Hotel Review – InterContinental Sydney’s $120m makeover

This is my first stay at InterContinental Sydney which is part of Sydney’s past, present and future. Like a memory of Women’s Weekly birthday cake, everyone you talk to has a memory of this place. Now it’s my turn. The grand dame of Sydney’s hotel scene is back, baby, with a $120m makeover which has sensitively embraced the old and created a whole lot of ‘new’. My staycation partner Mr G, joins me on this review. 

The Arrival 

With four main entrances set around the square corners of the historic Treasury building I lose my bearings momentarily. I head to reception which is now modernised into desk pods removing the ‘us & them’ feeling which older hotels have. Looking at my fellow hotel guests I realise that this is the most amount of designer labels from Gucci, Prada, Chanel etc that I have been around since a David Jones visit.  “Oh here comes money-bags – did you see her in the SMH this morning?” teases one of the women from a girl power group who are all laughing, dressed in designer leisurewear waiting to check in.

Afternoon Tea at The Treasury

The Treasury

I can’t check into my room yet, so I take advantage of their new offering – afternoon tea.

The Treasury was first built in 1821. It was the epicentre of state politics, business and finance deals. It is quite intoxicating knowing a cellar vault containing state wealth is below my feet. If I put my hand to the sandstone walls, could they whisper the stories, the intrigue, the secrets of historical Sydney?

The Treasury is reimagined by design firm Woods Bagot with black and white floors, palm trees and a range of seating options which gives off that British India vibe. A Parisian style bar hogs centre stage. I settle into one of the lush green sofas and enjoy a glass of Hunter Valley Bimbadgen cuvee followed by a pretty teapot from William Edwards ‘Sultan’s Garden’ range containing a delightful few cuppas of English Breakfast Maybe Tea.

Afternoon Tea

A three tiered platter arrives next. Cakes on top, sandwiches on the second layer and on the third are two scones (one with fruit and one without) along with its magical pals strawberry jam and cream. I tuck into a perfect rectangle of fluffy bread containing Huon salmon, lemon myrtle, dotted with scampi caviar which pop majestically when I eat slowly enough, which to be fair, is a challenge of will power. The second option is a classic egg sandwich filled with generous amounts of well seasoned boiled egg, herby mayonaise with a hint of white truffle. I am offered a refill. Yes please! Read our review of afternoon tea for more. 

Club InterContinental Room – 2713
Club Room with Opera House Views

On arrival my car keys were whisked from my hands by the concierge who parked it for me. In return, reception has given me a room card key for the next 24hrs. A swipe of the card sets the tone for the stay – it’s a smart elevator which whisks me up to the 27th floor without touching a button. Fancy that?

I open the door to a dark room, perhaps like the opening curtains of a performance, there is a reason. After some scrambling I find the bedside switch that electronically opens them and sit on my thousand count, oh so delicious king size bed with my four pillow companions and watch the show hundreds of metres below me unfold. 

There she is, ‘Hello luvva!’. She is, of course, The Opera House. It’s a sunny afternoon. Blue skies, sparkling seas, shiny buildings are the backdrop to ferries resembling little toy boats in a bath chugging back and forth. I transition to the long padded window bench which is big enough for two humans to easily stretch out and watch the scene. This is a room where books, laptops, and streaming are optional. This is your entertainment box seat. It is made more entertaining with a knock at the door and a complimentary cocktail a retake on a white truffle negorni appears with a cute furry companion…

The interior is a mix of lush carpets, velvet fabrics, greens, blues, creams reflecting the view. A quick survey of the mini bar area reveals something astonishing – champagne glasses. Something most hotel rooms NEVER have! Two shelves of artful teacups and saucers are companions to a well stocked fridge including Mumm, Little Creatures and soft drink favourites. Beware the nibble section of Pringles and jars of nuts which could set you back in $$ double digits if hunger pangs strike.

The bathroom is a decent size with grey marble surrounds. Sadly there is no bath, instead a large rain shower is beaconing me. It is lacking in the ‘power’ shower department with low water pressure, no problem for Mr G who doesn’t have the ‘hair problem’! Standard white bathrobes and slippers complete the experience. Cult brand Byredo full size toiletries are a great touch and I love the Bal d’ Afrique scent.

The Club Lounge

All you need to know is that floor 31 has all the fun. A beautiful indoor pool which Mr G highly rates, especially for its temperature, which is warmer than many hotel pools, a well kitted gym and access to Aster, the rooftop bar (more on that later) oh, and of course the Club Lounge.

To enter this happy land of peaceful free snacks and drinks I pick up the phone outside and ask to be let in. The door is opened for me which is a nice touch. WOW! What a room. Steps down to the main floor reveal a jaw dropping view. It’s regally fitted out with rich fabrics, gold trims and mirrors. Low slung royal blue velvet chairs and tables hug the perimeter of the room with large windows onto Sydney Harbour, Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanic Garden.

