Brilliant, if expensive: The verdict on Sydney’s giant new hotel

Travel News from Stuff - 20-11-2023
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W Sydney

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A five-star hotel dissecting four busy arterial motorways? Tell ’em they’re dreamin’. I mean, how’s the serenity? When plans for the extraordinary sloping A$1 billion Ribbon building were unveiled by Hassell architects back in 2014, commentators didn’t pull punches. “Obese whale” and “Wouldn’t like to clean the windows on it” stood out among the more memorable quips.

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Nearly a decade on, and the 588-room W Sydney – officially the world’s biggest W-branded stay by room volume – is welcoming guests into the monolithic structure and happily, there’s serenity up the wazoo.

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Much of the interiors are flush with marine tones, super yacht-inspired curves and Olympic-level soundproofing (even nightly pyrotechnics are easy on the ears).

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You can level-up your relaxation with a trip to the AWAY Spa for a radioactive green-tinged detox shot and a massage, or a cabana session by the heated pool on the 29th floor. Serenity aside, W celebrates its grittier urban surrounds with matched zeal, and far less chill – concrete flyovers included.

Of the wildly imaginative spaces dreamt up by London-based firm Bowler James Brindley, third-floor restaurant BTWN (short for “between”, alluding to its spot between two motorways) is the most daring – a neon-streaked extension of the highway beyond the glass walls, with elements of street markets and underpasses.

Think stainless-steel bar stations akin to Airstream food trucks, festoon lighting, and graffiti-sprayed columns by Sydney artist Sophi Odling.

The WET Deck level-29 rooftop holds court with a jellyfish-mosaicked 30-metre infinity pool overlooking the harbour and a two-level bar, 29/30, lit with oversized bulbs that hang from rouge, coral-like tentacles.

Electric curtains draw as we enter our Wonderful room, which also features a chaise, table setting, LED TV with Chromecast, bedside USB ports, QR pillow menu, and two double beds adorned with plush shark cushions.

Sleek curvy decor and rippled ceiling panels channel a yacht aesthetic, while a pink waratah-wallpapered closet – a nod to the state floral emblem – pops against a blue-and-white maritime palette.

The mirrored W Mix Bar comes well stocked with local snacks, spirits, wines and cocktails by Sydney bar tsars Maybe Sammy.

The navy ensuite feels luxurious and moody, with a deep, round, soaking tub, rain shower and luxe Davines amenities. Straight to the poolroom with the lot, we say.

Mornings at BTWN is a sumptuous buffet affair with made-to-order eggs and coffee. It’s a more sultry vibe in the evening, with a cold/raw bar, cocktail lounge, and upmarket share menu that hits all the right spots – go for the wild caught prawns slicked with XO butter and lime, and spiced yoghurt roasted Gundagai lamb shoulder.

We’re not as enamoured with our window-seat view of the Western Distributor, fireworks spectacles aside. The “late night” 2am: Dessertbar by Singaporean pastry queen Janice Wong is a decadent addition, though doesn’t quite match the hype, with just three desserts and a closing time of 10pm. Sweet tooths can also book her inventive five-course dessert degustation with cocktail pairings for A$168 (NZ$181).

IMAX and its supersized screen has returned to its spiritual home in the Ribbon complex. Stepping out, you’re a short stroll from Town Hall Station, Chinatown, CBD restaurants and the nightlife of Cockle Bay and Barangaroo.

Not quite as showy as the harbour-facing rooftop pool, W’s cathedral-esque indoor pool on the 22nd floor deserves an honourable mention, with sweeping views of the city and Tumbalong Park.

The surrounding maze of motorways is an Uber nightmare (we learn the hard way, with cars twice overshooting the driveway and missing exits). Be sure to offer clear instruction in the app, or walk up to Sussex Street.

With lead-in room rates prone to soaring above A$700 (NZ$756) for a night, it’s a bold proposition that may not be for everyone – though there’s no denying the billion-dollar complex has brought some much-needed sparkle to the drab end of Darling Harbour. W Sydney’s move to embrace its expressway issue through clever design is brilliant, even if not perfect.

Rooms from A$599 (NZ$647) a night. 31 Wheat Rd, Sydney. See

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