Know what's brilliant? Extending a work trip into a long, playful weekend in Sydney, full of food, wine, culture and revels. In this case, you might want to stay in Darling Harbour, because it's home to the Sydney Convention Centre — but it also makes a great jumping-off point for exploring the city.
You've got some of Sydney's best restaurateurs working their magic right in front of you, the new cultural precincts of Barangaroo and Darling Square to explore, water views everywhere you turn, and the ferry wharf enabling easy day trips across the harbour. Here's how to get a luxury winter weekender out of Darling Harbour.
EAT AND DRINK
To experience some of the most exciting cooking being done in Sydney, you'll want to follow the waterfront around to Barangaroo. The precinct only began opening its first completed sections in 2015, and already there's more life here than you might expect from a masterplanned development. Mainly, people come for the food and drink. At the fancier end of the spectrum, there's seafood-focused Cirrus Dining, the new offering from local food scene celebs Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt of Bentley. It's the spot for a quintessential Sydney blow-out lunch of oysters, trevally tartare and roasted king prawns with koji butter. Lotus Dumpling Bar and Turkish joint Anason are two more casual options that still wow.
Alternatively (or afterwards), head to 12-Micron, a contemporary-Oz affair that stands out for its focus on dessert. They even offer a three- or five-course dessert degustation, with flavour combinations like Pyengana Cheddar, milk chocolate, plum and honeycomb all bundled together into one dish. Also note their use of native ingredients on every plate — it's something you don't see often enough in Australia.
Follow all this up with some appropriately refined drinking. One luxe spot in this area is small bar Solera, with it's lush decor (think green velvet couches and flashes of marbles). Another good option is Banksii, where the specialty is vermouth and everything just sings.
Back in Darling Harbour proper, Sofitel Darling Harbour's Champagne Bar is perfect for an indulgent nightcap after a long day of exploring. Over 20 different types of Champagne are on offer, from Carnard-Duchene and Pol Roger to a 2009 Louis Roederer vintage in collaboration with artist Philippe Starck. If you prefer brews over bubbles, Pumphouse has one of the best beer selections in the city, from easy-drinking lagers to heavy-going stouts.
In this area, you'll also find one of Sydney's most well-known fine-diners, Sepia. This is still a great special-occasion spot, where your dinner looks like a procession of miniature landscapes and sculptures. A more casual option in this area is the Ternary at the Novotel Sydney on Darling Harbour, a crowd-pleasing bar and restaurant with three distinct offerings: Grill Kitchen, Asian Kitchen and Wine Bar. They know how to do winter too — they've scheduled a five-course, whisky-paired degustation on Thursday, August 30 for $189 per head.
If dining isn't the headline act for this evening, drop by the newly launched Pier St Kitchen at the Novotel Sydney Darling Square. They offer a pre-theatre menu of one or two courses with matching wines from $30 — a good call given major venues like the International Convention Centre and The Capitol and State Theatres are a short stroll away. Or, take a stroll along The Goods Line to the new Darling Square food precinct Steam Mill Lane — here, you'll find a bevy of casual food options including famed Melbourne burger joint 8bit and poké place Fishbowl.
You're in Sydney's theatre district right now, so you might as well make the most of it. The critically acclaimed and audience-adored British touring production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is on at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, just up from Barangaroo, until the end of July. After that there's Ruth Park's great Australian novel The Harp in the South, given a new adaptation by Kate Mulvany. Meanwhile, Capitol Theatre down in Haymarket begins its run of Jersey Boys at the end of August.
Or, head in the other direction and into Pyrmont, where big musicals land at the Lyric Theatre. This winter, that's The Book of Mormon — the Broadway hit that also manages to be hugely offensive to just about everyone. There's a treat for lovers of high fashion in this part of town too. The Powerhouse Museum is hosting Reigning Men, the world's biggest exhibition of men's fashion, with garments pulled from aristocrats of the 18th century as well as the runways of today. Divine.
If you don't mind doing a little learning on your mini break, stop by the Australian National Maritime Museum, which is currently hosting James Cameron: Challenging the Deep. This immersive exhibition centres on the filmmaker's oceanic explorations. You will be able to virtually explore the Titanic and Bismarck shipwrecks and see props from Cameron's films, including the Heart of the Ocean diamond.
Your final foray in Darling Harbour should be to Barangaroo wharf, where you can catch a ride on the F3 ferry to UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cockatoo Island. It used to be a penal colony, then a dockyard, and the mix of natural beauty and industrial ruin here is quite special and poetic. It's a great spot to just wander around and photograph — though there's also a haunted night tour if you just have to get intense about it.
Back to the mainland, where you've been smart enough to book yourself more deluxe lodgings. The Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour is pure 5-star indulgence, with an infinity pool infinity pool offering stunning views of the Sydney skyline and the aforementioned Champagne Bar. If you're celebrating on this trip, get a Luxury Room with Darling Harbour view, where you can enjoy harbour views from your freestanding bathtub through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Another option is the home of the aforementioned Ternary restaurant, the 4.5-star Novotel Sydney on Darling Harbour. Its rooms have just been refreshed, with dark feature walls, light wood accents and oversized art creating a contemporary yet cosy feel. Go for the executive rooms and suites if you want to bask in those city panoramas.
The 4.5-star Novotel Sydney Darling Square, meanwhile, is comfortably situated equidistant from the ICC and Chinatown, making it a good option if you're partial to a mid-afternoon nap before heading out into the action again.