Twilight canapes

We arrive just after 5pm and a selection of twilight canapes ranging from melon, meats, cheeses and crudites are on offer by the bar. It’s not as extensive as many other lounges but we settle in with our complimentary drinks, a Penfolds Riesling and a NZ Te Mata SB from Hawkesbury Bay. Then chase it up as the sun is setting with an espresso martini. The lounge isn’t busy and our servers take our orders and also swing by with a surprise hot snack, a delicious kataifi wrapped prawn. We would have had a few more (a bucket of prawns please!)  but they count on one prawn per person (sob). 

The lounge is open all day and had we arrived earlier at 2pm we could have indulged in a mini high tea of scones and a delicious prawn buns with iceberg lettuce or a cucumber sandwich. 

Dinner at The Treasury

At night the ground floor is glowing, casting shadows across the sandstone walls and birdcage elevators. The Treasury wears its age with grandeur and glamour. We settle into banquette seating facing the bar. The all day dining menu is eclectic, moving from breakfast items, through to more serious dishes. No judgement if you want breakfast at 9pm! It’s nice to see Australian botanicals feature across the menu and our plate of salt bush and pepper squid is nicely golden, soft and crispy. Butternut pumpkin soup is rich and creamy but like a few dishes suffers from the tyranny of distance and is luke warm. The kitchen is on the first floor so servers have to take a lift upstairs, over to the pass, collect all plates, then down and over to the dining area, which from dish to dish can impact the food. A beautifully plated bowl of king prawn, bronzed scallops, octopus and cod’s roe is elevated with a perfumed shellfish consomme poured at the table. Its flavours are masterful, but it loses its just cooked perfection, waiting too long on the pass. The Southern Island Rib Eye however, shows none of these niggles with a slight crust and char which bang on medium rare. In conclusion, this is a ridiculously romantic space to lounge, eat and drink. 

Roof Top – Aster Bar

Aster Rooftop Bar

This is the last bar hop in our progressive dinner experience. We press level 31 in the lift and meet ‘Aster’. This has to be the ultimate, uber glamorous rooftop bar which few people know about. It opened to the general public for the first time this year and I rather love that it’s a Sydney secret. Our advice is to book early, especially at the weekend. We are greeted at the a narrow door and escorted up in the lifts (though we could have walked up the stairs). The sky bar is decadent, moody and oh so sexy. You can’t help but fall head over heels in love with the world at your feet. Wooden floors, rich royal blue rugs, low slung marble tables means that everyone gets a view. Jacob Ransom the bar manager (who we first met at Nashville inspired Jolenes) is the ultimate host. These cocktails are not your average fare. The White Mary is a stunning creation. It has all the flavours of a bloody mary but it’s clear. Premium spirits from Fino Sherry, Four Pillars Olive Leaf Gin, Heirloom Tomato, Citrus, Celery, Pepper create a mind bending drink. Despite the cold, we pull back the sliding glass doors and finish out drinks in the night air. 

Breakfast at Aster Bar

We could have had breakfast downstairs in the Conservatory Restaurant on the first floor which has a larger buffet range, but we take advantage of our club status and say hello world with the most ridiculous views across the harbour. What a way to wake up. A smaller range of cold buffet options from cereals, nuts, meats, cheeses and pastries kills hunger pangs whilst your hot meal is cooked a la carte. Nothing says decadence better than eggs benedict though the three egg omelette gave it a run for its money. 

The verdict

Some grande dames of our social scene never die, they rest, they evolve and when they return they are a heady mix of longevity, experience with a connection to history which is hard for newcomers to match. 

Whether it is work, a staycation, drink, dinner or a requirement for woo’ing. Intercontinental has it all and more. Welcome back.

What we are addicted to – Those gun barrel views of Sydney cannot be beaten. (Mr G would also say a short commute to work!). The diversity of venues which deliver so many different vibes under the one roof and the Club Lounge which elevates the stay. 

What would we need to be more addicted? – The Treasury kitchens are too far away from the dining floor which does affect the consistency of the dining experience.  The Club Lounge sunset offering has room to be more creative with a wider range of canape options. More prawns please!

InterContinetal Sydney – 117 Macquarie Street, Sydney NSW 2000 Australia

About the author

Karen’s corporate job back in the UK had included entertaining clients in some of the best restaurants. This ultimately sparked a curiosity 'Just how do they do that?' (she confesses she was brought up on meat and vegetables, so this was all very exciting). Currently a Mr & Mrs Smith 'Tastemaker', she’s flashpacked around the world, learning about wine, experiencing different cultures and cuisines and had a two- year love affair with it all. Originally from England, she finally settled in Australia and continues to be besotted by food, wine and travel preferring to focus on the luxury end of town (thread count does matter).


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