There's no shortage of upscale hotels aiming at the business traveller in Sydney, but the Observatory Hotel -- part of the Leading Hotels of the World group -- is among the most luxurious.
Situated on Kent Street, just to the west of Circular Quay and within a relatively comfortable winter morning's walk of the CBD, the Observatory is convenient for business meetings and particularly suited for working lunches and dinners, with the excellent Galileo Restaurant downstairs.
But it's the downtime options at the Observatory -- including a full day spa and magnificent swimming pool -- that really make a stay worthwhile.
Location & Impressions
The Observatory Hotel is on a quiet tree-lined street just beneath Observatory Park.
On the map, it's relatively close to the on-ramp for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but there's very little noise and you can't see it from the hotel.
First impressions are understated: the front of the hotel looks modern and polished from the outside, without dripping in gold, turrets or domes.
Inside, it's more sumptuous, and my suitcase was smartly taken care of by the door staff while I dealt with check-in at the front desk, which is in the main lobby. With comfortable sofas, elegant furniture and beautiful flower arrangements, it's a luxurious welcome to the hotel.
Since my room wasn't ready when I arrived, I had a cup of tea in the Globe brasserie and bar, which was comfortably full of people having meetings. (Try the Russian Caravan tea: it's excellent.)
I stayed in a Junior Suite, which isn't actually a suite: it's a large room with a big balcony, sofa, dining table, desk, and a very comfortable armchair.
Entering, there's a large hallway with a huge wardrobe with heaps of room to put things away, plus a full iron and ironing board.
Into the luxuriously-decorated main room, there's a sofa and armchair (with ottoman), king-sized bed, wardrobe with big flatscreen TV and DVD player, and a minibar hutch with a Nespresso coffee machine -- one of the things that marks an excellent hotel in our books.
A sizeable marble and stone bathroom contains a full-sized bath, separate walk-in shower (though without a shower wand) and twin basins. Towels are noticeably soft and fluffy, and toiletries are from the upmarket French L'Occitane house.
Outside is a lovely balcony with outdoor furniture, which overlooks a row or two of houses, some car parks and Darling Harbour.
The desk setup is more elegant than functional, with only just enough room for a laptop. You'll have to move some of the things on the desk (like the phone, welcome book, iPod dock, and so on) if you want to spread out.
The chair is closer to dining-room furniture than something you'd find in an office, so isn't suitable for extended working.
Unfortunately, you don't have the option of moving around the room to use the dining table or comfortable seating with your laptop, though, since only wired Internet is available through Ethernet cables, which are short and don't go further than the desk. (Wi-Fi is only available in the lobby downstairs -- which doesn't have desks.)
That's a serious omission when ultra-light laptops like the MacBook Air and tablets like iPads don't come with Ethernet ports any more. On the plus side, it seems that the hotel is used to working around it: a very helpful member of staff brought up a wireless router with a single call to reception.
The Internet was fairly slow too, at 1.4 Mbps download and 0.75 Mbps upload speed -- and it isn't included in the room rate.
And -- in common with many hotels -- there just aren't enough power points for the modern traveller.
But at the end of the day, if full business functionality is paramount, the Observatory probably won't be your first choice of hotel.
The excellent Galileo restaurant sits downstairs, offering French cuisine with fascinating Japanese twists.
The foie gras with black truffle truffle starter and wagyu steak were exceptional, eclipsed only by sommelier Martin Koudelka's utterly outstanding wine list.
Galileo is truly a top choice for dinner even if you're not staying at the hotel, but the convenience of hosting business contacts and being able to walk upstairs after dinner can't be beat.
Breakfasts are equally sumptuous, with a top-notch variety of continental options, excellent coffee and a great cooked breakfast too.
The balcony in my junior suite was perfect for getting some fresh air after a day of being cooped up inside, with an interesting view over Darling Harbour.
But when it comes to relaxation, the real benefit of staying at the Observatory on a business trip is taking advantage of the spa, swimming pool, hot tub and sauna.
That makes it an especially good choice if you're bringing your partner along (although good luck expensing that 2h30 Couples Luxe Therapy at A$835).
While spa treatments are upmarket and priced accordingly, the fabulous swimming pool with its starry ceiling, murals and lounge chairs are an excellent way to work out the kinks from a long flight or a busy day at the office.
A swim-over hot tub and separate male & female saunas are a welcome addition to the chill-out options.
If you've overindulged at Galileo, there's also a full gym to work off the previous night's dinner.
With elegant rooms, a boutique feel and a great location, the Observatory has plenty going for it.
While its wired-only Internet situation is a fairly big black mark, the hotel staff are clearly used to working around the limitations. Galileo restaurant on-site is a huge plus, and the swimming pool is just fantastic.
All in all, the Observatory is an absolutely top-notch place if your budget will stretch to it, and we'd especially recommend it if you're travelling with your significant other.
Our reporter was a guest of the Observatory Hotel.