A cooler blend of culture

QT Sydney – big on eclecticism but never short on hospitality

In sci-fi TV and film of the 1950s and ’60s, it was envisaged that in the third millennium we would have machines not only doing a lot of the work previously reserved for humans, but that these robots and computers would actually be able to converse with us. Sure, we’re well familiar with the fact that technology has advanced so far that a lot of our mundane tasks are now being taken care of by technology (from computerised accounting to slow cookers to RoboVac) and we’re getting used to their desire to talk to us (although the request by our mobile phones of “What would you like to do?” as you accidentally bump it against the table at an important board meeting can be a little embarrassing). But what about technology with attitude that throws in the occasional insult?

Too crude to be true? Think again.

At the very postmodern QT Hotel in Sydney, I entered the lift with two friends and business colleagues and immediately the song Three Is Family began playing. One colleague who’d been here before explained that the lift was sensitive to the number of people it was carrying, and that music with appropriate lyrics according to number played. For example, if there were just two of you in the elevator, you might here a song like Tea For Two, or if you were going solo, some soppy song like the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby (“I look at all the lonely people…”) would be spun, or All By Myself by Eric Carmen. Indeed, upon exiting, the lift’s voice lets out a cackle that you are indeed a loner with no mates. Well, at least on one sad, somewhat inebriated occasion…

But just when you’re exiting the lift feeling a bit ‘Bridget Jones’ but wanting to rage against the machine, genuinely hospitality sets in – that is the QT concierge and consummate bell staff who might ask about your day or night, or check that everything is okay in your room. Indeed, the fittings and décor of this boutique hotel might be cool and sharp, but the hospitality is always warm.

So let’s get into a little of those aesthetic details. Upon entering the lobby, visitors are taken aback by the explicit attention to detail. Not one element of this establishment has been casually overlooked, and everything appears to either have a purpose or looks designed to truly please the senses. The lobby walls are constructed entirely of recycled materials: sturdy vintage suitcases, mini credenzas and filing cabinets, old TVs and stereo speakers, you name it… It’s like the interior architects have banished all thoughts of traditional bricks and mortar to take on a decidedly eco conscience, turning the concept of up-cycling into a visual spectacle of rustic furnishings-come-fittings.

Although you mightn’t believe it in a city as bustling as Sydney, QT is the first five-star hotel to be built in the city’s centre in over a decade. That said, it wasn’t exactly built from the ground up; more-so a remarkable renovation of two iconic heritage buildings – part of the State Theatre,  and old shopping haunt Gowings on Market Street. Naturally, with the word ‘heritage’ being key here, there were many challenges placed on QT’s architectural team, Woodhead, and creative builder, Built, in terms of connectivity structurally and for desired results in the interior spaces.

The stone clad exteriors of each building have of course been kept intact but several façades had to be recreated included gargoyles, mounted knights and other sculptures not seen in over 60 years. As for the recycled furniture, equipment and bric-a-brac in the lobby, it certainly wasn’t a case of slapping the goods on top of one another with a bit of superglue. Weighing processes had to be carried out to ensure each piece was suitable for the weight of product it carried above it, and of course found objet like old suitcases had to be filled when proved to be a little too worn.

Woodhead also led the back of house interior design, as well as having turned what could have been a typical inner-city hotel lobby into something altogether fantastical and now . Museum-like, even. It took a year and a half for the team to put together all the pieces, buying from auctions, on eBay and even second-hand poaching during council clean-up time. And the results are stimulating, to say the least.

Put it this way, if you’ve ever had to wait for someone in a hotel lobby and felt itchy feet, the effect is quite the opposite at QT Sydney. Instead you’ll while the minutes away marveling at the décor: a seamstress mannequin here, flashing old Gowings sign there, and furniture that looks like it’s been pilfered from just about every decade of the 20th Century. Indeed, this place is postmodernity at its practical best.

The guest rooms, while also pleasing to the designer eye, are less attention-demanding, which is a good thing. After all, when you’re wanting to get away in a city hotel, or escape from the boardroom if you happen to be staying on business, you want minimalist surrounds in your room – a look that says city slicker style but also home-y. Mocha, chocolate and caramel hues have mostly been used for each room and suite – from the floorboards to the wood paneling; the granite around the bathroom basins to the terracotta walls that surround a stand-alone bath and spacious shower.

