Aiden Hotel Darling Harbour review, Sydney: Compact rooms take inspiration from Japan

CHECK-IN

The recently opened Aiden is a boutique hotel with compact, yet functional rooms and a distinct character and look that belies its branding as a Best Western. There are 88 rooms across six floors, with the recently opened sixth floor featuring large terrace balconies.

The hotel is in Pyrmont, a block back from Darling Harbour and adjacent to the Maritime Museum. It's a short walk across the Pyrmont Bridge to the CBD or to the Star casino and light rail in the other direction. The once depressed suburb has become one of Sydney's more sought-after addresses over the past few decades, with a coinciding rise in restaurants and bars opening.

THE LOOK

Best Western might be a brand one once associated with cookie-cutter, somewhat bland motels but times have changed. The Aiden is housed within a former cereal storage facility, an Art-Deco building erected in 1938. The brick facade's curves lead into a modern lobby-cum-restaurant, with a small, unobtrusive check-in desk (you can also check yourself in at one of the two kiosks nearby).

While many of the rooms on Murray Street enjoy harbour and city views, those on the interior of the building have windows looking into a light well. Rather than having guests stare out onto plain brick, a giant, 25-metre floral mural has been painted that runs the height of the entire building.

There's no gym or pool, but guests can access the nearby Anytime Fitness gym at a discounted rate. For those looking to go further afield, complimentary e-bikes are available.

THE ROOM

Supplied PR image for Traveller. Check for re-use. The Aiden boutique hotel Sydney, Pyrmont

The rooms are compact with inspiration coming from Japan where minimal space is maximised through clever design and functionality. The space is taken up mostly by the large, soft bed. A cushioned bench seat runs along the length of the large window. Each room features a work by artist Jessica Le Clerc whose art does not hang on the walls but has been hand-painted directly on to them, surrounding the bedheads with a unique floral work.

The Aiden is following the trend of sustainability that sees the room automatically detect your presence and turn off lights and air conditioning when you're not there. There are refillable water bottles in each room and every floor has a water station that dispenses both still and sparkling water (which I love). While the room itself feels a little cramped, the bathroom doesn't with a surprisingly spacious shower.

FOOD + DRINK

The hotel's cafe and bar Wayfarer's offers a small menu of bar snacks and a more extensive breakfast menu. After my flight to Sydney, I order the only substantial dish on the menu - a smoked chicken sandwich with waffle fries, which is quite tasty. The shortage of hospitality staff throughout the country has curtailed the hotel's plans to offer a more extensive menu for the time being but there's a plan to expand the offerings in the near future.

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In the meantime, the neighbourhood has plenty of dining options which staff can recommend. I opt for a bite at the Messenger cafe, specialising in Balinese chicken. Given how quiet inner Sydney still is at the time of my stay, the cafe is hugely popular on a weeknight, with almost every table occupied.

OUT AND ABOUT

I've stayed around Pyrmont dozens of times over the years yet remain quite ignorant about the area. That changed on this visit thanks to Local Sauce Tours, which offer a walking tour of the area exclusive to Aiden guests. It's a fascinating look at the early - and more recent - history of the suburb and its development from empty fields to its era as key to the wool, sugar and shipbuilding trades, its decline in the '70s and '80s and resurgence as a sought-after address today. See localsaucetours.com.au

Since I've been working from home for nearly two years and have rarely been seen in public, I'm in desperate need of some grooming. Close to the hotel is Clippers and Whiskey - a barbershop that, as the name suggests, also serves a nice tipple. Vic the owner treats customers with care and after an hour that involves a haircut, beard trim, wash and hot towel I feel like I've come out of a spa session rather than a barber shop. Getting my hair cut usually feels like a chore but here it's more like an indulgence. See clippersnwhisky.com.au

THE VERDICT

The Aiden makes the most of its space and history to create a charming boutique hotel experience at a time when Sydney's skyline is rapidly being dominated by giant new properties from hotel chain giants.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★½

ESSENTIALS

Rooms at the Aiden start from $249.

See aidendarlingharbour.com.au

HIGHLIGHT

Minor touches, both practical and aesthetic, make the hotel feel unique.

LOWLIGHT

The desk is more like a narrow bench with a small stool. Fortunately my laptop is also small but it's not a great spot to work - a better option is to head down to Wayfarer's.

The writer stayed as a guest of the Aiden.