Sebel, Sydney review: Floored by a walk on water

Night swimming ... the Sebel's foyer.
Night swimming ... the Sebel's foyer. 

Read our writer's views on this property below

The seafood's not restricted to the menu at this stylish city stay, writes Christine Sams.

It's clear there's something fishy going on at the Sebel in Sydney's Surry Hills. Walking into our room at the newly refurbished hotel, we find a welcome note, a bottle of complimentary wine, two little packets of fish-shaped chocolates and a bright-orange "stress fish" – a rubber squeezy fish to take home after our stay.

Neither my husband nor I quite know what to make of it but a thought that it might be a funny addition to the bathtub is dashed by the fact our deluxe room does not have a bath.

What we didn't realise when we were checking in earlier on is just why the fish theme is so big at this hotel. In the rush of night lights, taxi payments and collecting a room key, we managed to miss the hotel's new drawcard.

Not far from the reception desk, in a slightly separate part of the foyer, is an aquarium – built into the floor. The tank is filled with rare Japanese koi – a group of large, pale fish from the carp family – now swimming a long way from home under a floor in Surry Hills.

The Sebel is at the Central Station end of Surry Hills, near the battered facade of Sharpies Golf House – the shop sign that was once famed for its neon greeting.

Yet while the surrounds are hardly scenic, there is an urban grit to this end of Surry Hills that feels refreshingly real. Nothing is glossed over on the streets here; this is Sydney in all its inner-city shapes and shades. The hotel is within walking distance of Oxford Street, Chinatown, the rest of Surry Hills and, of course, the city's CBD and main shopping centres.

Back indoors though, the fish tank is keeping plenty of guests interested. One big fish is apparently nicknamed Albie – a nod to the hotel's location on Albion Street but, at this stage of the evening, we are more interested in Albies, the hotel restaurant.

We are booked to eat at 7pm and at first we are a little startled to realise the restaurant is empty of other guests. It looks like a standard business hotel restaurant, with its white tablecloths and carpeted corners, but it seems as though people might have found a better prospect elsewhere.

Thankfully, like a wine being slowly poured, the room gently fills with other diners, adding life and colour to the freshly painted walls. In fact, the paint is so fresh that during our stay, we can still smell its scent in the corridors. And my husband cheerfully points out a worker holding a paint tin and ladder coming down from one of the upper floors.

There is something about this restaurant that changes the whole feel of our stay. So far, the hotel has given off a rather businesslike impression. Our room, with its white walls and dark-grey lounge setting, is standard fare – nothing too plush, or colourful or unique.

It's easy to pinpoint this hotel as ideal for a weekend city stay and for those needing an inner-city stop-off point while travelling through Sydney. But inside Albies, on a corner table overlooking the nearby street, there is a surprising sense of enjoyment. There is no city skyline to dwell on, no harbour lights twinkling, but there is the great surprise of really, really good food.

Wandering back to our room later that evening, my husband is still talking about the marinade on his steak, speculating on just how they achieved the flavours he loved so much. I similarly enjoyed the scampi – large, in their shells and delicately soft in consistency.

Our room, when we arrive back, still feels a little stark and businesslike but we are buoyed by the restaurant experience. With its separate lounge area and light, white bed setting – the city lights can be shut out by the blinds, but there is some general street noise floating around at night, which can only be expected in this area of town.

The next morning, it's back to business with the usual buffet breakfast experience, although the addition of fresh pancakes and croissants (on top of the usual bacon, eggs, hash browns, yoghurt and fruit) leaves us energised for a day exploring the city.

We opt for George Street, walking a few blocks to the shops and cinemas in the heart of town, but we could have just as easily gone under the arches and followed the tram tracks to Chinatown.

The next day, it is up to Hyde Park for more exploration.

Meanwhile, back inside the hotel, those lazy Japanese koi just keep on swimming. And they don't look stressed at all.

The writer was a guest of the Sebel and Tourism NSW

TRIP NOTES

WHERE 28 Albion Street, Surry Hills. Phone (02) 9289 0000, see sebelsurryhills.com.au.

HOW MUCH The deluxe room are from $159 a night; bed and breakfast from $189 a night.

BEST THING Albies restaurant. The food lifts the standard of the hotel, with main meals in particular a real stand-out.

WORST THING The lack of a bath in our bathroom – surely an essential part of any weekend stay.

LOCAL SECRET The Hollywood Hotel, tucked away at 2 Foster Street, is a great local pub of intimate interiors and colourful locals.