In keeping with the eclectic theme of downstairs, there are few bits and bobs of bright colour, mostly tucked behind the thick glass that separates the bathroom from bedroom, giving each piece an art gallery-like quality, and some rooms do have more splashes of colour if guests prefer a brighter look to their surrounds.

Every detail has been looked over by hip interior design firm, Indyk who have made sure ‘pop’ and ‘classic’ themes never clash.

While the bedding is somewhat soft for someone who likes a hard mattress (as for the pillows I have never found a hotel room anywhere in the word that generally uses harder pillows – these are always too mooshy for me), a good night’s sleep was had each night. You’d think with the hotel being slap-bang in the middle of the city, guests would have to content with rowdy bar-goers on the street, but instead sound-proofed glass has blocked out pretty much all that inner-city noise.

With 200 rooms sharing 12 styles, you can count on having a different visual experience during each stay.

Breakfast at QT Sydney is a far more special affair than in most city hotels. The menu boasts exotic interpretations of foods otherwise considered staple in other quarters of the world. The Fish Tortilla, for example, is an Ocean Trout Gravlax (it sounds dirty but means the fish is cured in salt, dill and alcohol) served with avocado mousse, coriander, mint and lime with green chilli optional ($16). Organic Prunes ($10) are served with buffalo ricotta, vanilla and wood-fired almonds. And the Huevos Rancheros ($17) are the best we’ve tried outside of Mexico.

Lunch and dinner in the Gowings Bar & Grill are decidedly more decadent affairs. On the seafood side, you can’t go past the Tartare of Yellowfin Tuna served with fresh horseradish, lemon and sesame grissini ($18). Other ideal starters include Air-Dried Shiro-kin Wagyu Bresaola delivered with a green sauce (yes) of rocket, reggiano and lemon ($24), or the Hot Spanner Crab Cakes served with a salad of palm hearts, aioli and hot sauce ($19).

Mains range from bird (crisp spiced duck, organic herbed chicken or whole roasted quail), to wood-fired white meats (Berkshire pork chop with sides of pan-roasted peppers, zucchini, fennel, eggplant and a zesty rosemary and mustard sauce). Of course, being a restaurant that welcomes many corporate types, beef steak is big on the menu, with varieties ranging from minute rib eye ($31) to Black Angus ($44).

I didn’t get to try the sweets myself (too full, I’m afraid) but I did dip a pistachio and almond finger into my coffee and so rest assured desserts here, too, would be as faultless as the rest of the meal.

Spa aficionados will find QT Sydney’s spaQ as a true sight for weary eyes. If your stay here includes at least one big night out, rest assured that any hangover will be cured in part with one of the many wonderful treatments on offer here. The ‘Weekend Warrior’ treatment, for example, is a fatigue-fighting sequence of spa therapies that begins with an invigorating green tea salt scrub, followed by a massage targeting areas of tension. To finish off, a trusty beauty therapist will provide a facial, focusing on any area you desire – whether your focus is on hyperpigmentation, congestion or fine lines. And if you’d truly like to treat yourself, opt for a signature caviar facial, with protein-rich caviar sure to rejuvenate the skin and a concoction of Chinese botanical antioxidants working to exfoliate and increase collagen production. It’s natures beauty boost, basically.

The spa itself is stunningly decked out in ye-olde-shoppe style – decorated with phrenology busts and lab-like glass equipment. Next door, too, is a deco-themed barber with a haircut and styling menu that caters to women and men. SpaQ is open to the public, so you don’t even need to be staying at QT to enjoy its extensive facilities.

Back to the accommodation side of things, whether you’re visiting Sydney for a couple nights’ stay, or living locally but desiring a dirty weekend in the city, designer darlings ought to put QT Sydney at the top of their accommodation wish-list. Start, maybe, with a booking for lunch, or pop into the vibrant cocktail lounge downstairs for a drink if you happen to be passing by the State Theatre some time. You’ll notice staff members with daring titles on their badges, like Director of Chaos, kitted out in burlesque-like gear. But don’t let the drag kid you. These folks are very helpful, whistling for a cab r directing you to the nearest best discotheque.

Passersby without any knowledge that this heritage corner of Sydney has been turned into a cool hotel, might not appreciate the cacophonous and colour of it all, but one stay and you’re sure to ‘get it’. 


QT Hotel is situated at 49 Market Street, Sydney.

Bookings and enquiries on (02) 8262 0000 or visit www.qthotels.com.au.

Rooms are available from $380 per night.

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