It's been almost four years since my last stay at Spicers Balfour and, in that time, the high-profile owners of this Brisbane boutique hotel have really added some spice. Owned by Graham "Skroo" Turner, founder of Flight Centre, and his wife, Jude, Spicers Retreats, of which this Brisbane arm is part, has grown into an impressive and burgeoning network of distinctive luxury retreats across NSW and Queensland. Its most recent addition is Spicers Potts Point, Sydney, a row of classic terraces transformed into a small luxury hotel while Spicers Balfour, in contrast, is formed from a re-imagined traditional Queenslander house. Now, adding to the nine suites in the main building, a few doors down the street is Simla, an elegant, diminutive 1940s art deco-style apartment block converted to accommodation with a further six rooms.
Spicers Balfour is in inner-city New Farm, three kilometres from Brisbane's incorrigibly laid-back Central Business District and, thanks to the city's new network on tunnelled expressways, as little as 20 minutes from the airport.
Where to begin? The main Queenslander or the new art deco annexe? Even if you stay in Simla, your visit will begin at the former, where a small reception is located as well as the well-regarded Brisbane Good Food Guide one-hatted Balfour Kitchen Restaurant, which spills out onto an appealing veranda and a shaded courtyard garden. A showstopper is the rooftop bar which boasts impressive views, especially at night, of the full extent of the Story Bridge. It ain't the Coathanger but from this eyrie, over a drink from the well-stocked honour bar, it may be the next best thing.
The attention to detail and quality is something that I easily recall from my previous visit and it's been repeated, if not bettered, at Simla. Unlike the rooms in the Queenslander, which can be compact, the so-called Balfour Suites at Simla are, at 43-square metres, more like small apartments. These stylishly decorated, well-appointed suites, which continue the art deco theme with all of the mod-cons of a five-star hotel, including a coffee machine, a separate lounge and dining area as a well as en suite with bathtub, rain shower and heated towel racks. And on the top floor of Simla is a small communal honour-bar-cum-lounge.
The excellent Balfour Kitchen Restaurant, with its "modern Australian menu with European flair", is shaded by a grove of frangipani trees. It's open to outside guests so do reserve a table for lunch and dinner and ask for a table on the veranda or in the fairy-light garden. As inviting as Balfour Kitchen is, it's worth skipping breakfast there on one morning of your stay to head around the corner to Chouquette Boulangerie Patisserie. Despite its prosaic physical outlook, this is surely one of Australia's best and most authentic French patisseries.
Spicers Balfour is a ideal place to hang out if you simply want to relax but if you want to explore the city, Brisbane is literally on your doorstep. Beyond the casual cafes of New Farm are the culinary and retail treasures of the James Street area, one of Australia's best designed urban precincts. Elsewhere, for culture vultures, a visit to the Queensland capital's Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), one of Australia's finest and most accessible art museums, is highly recommended.
Spicers Balfour is emblematic of a new, more sophisticated Brisbane, willing to flirt with aspects of the city that make it unique. The addition of its well-realised and appointed Simla annexe means more visitors to the Queensland capital have the opportunity to enjoy it in comfort and style.
Doubles start from $279 per night for an Executive Queen Room in the main building to $479 for a Balfour Suite in Simla. The rate includes a daily gourmet breakfast. Spicers Balfour Hotel, 37 Balfour Street, New Farm, Brisbane. Phone 1300 597 540. See spicersretreats.com
In a world still full of bland and anonymous accommodation experiences, a stay at Spicers Balfour, whether in the new or old digs, delivers an authentic sense of its Brisbane location.
The small, slightly scruffy street in which Spicers Balfour is located, and some adjoining properties, detract a little from the attractiveness of the hotel and its grounds.
Anthony Dennis was a guest of Spicers Balfour Hotel