs Smith and I want to head to the iconic Bridge and Opera House. We are predictably and gratefully wowed by both. (See how I’m trying to downplay Sydney’s unfair advantage over any other city I can name?) We meet up with a friend, who takes us to Bills, owned by chef Bill Granger, where we sit at the communal table and tuck into a brunch of ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter and banana. We then head to Bondi, kick off our shoes and stroll barefoot along the sun-warmed sand. As we vent our envy – comparing this lovely city beach with our local duck pond – we are shepherded towards our next meal at fabulous, low-key North Bondi Italian Food, masterminded by chef Maurizio Terzini. We dine on the terrace, which, if it were any nearer the beach would be a raft, snacking on rosemary-infused olives and tender salami, and sipping chilled chenin blanc as the waves roll in.
I mentioned earlier that this is also a work trip… We are here to launch our company’s second office, so of course there has to be a party. Mrs Smith and I smarten up back at the hotel and, after a glass or two from the well-stocked minibar, head to the chosen location – Ivy. Also owned by the Merivale group (which founded Establishment Hotel), this is its latest creation and I have to say that the penthouse (you can rent it out for a mere AU$6,000 a night) is quite a venue. Imagine Hugh Hefner and James Bond got together and created a pad that’s showier than an Oscars after-party – a heady cocktail of style and sophistication, shaken not stirred with a little excess. With a terrace hot tub and views over a palm-flanked pool, it feels like Sydney has had an LA love child and Ivy is her name.
A glamorous evening moves on to a new modern Chinese restaurant called Spice Temple, owned by chef Neil Perry (I promise this is work). The menu is takeaway-cliché-free – the pancakes lamb and cumin rather than crispy duck. We dine on the tastiest, spiciest food I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. By midnight our body clocks have given up and we’re giddy from the party: this – mixed with equal parts exhaustion and champagne – is our cue to retire to the hotel. Our jet-lag, however, has other ideas: at 5am we sit up in bed, blinking woozily.
As bleisure trips go, our stay at Establishment Hotel has convinced us we could easily drop the ‘b’. Surveying the room, Mrs Smith and I agree Hef can keep the penthouse. Establishment Hotel is just as luxurious, but also somewhere you can feel at home. And any hotel that has the confidence to call itself Establishment deserves to be taken seriously. Luckily, as this Sydney institution moves into its second decade, it’s clear that it more than merits the moniker.
Reviewed by James Lohan (The original Mr Smith)
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