Australia’s casinos are going all out to provide reasons to visit. Their entertainment precincts feature big-name chefs, high-end fashion and hot hotels. Elisabeth Knowles visits Sydney’s latest stellar stay.
It’s rare that you get to stay in a hotel in the city you live in. But an old friend is returning to Sydney to join me at one of summer’s festival events, and her visit presents the perfect chance to check out Sydney’s newest hotel, The Darling – part of Star City Casino’s $870-million-plus redevelopment, which now sees the entire entertainment complex renamed The Star.
I have an ulterior motive: I’m hoping that if I book somewhere with a killer harbour view she might be tempted to move back to Sydney.
But my plans are thwarted when the only twin room that is both available and within the realms of affordability looks out over the city instead of the water. Which would normally be OK because The Darling is located in Pyrmont, a historic city suburb just west of more tourist-heavy Darling Harbour. The Pyrmont streetscape features cute semidetached Federation-era worker’s cottages strung along tree-lined streets, and casual pubs with outdoor seating. Sadly, however, half our view (on level five) is obstructed by the hotel’s own architecture.
In the end, we don’t care about views. Our festival experience turns into an impromptu reunion with old friends, so by the time we get back to the hotel, our spirits are high and we attack the minibar, laughing about two decades’ worth of shared experiences.
The minibar proves a bit of a puzzle. Everything is on a sensor, which means if you remove any item for longer than 30 seconds it is charged to your room. (We must have moved a packet of chips and a bottle of rum in the course of our foraging, because these are on our bill at checkout even though we didn’t consume them. But front-desk staff are happy to take them off again without question.) The two beers we drink cost eight dollars each.
Our twin room doesn’t have much seating for lounging about (just one leather ottoman), so we chat into the night sat up in our beds. My king single is the comfiest bed I’ve been in since I stayed at qualia on Hamilton Island.
My friend Melanie has a laugh when I wonder out loud if they’ve gone a bit too far with the bedding: “Do you have two doonas?” I ask, peeling back two feather quilts and two top sheets. “Seems like overkill in summer.” She is in hysterics as she explains that I’ve somehow managed to insert myself under a thick down mattress topper that I should actually be sleeping on top of.
Twin rooms are great for travelling with platonic friends, but it seems The Darling’s may have been designed for couples who prefer separate beds. The ensuite room is quite open – a marble-clad partition fitted with twin sinks is all that separates the bedroom from the bathing area. A black-glass shower cubicle can be seen from the beds, so if you’re modest you need to time your entry and exit to coincide with your friend looking the other way.
In other ways it seems The Darling was designed for women. The colour palette heavily features mauve. Pastel purple makes a nice change from standard hotel-and-hospital white sheets but you wonder how blokey men on business trips feel about them, not to mention the floral designs on the cushions and curlicue etchings on the glass walls.
The photographic feature walls could date quickly, but for now they look pretty cool. Although, the image in the study nook reminds me of the Laura Palmer “wrapped in plastic” scene from David Lynch’s TV series Twin Peaks. Not exactly calming. If your tastes are a bit more traditional there’s always Astral Tower, the other hotel at The Star, which is more sedately coloured (replace mauve with rich brown).
But you have to congratulate The Darling for adding luxurious elements to what could have been a standard hotel. The beds are heavenly, the toiletries are by Molton Brown and there are two showerheads in even the standard room – a demountable handheld one and a rainforest number that almost takes up the cubicle’s entire ceiling. Bliss.
And it’s handily located. Like most modern casino complexes, The Star has given big-name chefs signature restaurants – here, you’ll find Black By Ezard and Stefano Manfredi’s Osteria Balla. There’s a branch of Sydney’s favourite Chinese restaurant, Golden Century, and a food court with a gelato bar, an outlet for the Balmain macaron maestro Zumbo, and a dumpling bar, Din Tai Fung, which is perfect for the day after the night before.
Melanie ends up liking The Darling so much that she stays another night. On the 11th floor. With a great view.
Where? The Darling is at The Star (formerly Star City), 80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont, NSW.
New Year-special prices saw rooms start from $289 per night (these rates ended January 18). Elisabeth paid $499 for a twin Darling Room on a City View Breakfast Package, staying on a Saturday night. Breakfast was redeemable to the value of $80 per room, taken at the Star’s Bistro 80 or via room service (including a $5 in-room dining service fee). Melanie’s extra night cost her $289. For current specials see The Darling’s website.
Contact 1800 800 080; thedarling.com.au
What’s the gossip?
“There is an air of excitement about the Darling in these early days. The staff seem genuinely chuffed to be employed there … As part of the service, each guest is shown to and around their room. In the case of the Adored suite … there is much to show off. I am in my room when the turn-down service arrives. Three staff bearing chocolates troop past me and into the bedroom to arrange, just-so, the custom-dyed 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets and goose-down comforter.” – Sarah Maguire, SMH
THE AT Verdict
Elisabeth Knowles, who paid her own way and visited anonymously, says:
“While the Fairfax journo above stayed in a luxe suite, I was in the most affordable room. You don’t get shown to and around your room for $499 a night; and, inexplicably, instead of chocolates, my turn-down service included a tube of Molton Brown lip balm. I’d agree that most of the staff were enthusiastic, and my room also shared those lovely sheets and a comfy five-percent-goose-down/95-percent-duck-down comforter. A few glitches with the booking were more than made up for by resort-style in-room facilities such as that comfy bedding, and a relaxed outdoor pool area. All up, a great experience. But Melbourne’s knockout Crown Metropol is still the winner for a casino-based stay.”