Theatre sport (Sydney)

Ginny Grant finds there's plenty of fun and good food to be had at the new QT Sydney.

by Ginny Grant | Cuisine issue #156 | Tuesday, 26 February, 2013
Sydney’s a city where there’s always a new opening, a hot ticket or a must-see. On a recent visit, the queues that snaked around one of the city’s busiest corners indicated that the most popular place to be in town that week was the newly opened Topshop store.

Little did these customers know that the easiest way to get into the shop was via the concierge of the new five-star boutique QT Sydney hotel. Topshop has taken up residence in the old Gowings department store building, on the corner of George and Market St – so too has QT, though it also sprawls into the old State Theatre building. All of this means that those lucky enough to be staying at QT Sydney that week could avoid the maddening crowds by simply descending from the hotel into Topshop, via the hotel’s lift.

It’s a small detail, but one that’s very representative of the level of service you’ll find at QT Sydney. The unassuming entrance off Market St stands out because you’ll be met by red-bobbed be-wigged girls and beatnik boys, all channelling 1950s French cool while providing a warm and friendly welcome.

The building’s downstairs foyer is dominated by Parlour Lane Roasters – a small, bustling cafe and wine bar (with good coffee and an impressive Negroni menu) that features heritage tiling and displays of elaborate costumes, reflecting the space’s State Theatre heritage.

Taking the lift to QT’s reception gives some inkling that you are in for a quirky experience – screens of digital art and the lift muzak, which changes depending on the number of occupants in the lift. If a crowd is travelling up or down, a party music theme kicks in. Twosomes will be serenaded by love songs, while those on their own will be rewarded with single-themed tunes. At first I found this cute, but after a few days of hearing Sinatra mournfully serenade me with All Alone every time I entered the lift, it began to wear on my nerves – particularly when a few days away from the children “all alone” was in fact rather blissful.

The hotel’s designers, Nic Graham and Shelley Indyk, clearly had fun with this fit-out. The reception area is crowded with fabulous 50s and 60s furniture, more LED displays and immaculately suited, easy-on-the-eye staff. Some of the history from the Gowings and State Theatre buildings has also been incorporated – one wall is an amalgamation of suitcases, radios, lockers and other fascinating memorabilia from the site.

The rooms continue the eclectic theme – you won’t find any expanses of beige here. Instead, your senses will be engaged by black sheepskins, luxurious fabrics, Mondrian-style carpets, opulent pouffes and beautiful glass-cabinet displays. There are expanses of rich wood and colour, along with a cocktail set complete with recipe for a coffee martini – each room also comes with a Nespresso coffee machine to deliver a straight caffeine fix or help out with the cocktail mixing.

Take the lift to the mezzanine floor and you’ll feel as if you’ve entered an old-fashioned apothecary shop – the old department store window displays are now filled with beakers and flasks. Once you walk into the hotel’s spaQ though, a sedate calmness reigns. Organic local brands are used in the fabulous treatments – a highlight is the Hammam-inspired steam and ice room. SpaQ is also home to a very stylish barber shop that offers wet shaves – seat yourself in a leather barber chair then opt for a Mr Bond or The Don (as in Draper).

Once you manage to tear yourself away from all these attractions though, one of the main incentives to visit QT Sydney is the food. Past the vast LED display, swing by the bar and the wall of wine (if you’re in the mood for people-watching, also make a quick diversion up the stairs to the uber-cool Gilt Lounge bar) to find Gowings Bar & Grill restaurant.

Robert Marchetti – who has previously set up renowned Sydney restaurants including Icebergs Dining Room and Bar and North Bondi Italian – is QT’s creative food director. The Gowings menu carefully balances the requirements of a hotel – from the comforts of breakfast through to the sophistication of dinner – with a sharp line in details.

Or as Marchetti puts it, “I treat the everyday experience the way I would a five-star experience.”

The breakfast, lunch and dinner menus tread a classic brasserie path with pleasing modern flourishes.

“I’ve always felt that you need to keep staples on,” says Marchetti. “Imagine a hard day at the office and you’re dreaming of the Wiener schnitzel Holstein with organic egg and Ortiz anchovies. But you get there and it’s been taken off the menu. I like to know when I’m heading somewhere for dinner that there are reliable things I can count on. I feel with the long days we are all doing now it’s important to have some sense of reliability that someone is thinking of your stomach.”

The opulent restaurant space works beautifully throughout the day – it’s light-filled in the morning, while at night the mix of mirrors, gilding and leather chairs gives it a sophisticated, lustrous look.

Marchetti’s executive chef Paul Easson is ex-Melbourne’s Rockpool, and across the board the food is smart and considered – from the chocolate jersey cow’s milk or Cantonese congee for breakfast to the wood rotisserie that turns out crisp spiced duck, organic herbed chicken and whole roasted quails for lunch or dinner. And it’s nice to see indigenous ingredients featuring, as in the steamed Warrigal greens and saltbush that accompany the birds.

There’s also a strong ethical component evident – Marchetti is an ambassador for Animals Australia.

“I feed about 7000 to 8000 people a week in all my places – that’s roughly 21,000 meals. As restaurateurs, we have a responsibility to be ethical.”

In a city with an abundance of great hotels, bars and excellent food, QT Sydney manages to offer travellers something a little different. If you’re tired of tasteful neutrality and want a bit of fun and exuberance, as well as someone who’s thinking of your stomach, check in.


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