It may well go down as the most low-key casino opening anywhere in the world. No red carpet. No glittering party for socialites. No big star entertainers.
Yet Crown – it has yet to get its casino licence, so is really just a hotel and restaurant complex at this stage – is already creating quite a buzz.
Choose from scallop dumplings at the cosy, Chinese Teahouse; spiced Maremma duck at chef Ross Lusted’s Woodcut; pumpkin and hazelnut casoncelli pasta at Italian a’Mare; classic tuna tataki with tosazu dressing at Nobu; or a delicate 10-course private meal at Yoshii’s Omakase. Food aficionados, this is your new nirvana. Crown Sydney has moved fine dining from the CBD to Barangaroo.
Nine out of a total of 14 dining venues are already open. The remaining restaurants, including the much talked about rooftop bar and English chef Clare Smyth’s On Core, will be unveiled in March.
With Sydneysiders barred from international travel thanks to the pandemic, Crown is already a magnet for food-fest staycations with a difference. Regional Australia is leading the charge.
So, what’s it like to stay inside Sydney’s new landmark and tallest building? The first thing to do when you enter the lobby is look up. Behold an amazing chandelier, spanning four floors, made of 396 striking, Swarovski crystal blades surrounding the staircase balustrade.
It is a stylish introduction to the hotel’s claim to be a six-star venue. Even the uniforms worn by Crown’s 2000 staff have been created by an Australian designer, Arthur Galan, who has dressed the likes of Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Hawkins and is known for his love of impeccable fabric.
The $2.2-billion, petal-shaped Crown Tower Sydney is testament to the curved architecture of UK’s WilkinsonEyre and soars 275 metres over the waterfront Barangaroo precinct. The tower’s glittering faade is made of 8000 individually cut glass panels which reflect the colours of the harbour.
The shape of the building also dictates that each of the 349 guest rooms and 82 private residences are different. With prices currently starting at $869 per night for a Deluxe King Room, including breakfast for two, Crown is a tad cheaper than the Park Hyatt Sydney.
We stay in an Executive Harbour Bridge Suite at $1479 per night, including breakfast for two. At 85 square metres, it is spacious with a guest bathroom, a sitting area with a curved couch, a dining table for four and a good-sized desk. Most important, it has great views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
The king-sized bed has all the electronic gadgets to draw the curtains and dim the lights. The marble bathroom has a custom-made, huge bath, two washbasins and a Japanese toilet with a warm seat and remote control. It opens with an enthusiastic buzz when you enter and offers a warm wash and blow-dry if that’s your thing.
The shower room is also high-tech, controlled by touch buttons so that you can shower with a massage. Towels are plentiful and plush, and there’s even a Dyson hairdryer.
The hotel’s interiors are all about marble and there are 50 types of marble and stone used throughout the building. More than 1800 artworks have been meticulously installed and nearly 70 per cent were created by Australian artists.
The hotel’s expansive infinity pool on level three is one of the most popular haunts for guests, young and old. At 45 metres, it is long enough to have a good workout and the water temperature is kept at a warm 25°C with a hot jacuzzi at one end. The pool terrace has individual cabanas which you can book and then sit back and enjoy a light platter of cheese or fruit. No wonder the pool is packed with kids and families.
Crown Spa on level six takes you to another level entirely. It has a circular, vitality pool, a steam room, sauna and two specialty treatment beds, Quartz Plassmo and Spa Wave – all designed to elevate your experience. I have a 75-minute pedicure with a foot mask and massage by therapist Aleecia from Port Kembla and felt absolutely pampered.
We meet for cocktails and light refreshments at TWR (The Waiting Room), a busy lobby bar with outside seating facing the harbourfront. Service is efficient and it’s a great spot for an after-work cocktail or glass of wine.
We try getting into the Teahouse to experience the ornate bird-cage cubicles covered with Chinese-motif silk panels but it is fully booked with curious Asian families tucking into Hainanese chicken roulade and xiao long bao dumplings. The food looks delicious; shame we could not get in.
We have dinner at Woodcut by chef Ross Lusted, formerly of fine-dining venue The Bridge Room. Woodcut’s elemental dining focus is on traditional cooking methods using wood, charcoal and steam.
We start with grilled Tasmanian black garlic bread and share a plate of marron served warm with tomato purslane and palm hearts – it is delicate and delicious. The crab cakes served with fried leaves and oyster mayonnaise are also interesting.
Our shared main of Maremma duck served with rhubarb and softened dates is a winner. Cooked at 350°C in a wood oven, the duck is cleverly deboned at the table and is so succulent, it almost melts in your mouth. Our other main of Rangers Valley Black Angus sirloin is cooked just right, medium rare and delicious. The steak is served with two sauces and condiments of horseradish, hot English and French mustards. We also have wood-roasted pumpkin sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and grain, and tied beans with peppers and yoghurt. It’s a huge meal which demands an after-dinner walk around Barangaroo.
Breakfast at Epicurean on level five, is a COVID-safe buffet served by staff. From the selection of Indian, Chinese and Western dishes, the vegan dosa is a clear winner. There’s even a gluten-free station and a chocolate fountain.
Lunch at acclaimed chef Alessandro Pavoni’s a’Mare on the ground floor is delightful. Our attentive waitress is a charming Italian.
We start with Merimbula oysters, which are creamy and fresh, followed by the chef’s specialty, casoncelli pasta parcels filled with pumpkin, hazelnuts, sage, Parmigiano-Reggiano and burnt butter. They are amazing. Next time around, I plan to order the same dish as a main.
We share a fish stew of baby octopus, cuttlefish, toothfish and mussels in a Tuscan-style broth, alongside Moreton Bay bug with a Sardinian salad of pickled Spanish onion, celery, tomato and basil. Both dishes are exquisitely executed but if I have to choose a winner, it will be the stew.
For dessert, we buckle and order a tiramisu which is one of the best we have ever tasted. It’s another big meal which requires a walk around the block – twice.
The most popular restaurant, Nobu by internationally renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa, is booked out for dinner until April. It means we will have to come back. And that’s no hardship.
We loved our staycation at Crown. It’s already a favourite among Sydney’s well-to-do and is now tilting at regional Australians looking to do the Big Smoke in style.
Take me there
Fly: Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar fly to Sydney Airport, which is about 15 kilometres from Crown Sydney, Barangaroo.
Drive: Sydney is a three-hour drive from Bathurst or Canberra, and just over two hours from Newcastle.
Stay: The six-star Crown Towers Sydney starts at $869 per night (weekdays), including breakfast.
Explore more: crownsydney.com.au