The Darling, Sydney
The Darling is one of three accommodation options within the large Star casino complex, on the edge of Sydney's Darling Harbour's Pyrmont side, a short walk from the CBD and the new International Convention Centre.
The Darling's lobby is huge, dominated by black and white marble with columns expanding over several storeys. On the room levels, the corridors are dark with lush red cushioned walls, giving the feeling of entering some kind of exclusive Chinese club. In 2012, Britain's Conde Nast Traveller named it among the world's best new hotels.
The sense of space and the hotel's location as part of the Star complex gives the impression the hotel is huge, though it has just 171 rooms, making it larger than a boutique offering, but more intimate than the giant, 890-room Hyatt Regency across the water. There's a 24-hour gym, a 13-room spa and a large outdoor swimming pool.
My king room is spacious and cleverly designed to accentuate that feeling. The flat screen TV is set into the wood-panelled wall, as are a couple of large art prints, one taking up almost the entire wall behind the bed. There's a small table and chair, and a small desk (perhaps a bit too small for some business travellers).
A floor-to-ceiling window overlooks the hotel pool, making it an enticing sight in the morning as the sun shines over it, even in these cooler months. Between the buildings I enjoy a clear view of the Harbour Bridge.
Like so many modern hotels, the bathroom is not a "room" in itself, but rather is integrated into the overall space with a wall separating the twin sinks from the bed area, along with a large shower and separate toilet. The impressive toiletries are from London's Molten Brown.
There's a huge range of dining options across the Star complex, but the Darling's own restaurant, Japanese-themed Sokyo, is hard to go past. Located off the hotel lobby it's hugely popular, but if you can't get a table, sitting at the bar is no disadvantage as you get to watch the restaurant's sushi chefs in action.
A chef's choice degustation menu is a great way to sample some of the 80 dishes available – my selection includes Hokkaido scallops (with miso and honey), lobster tempura, grilled kingfish and various delicious nigiri. It's not surprising to learn the Good Food Guide awarded the restaurant a chef's hat for the past three years. Sokyo also offers breakfast, though there's a more traditional buffet available for guests at Harvest inside the Star complex.
The Star offers a range of shopping, dining and entertainment options, along with the obligatory gaming tables and pokies. For something more cultural, check out what's on at the adjacent Sydney Lyric Theatre, one of the city's premier theatre venues and home to blockbuster musicals. The musical adaptation of the Whitney Houston film, The Bodyguard, has just finished its run, while the Carole King musical, Beautiful, begins in September.
Despite being part of a large complex, the Darling manages to feel something like a boutique hotel. In particular, the staff are friendly, efficient and helpful, making guests actually feel like guests and not just customers.
Rooms at the Darling star from $350. See thedarling.com.au
Excellent and friendly staff.
An unannounced earlier closing time for Harvest one morning meant I missed breakfast.