For the past 140 years The Hughenden has sat unobtrusively at the crossroads of Paddington, Woollahra and Centennial Park like an ever-so-proper, tea-sipping Victorian dowager of impeccable pedigree. Which is, essentially, what it is. It's the sort of elegant Victorian mansion to which words such as genteel, courtly, polite and quietly grand attach themselves like limpets.
Turn left and you're in the posh hotspot of Woollahra, with all of its up-market shops, boutiques and antique dealers, while a right turn takes you to a section of Oxford Street that's just beginning to shine again after a period of quiet decline. Bondi Junction is a short walk/bus ride away, and Centennial Park is across the busy Oxford Street/Moore Park Road intersection.
A recent refurbishment to this 32-room hotel has given the main public areas a much-needed fillip. The vibe is still very much graceful Victorian, but with thoughtful modern touches throughout. I doubt the original owners would have gone the leopard-print carpet and the vibrant red artwork in the bar but it works well. Sink into one of the sofas or comfy armchairs in the adjoining lounge with an espresso martini or two would be my advice. The bar is open to the public, by the way.
We are here with Sox, a 10-year-old rescue dog with the face of an angel and the breath of the Devil himself, and as such are berthed on the ground floor towards the rear of the building, in one of six pet-friendly rooms. It's on the small side but does have the added advantage of a small courtyard. If you bring a cat please don't swing it around in here. A bit disappointed to find that the refurb didn't extend to the doors in the room, which are scuffed and looking a little weary.
Breakfast and lunch are the go here. If you want dinner then head out to all manner of local eateries from a la carte restaurants to great pub grub and Italian trattoria. One of the main beneficiaries of the makeover has been the Hughenden Cafe, where you can sit alfresco or in the narrow side section. It's all very light and white and modern and restful. The menu, too, has had a bit of a refurb, with breakfast bearing the brunt of it. Think avo and feta toast, eggs benedict and a healthy Morning Bowl with enough quinoa to bankrupt Peru.
Quite apart from the shopping in Queen and Oxford streets, the plentiful public transport into the CBD or Bondi beach, the hotel is at the epicentre of a plethora of hotels with decent pub food. There's The Centennial, The Paddington Arms, the Paddington Inn and the Woollahra Hotel to mention just a few. Bistro Moncur and St Claude's are a stroll away. For a quintessential Australian pub experience head to the edge of Bondi Junction and check out the art deco Nelson Hotel.
The refurbishment has given the grand old lady a new lease of life and it really does show. But some of the areas behind the scenes are looking tired. Tart up the front by all means but a lick of white paint wouldn't have gone amiss out the back. And those doors in our room? That's shabby, not chic. Still, it's a good alternative to chain hotels and, not to get too Lady Bracknell about it, character makes up for a lot.
14 Queen Street, Woollahra, Sydney. Rooms from $167. See thehughenden.com.au
The welcome chocolates tucked under the pillow on arrival. Snack-sized Tim Tams with a Hughenden sticker on the back? Really, that's flirting with three stars.
The staff, who are unfailingly polite and helpful. They turn a mere hotel stay into a home-away-from-home experience. Another plus is having an on-site car park in an area notorious for its lack of parking.
Keith Austin was a guest of The Hughenden.