The sun's summer rays have begun to vanish into thin, chilly air. But in Sydney there is always something going on whether it is the Royal Australian Ballet, a production at the Sydney Opera House, or if you really cannot be bothered with much in the way of activities, there are plenty of artisan bars, cafes and restaurants to hunker down in. And there are iconic little bars and boutique shops to be had along Darlinghurst's Victoria St.
Built in the 1920s, The Grace Hotel's impressively grand neo-gothic home has been refurbished with a simple and tasteful art-deco interior. The 4.5-star hotel is complete with impressively large and vibrant lobby and concierge, basic indoor pool, gym and restaurant facilities and the building is home to a couple of eateries including Vapiano Italian restaurant, so there is no need to step out. For breakfast, the in-house restaurant Grace Brasserie goes above and beyond the classic cooked and continental Western options, though the chicken sausages and array of sweet treats and slices (for breakfast!) are worth a mention. Light congee soup, hokkien breakfast noodles and steamed pork buns providing something a bit more interesting.
We find ourselves at the top on the 11th floor. It feels spacious, with the entrance opening up to the bathroom, before turning a corner to the rest of the bedroom.
It is quiet up here and a good night's sleep is pretty much guaranteed, even on a Saturday. The king-sized bed is firm, the large pillows soft and the curtains are thermal and blackout. The independent restaurant and cafe in the building do not stay open all night and the bustle from the neighbouring bars and streets in the CBD are drowned out by the time you have left the lobby.
Environment is almost important as the food and drinks when creating a vibrant atmosphere. This is nicely done at Paragon Cafe in the Blue Mountains. The original 1930s decor, including an old-fashioned chocolate shop at the front and gentlemen's smoking room out back littered with vintage magazines. The lunch menu is not exorbitantly priced and we order a fresh parmesan, chicken and mushroom pasta of the day for me, slow-roasted lamb wrap for my husband and lamb Mediterranean salad for the friend who has been chauffeuring us around all day. My pasta is large, tasty and creamy, but my husband is a little disappointed with the toughness of his lamb, though the lamb salad is perfect.
We wished we dressed up more for The Opera Bar and Kitchen. It is Saturday night and the beautiful young Sydneysiders are showing us up. We splash out on a taster platter for two, which includes miniature samples of the kitchen's burgers, seafood and dumplings. It is served on a high-tea tray and the miniature chicken and beef sliders and chips go down the best, as does the seafood. On our last night we are glad we opted for The Victoria Room in the hip backstreet suburb of Darlinghurst. It is a Sunday Night Carnival of sumptuous sharing-style platters, well-thought out cocktails and jazz music galore. Tucked down the road on Sydney's popular fringe suburb, the lights are low and the vintage setting gorgeous. This sharing restaurant does its food well. Our entree of a crudite board with local organic vegetables and hummus is surprisingly good and our side of salt-baked potatoes with smoked sour cream, shallots and lemon deserves a particular mention. To top it off there were trapeze artists mid-dinner.
Worth stepping out for
There are a plethora of harbour cruises to choose from, whether you are after a hop-on-hop-off, day-long adventure or a brief lunchtime sail. The weather does not turn it on for us so we opt for just a 90-minute sightseeing cruise with relative newcomers to the industry Magistic. The boat seats 120 but due to today's lacklustre atmosphere we are taken out all on our own. Complimentary glass of wine in hand, we have Russell Crowe's penthouse apartment pointed out. We learn where Japanese submarines were discovered trying to sneak into the bay during World War II and saw the scene of Australia's worst ferry disaster, a crash killing 40 including several school children. We spied an old prison, where a man was once put in a week's isolation for stealing a biscuit.
On the subject of history, one little trinket worth a visit is the Sydney Jewish Museum. It i's surprisingly rich in history considering its humble exterior and unfortunately we do not have time to see everything. The impressive touring Anne Frank exhibition is on when we visit and there is a commemorative event on for the city's Jewish population.
Later, while wandering the streets of Darlinghurst we stumble across the Lotus Pod boutique fashion and accessories shop which stocks unique-looking costume jewellery that does not break the bank.
Department store Myer is always worth checking out for shopping and they are not too hard to find.
For the more adventurous types, it is worth venturing out west to the Blue Mountains where you have the option of a long hike through the Eucalyptus haze or trying out the Mountain Devil railcar with an impressively steep incline, cable car or skyway gondola at Scenic World. We are treated to art installations in the bush and there is plenty of local history told .
We spent a total of three days in Sydney but we could have easily done more. Still we felt we got a good feel of the city and its surrounds, trekking up to the Blue Mountains, shopping and eating at some top spots. The Grace Hotel's central location made it easy to navigate our way around.
How to get there
The Grace Hotel in downtown Sydney is in walking distance of several bars and restaurants and a short taxi ride from seaside hotspot Circular Quay. It is a 15-30 minute drive from the airport, traffic dependant.
A superior room at The Grace Hotel costs A$230-$250 (NZ$245-$266.72) a night.
The Magistic Sight-Seeing Cruise was priced at A$25 per person to tour around the harbour with a glass of wine or beer, with longer lunch and dinner cruise options available.
Scenic World's unlimited rides for a day cost A$35 per adult.
Paragon Cafe's dishes were each about A$18-25 Opera Bar and Kitchen's tasting platter cost us A$75 to share between two.
We spent A$146 at the Victoria Room on cocktails, mains, sides and desserts for two.
- Sunday Star Times