It's brand new which means rooms are spotless.
There is still a bit of construction in the surrounding precinct.
Rydges Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.
The newest hotel on the Brisbane city skyline might be only a couple of weeks' old, but visitors will find that it comes with plenty of memories. The hotel has been built in the heart of the showgrounds, and even though the Ekka is only 10 days of the year, you can almost picture the rides in the distance, the fireworks bursting over the adjacent main arena, and the cattle being escorted to the main parade. There are the smells, colour and noises. "Get-your-hot-tasty-dag-wood-dog," rings over and over again from a white van which is home to an over-sized deep fryer and all the heart-attack feulling, yet wonderful, flavours which come with it. There are the whistles and whip-cracking of farmers who make their annual pilgrimage to the city, and the barking of dogs who in the ring next door lift their snouts in search of the ultimate title, "best in show".
While man's best friend is parading its finest turn of foot in the ring, those in the small lap pool on the first floor of Rydges will be able to offer a water-logged round of applause before zoning out in the small adjacent gym. Corridor carpets coloured as timber and simple warehouse-style fittings in the lobby and restaurant are an instant sign that heritage has played a massive role in the design of almost every aspect of the hotel. The neighbouring carpark is shared with the showgrounds, and The Paddock Bar overlooks the oval which acts as centre stage. The separate Six Acres Restaurant is open for dinner and breakfast.
The theme hits you in the face. Pillows have faces of pigs, sheep and other farm animals. Pictures on the walls show curley-haired Shirley Temple types from the 50s or 60s tucking into fairy floss and carrying sample bags in a time the bags actually carried samples. A sofa, foot stool and office-style chair all feature woven leather. But there's more to it than that. Built from the ground up, thought has been put into the design. A sofa is rare in a room so small, but offers an escape from the bed. Designers haven't bothered with a rarely-used bath, instead opting for a spacious shower with rain head. There's a well-stocked mini bar, safe, neatly-positioned television and free Wi-Fi. And the working desk is well equipped with charging station, power, USB and network connections.
If all good food must be regarded as "art on a plate", then Rydges has turned to the right chef. Two months before the February 9 launch, the hotel company put their faith in Francesco Trucco to shape menus. All of them – Six Acres Restaurant, The Paddock Bar, conference menu, room service and one of the best buffet breakfasts to be found around Brisbane. Trucco will be known to some Queenslanders for his work at Peppers Ruffles in the Gold Coast hinterland. Roast vegetables which spill from a small pot include a lightly battered zucchini flower and artichoke, and arguably belong in a frame rather than a plate. Some of the finest Queensland beef could almost be eaten with a fork – it's really that tender. And Trucco prides himself on the plating of otherwise traditional dessert, in one case a deconstructed cheesecake. It's noteworthy that neither restaurant is named the same as their hotel chain, because managers were intent not to create "just another hotel restaurant".
This is one of those addresses people fudge to make themselves look better. Because nobody yet wants to be labelled with a "Bowen Hills" address, the hotel has craftily tagged itself "Fortitude Valley". Once known as a cesspit of underground prostitution, gambling, drugs, and the provider for families of corrupt cops, the Valley was left dormant for almost two decades. Now, it's becoming the cultural heart of Brisbane, just a few kilometres from the city, and harbouring alleys of boutique fashion and trendy coffee shops. Bowen Hills might not carry quite the same prestige, but the "real" Valley is just a couple of blocks away.
Unit blocks have been popping up, in and around the showground for some years now, but the new Rydges adds a touch of much-needed class to Bowen Hills. The Paddock Bar is already a popular Friday night meeting point, and the restaurant will likely gather some momentum. One of the highlights of any new hotel is the enthusiasm of staff who are intent on making things work, and that's certainly the case here. From concierge, behind the bar, on the restaurant floor and in the kitchen, there are plenty of smiles. For business travellers, it's 10 minutes from the city. For locals, a staycation is well worth putting on the agenda.
Rydges Fortitude Valley, 601 Gregory Terrace, Bowen Hills, Brisbane. Prices can be found as low as $127 on deal sites, but expect that to double during Ekka time which is already more than half sold out. Phone 07 3188 3000, see www.rydges.com/accommodation/brisbane-qld/fortitude-valley-brisbane/welcome/
Simon Holt was a guest of Rydges Fortitude Valley.