Just a few blocks from the Botanic Gardens, Re:START container mall and Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, and right across the road from Hagley Park and the Otakaro/Avon River, The George is close to everything without being smack bang in the hub. A slightly removed position from the central business district's gridded streets suits this local institution, which is far more about providing comfort and care and a discrete space to meet than being part of the action.
The 53-room boutique hotel turns 30 this year. The exterior of the four-storey main building was modernised in 1987 when the Park Hotel became The George and, somehow, neither it nor the adjoining Residence were structurally damaged in the February 2011 earthquake. Rooms were most recently refurbished and parquet floor relaid in 2012. The lobby was revamped earlier this year by Dalman Architects from Christchurch; white and crisp is now a warm-toned retro lounge space that begs you to hang. There's also a well-stocked lobby bar. The two-storey Residence, designed by New Zealand designer Neil McLachlan, is easily accessed from the main building via an undercover walkway and offers, among many things, graceful architecture and three lavish bedrooms.
Also on the ground floor, Bistro50 does breakfast, lunch, dinner and high tea and has an outdoor seating area with a living wall. Upstairs is Pescatore restaurant and various functional looking function rooms. There's no gym at The George but guests have complimentary use of Hotel Montreal's gym – also a Brook Serene property and located on the same block.
My premium executive room on the second floor has a view out to the entrance carpark, although others do have garden views. There's a coffee machine and electric kettle and the minibar has New Zealand wines and Bollinger. Bathroom amenities are locally sourced with most cardboard containers are made from recycled material and there's a recycling bin under the desk. Wi-Fi is complimentary in all rooms as is a stuffed George the Bear that you can take with you to photograph in exotic locations and then post pics on his Facebook page if you're into that kind of thing. Lotus Day Spa offers in-room massages and treatments.
My room is spacious and the king mattress has a Nuvole Pure Comfort topper and pure cotton sheets. Pillows such as down and feather, aromatherapy and memory foam are available. The bathroom has underfloor heating, a bath and a heated towel rack. Lighting and temperature controls have labelled touchpads. And there's 24-hour room service.
Pescatore is one of Christchurch's best restaurants. Its new chef du cuisine, Ryan Henley, comes indirectly from Melbourne's Vue de Monde. The "decision" and "degustation" menus are crammed with fresh produce from local farms and daily delivered line-caught fish turned into dishes like snapper with puffed beef tendons, bisque and turnip and an unconventional Jerusalem artichoke dessert. Sommelier Cashia Gumbo will match wine to your meal; request a classical or controversial approach. The restaurant also has a sense-cleansing entrance you can't miss.
Breakfast at 50Bistro has a pretty good continental selection with even better a la carte options. Decent coffee can be bought at the lobby bar.
WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR
After you've tried Pescatore, find your way to historic New Regent Street for dinner at Twenty Seven Steps and a show at the gloriously restored Isaac Theatre Royal. By day take a river punt or, for something more active but still slow-placed, do an urban cycle with The Vintage Peddler and brake for caffeine at C4 Coffee.
The George is a mature establishment striking a balance between having nothing to prove and keeping itself in check. It's not fancy-pants or comparable in standard to 5-star hotels in many other parts of the world, but is loved and even depended on for providing genuine quality service sans snobbery.
HOW TO GET THERE
Some staff have been at The George for 10, 20 and even 30 years and service is consistently friendly and professional.
Female artists don't appear to be represented at all in the hotel's art collection.
Elspeth Callender travelled as a guest of Scenic (scenic.com.au)