In 1948 Surry Hills, which was the setting for Ruth Park's much-loved novel, The Harp in the South, was a largely Catholic-Australian industrial slum. Now it's a centre of the fashion industry, packed with restaurants, bars and web-based enterprises. It's also close enough to walk to Sydney's main CBD attractions - museums, galleries, shops, parks, harbour and a certain opera house - if you're feeling energetic. Yet what Surry Hills has lacked is an upmarket boutique hotel.
Little Albion Guest House.
This is not a guest house. It's a slickly-run 35-room hotel with international ambitions. It was converted from a former convent, built in 1901. I arrive seven hours late (weather issues at Sydney airport) so it's nearly 1am when my taxi pulls up. The entrance is via a secret potted garden. Three young European women are finishing their wine in the lounge. Barry, the young night concierge greets me warmly. Guessing the day I'd had, he mentions the 24-hour open bar, which operates on an honour system.
The Big Albion suite.
Each room is different and beautifully designed. The aesthetic is contemporary Art Deco with geometric tiles, curved mirrors and bespoke fabrics. Sadly, the "Big Albion" penthouse suite - with its high ceilings, paisley curtains, golden-tiled double shower and "1970s-inspired lighting" - is already booked.
Room 301 looks over the neighbouring church roof. Fortunately, Barry has explained how to turn off the lights (designed to confuse those of us who aren't tech-savvy). There's a massive TV and an ensuite no nun would consider proper. Credit must be given to Paul Fischmann, CEO of the 8Hotels group, whose dream this hotel was. It was purchased in 2018 by Crystalbrook Collection, a luxury hotel group owned by Dubai billionaire Ghasson Aboud.
Little Albion doesn't have its own restaurant. Why would it, since it is surrounded by some of Australia's finest eateries? Delivery service from noted restaurants can be consumed in your room or the hotel's common spaces - including the roof-top garden. A light breakfast is provided, along with "all day tea, coffee and munchies".
Surry Hills has excellent transport connections. If you're keen to explore the suburb, check out Belvoir Street Theatre (alumni include internationally famous thespians) or the Brett Whiteley Studio which has been preserved as the enfant terrible of 20th-century Australian art left it when he died in 1992.
Smart and sophisticated for its preferred clientele: well-resourced twentysomethings.
Little Albion Guest House, 21 Little Albion Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2010. Rooms from about $240 a night. See littlealbion.com.au
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE
The welcome after a terrible day.
The roof garden. The views of Surry Hills aren't exactly Manhattan.
Steve Meacham was a guest of Crystalbrook Collection.