Review: The Darling, Sydney

At last Sydney's jaded hotel scene has a brand new five-star offering. Opened earlier in 2012, The Darling is situated in the city's Star Casino complex and aims to hit the jackpot

Be it for work or leisure, Sydney has always been a popular destination for intrepid travelers; it is a global hub filled with numerous world-famous must-sees such as the HarbourBridge and the Opera House. Yet despite being such an internationally renowned and cosmopolitan city, boasting an excess of iconic cultural landmarks, there is one thing which as a regular visitor I have long-felt Sydney has been lacking: a top-quality luxury hotel that meets the exacting standards of the much-traveled and their many needs.

Step forward The Darling. As the first new five-star hotel to be completed in the city since the 2000 Olympic Games it is about as welcome to weary travelers craving pillow menus and in-room reflexology as an ice-cold glass of local sauvignon on a hot inner-city day.

Arriving at the Darling straight off the Red Eye, first impressions were good. I was met by a smiling bell boy who swiftly offered to valet park the car so I could be ushered into a gleaming palatial marble lobby filled with stunning artworks, most noticeably the suspended sculpture of a gliding swallow by British-born collaborative James and Eleanor Avery, which hangs over the entrance. The installation consists of more than 400 individual facets and a ruby red bird carrying a double cherry in the shape of two diamonds. A not-so-subtle pointer to the high-end of the market The Darling is aiming towards.

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Arriving is awe-inspiring at The Darling, thanks to the suspended sculpture

A Star is Born

The Darling is built within the Star complex, home to Sydney’s only casino and located on the edge of DarlingHarbour, just moments from the Harbour and the central business district. It opened quietly a few months ago with the admirable intent of shaking up the city’s hotel scene.

Modern and two-part in its design, the hotel is handsome and has a distinctive inverted glass tower resting on a sandstone podium containing 171 stylish and spacious rooms. With its integrated bars, lounge areas and a custom-made glass billiard table, the vast echoing lobby has been designed as a gathering point for Sydney residents and hotel guests alike, bringing the concept of ‘lobby socializing’ to Sydney; however, on the morning of my check-in after flying in from the UK I was more interested in the idea of a long shower than a swift cocktail.

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Checking-in is a stylish affair at The Darling

I was shown up to my ‘Adored Suite’ by my sympathetic, and friendly hostess Sarah. The Adored Suites have the high-end residential feel hotels have been aspiring to recently. The suite is inspired by European drawing rooms, with entry via a private foyer that opens onto a spacious living room with stunning views and flows through to an intimate dining area. Doors demarcate a king-size bedroom with walk-in wardrobe, a fully appointed marble bathroom and the icing on the cake – a stunning hot tub flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the HarbourBridge.

All the Small Things

At the level and clientele the Darling is pitching itself towards, it is the little touches that make all the difference. As a caffeine addict with a feather allergy, I was delighted by the Nespresso Machine and the pillow menu in the suite, the latter offering options to ensure a good night’s slumber ranging from goose-down to synthetic massage pillows. It is a small touch but one the regular boutique traveler will have come to expect, and personally, it is one of my top travel bug bears when I fall into bed only to discover I can’t use the only pillow provided. This is usually followed by waiting half an hour for housekeeping to appear and apologetically proffer one slightly pathetic looking foam pillow. No such problems here, with my pillows delivered promptly on request, and with a smile.

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Black by Ezard is a super stylish restaurant within The Darling, by noted Melbourne chef Teage Ezard

The hotel offers four different tiers of suites alongside the 114 Darling Rooms, the most exclusive of which are the five penthouse suites – the place to stay if you clean up at the poker tables! Positioned in the premium apex of the tower, these (literally) top-floor two-bedroom suites are dedicated to the ultimate in luxury. Designed by renowned LA designer, Laurence Lee, they feature floor-to-ceiling Sydney harbor views, bespoke furniture, fireplaces, media rooms, butler service and even a private VIP arrival.

As Sarah demonstrated, The Darling also uses new technology, making in-room service more efficient for guests. The Darling is the first hotel in Australia to feature Control 4 settings, where one touch of a button can lower blinds, turn the TV on or adjust the air temperature and the suites all feature a “Leaving Room” control that automatically places the suite in energy saving mode. With a single touch, it opens and closes blinds, turns off lights and lowers air conditioning. Rooms also include such contemporary niceties as wireless internet access, iPod docks, and high definition Samsung LED 46” TVs with on-demand features and telecommunications systems with conference and speaker capabilities.

 

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The hotel does not undersell the promise of a gorgeous view. This is the living area of the Adored Suite

Sweet Staples

The room service selection offers both Western and Asian specialities and an extensive drinks list to suit all palates, further illustrating that the attention to detail continues throughout the suite. The Darling aims to exemplify this notion and the colored, soft coat hangers and hand-made drinking glasses in guest rooms certainly seemed to show this is being fulfilled. The cocktail glasses and coffee cups provided had even been designed by the hotel’s manager, Sarah proudly told me, showing a commitment to the job indeed.

The suites staples were all excellent and will doubtless please thread-counters. Exclusively handcrafted in Australia, the bed boasted a 1,000 spring mattress, 100% pure Egyptian long staple cotton linen with 400 thread count and a goose down comforter while each bathroom comes with a relaxing rain showerhead and European wand and an extensive collection of Black Molton Brown amenities, currently exclusive in Australia, to The Darling. Only eight other hotels around the world have been invited to offer the range.

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Space demarcation is impressive and clever, as demonstrated here in the Jewel Suite

Relaxing in the sunshine at The Darling’s custom-designed 25m infinity pool area, a cheery, relaxed area complete with a deck, cabanas and bar facilities for up to 100 guests, I continued enjoying the views of the Harbour bridge which I was by now becoming a touch blasé about, and perused the hotel’s spa menu. The 16-room day spa aims to take pampering to all new levels and features unique treatments including a beautiful and intimate couple’s treatment room and a room with an indulgent hamam.

Modern Dining

Brands such LI’TYA (Australian-made with all natural products) are offered in the spa for the first time in Sydney. Reflecting the hectic needs of business travel, there is a great selection of speedy treatments on offer for the time-strapped incorporating both Eastern and Western techniques – including a male grooming package with a unique Aussie laid-back twist, a cold beer to finish!

Speaking of Eastern, the lobby restaurant Sokyo is sexy and modern in its design. The kitchen is headed up by Chase Kojima, formerly of Nobu restaurants, and his menu goes beyond the usual confines of sashimi and sushi. It showcases his love of fresh seafood direct from Sydney’s best local suppliers – the hotel is in fact just 10 minutes from the daily fish markets. Served in the traditional Kaiseki style, or multi-course Japanese dinner, the hot and cold dishes are designed to share and highlight fine Australian produce and unusual yet spectacular flavors.

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The ambience at Sokyo, Chase Kojima's delightful temple to fresh seafood

Back upstairs in the room I found not one but two boxes of handmade chocolates left on my (synthetic!) pillows, plus a soothing room spray. Thanks to the black-out blinds and sumptuous mattress, I was asleep in seconds, the room blessedly silent despite the hectic city below.

So, The Darling certainly breathes life into Sydney’s somewhat stale hotel scene. My only small gripe here is that unlike many equivalent five-star establishments that no longer charge for basics amenities such as Wi-fi and still water, instead including it in the room charge, The Darling does charge separately. That said, the service and the attention to detail more than make up for this small grumble– besides, if you put all your money on red and win large I’m sure such trivial things will quickly cease to matter!

www.thedarling.com.au

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