Monday, 29 August 2016

A very stylish way to start your journey

If you are taking a Qantas international flight out of Sydney then you should try to beg, steal or borrow an invitation to the rather delightful Qantas First lounge. 

It may only be 8am and we are only heading to Bangkok but there is nothing more likely to lift your spirits than the offer of a selection of Champagne and a three-hat restaurant quality breakfast with service to match. 


"Mumm, Taittinger, Perrier-Jouet, or maybe some Seppelt sparkling sir?"

Theoretically, of course, you need to be flying first class, or to be a Qantas Platinum or Platinum One frequent flyer, or a high-ranked Emirates or OneWorld alliance frequent flyer. 

But, and here's the good news, these high flyers are all allowed a lounge guest, so keep your eyes peeled for someone you know heading for the lounge.


The award-winning lounge, which is about to celebrate its 10th birthday, was designed by Australian Marc Newsom, and a spectacular vertical garden - with 8,400 plants - welcomes guests at the entrance.


European oak sculptures segment the lounge into zones for dining, relaxation, business, library and entertainment - but it is breakfast time, so time to choose between options like blueberry pancakes with banana, whipped butter and maple syrup, or maybe sweet corn fritters with bacon, avocado, creme fraiche and tomato jam. 



This, of course, in addition to eggs just about any way you want them, a selection of breads, teas, coffees and other Neil Perry-inspired delights. 

The famous salt and pepper squid with green chilli sauce kicks in at 11am followed by an all-day dining menu that ranges from grass-fed Angus minute steak to stir-fried rice with king prawns. 

To tantalise your palate maybe something from Rockford, Coldstream Hills or Torbreck. 

The lounge offers an Aurora Spa featuring massages, facials and hand and foot therapies.

If you are travelling first class you will get a phone call the day before your flight to book a time and treatment. For everyone else, it is first come, first served. 

The lounge was created using Feng Shui principles, and features the opportunity for a shower should you have a long flight ahead. There are PC workstations, complimentary wireless internet access, power and data points throughout the lounge and two private work suites. If you want to get some work done, you can even book a meeting room at no cost. 

The ambience is like that of a luxury boutique hotel - except everything is free. It is rumoured many flyers arrive several hours early for their flights simply to enjoy the vibe and menu. That would not surprise me. 

For details see www.qantas.com.    
  


an Aurora Spa offering a range
of complimentary 20 minute treatments tailored to address
customers’ pre
-
flight needs.
a 48
-
seat open kitchen restaurant with menus by Neil Perry;
chair
-
side waiter service throughout the lounge;
a library stocked with a selection of newspapers and
magazines, best
-
selling books and board
games including chess and backgammon;
entertainment areas with plasma screens showing local and international news, sport and weather,
and Sony Playstation 3 and Playstation Portable entertainment systems offering
a selection of
games and movies;
a vertical garden designed by international botanist Patrick Blanc featuring over 8,400 individual
plants;
luxurious individual marble
-
lined shower suites with individual stereo volume and lighting controls,
radiant hea
ting to reduce condensation on the mirrors, and luggage racks;
exclusive furniture and luxurious finishes including leather lounge chairs, recliners, and sofas by
Italy’s Poltrona Frau, dining chairs and tables by Cappellini, Tai Ping wool carpets from
Hong Kong,
marble from Carrara and quartzite from Switzerland; and
state
-
of
-
the
-
art business facilities with 11 PC workstations, complimentary wireless internet access,
power and data points throughout the lounge and two private work suites with conferen
ce facilities
and plasma display screens





Sunday, 28 August 2016

High teas, a leading restaurant and new rooms. That's enticing.

The other day someone on Twitter asked me which hotel in Sydney I would recommend to a wine lover for a city weekend.

One of the first to come to mind was the Radisson Blu Plaza, where I stayed just a few weeks ago.

For a start, there is the indulgent range of high teas, including one featuring delicious distilled drinks from Archie Rose, that I covered here earlier in the month.

Then there is the fact that the Bentley Bar, one of Sydney's finest gourmet destinations, is right on site.

Throw in the fact that the hotel has undergone extensive renovations and the evidence is compelling, M'lud.

Radisson Blu Plaza Sydney has celebrated the completion of a $13.5 million redesign, with all its guest rooms and function spaces "reinvigorated". 

With a landmark position in the heart of Sydney on the corner of Pitt, Hunter and O’Connell streets, the hotel is three blocks from Wynyard Station and Circular Quay - and buses to the western suburbs depart from the front door. 

The original building on the site dates back to 1856 when it was home to John Fairfax & Sons, publishers of Australia’s oldest surviving newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, (and former employers of mine). 

It was acquired in 1955 by the Bank of New South Wales, later rebranded as Westpac, and then in 2000 was opened as the Radisson Blu hotel, where Bilson's restaurant once flew high. 

The second phase of the redesign, completed last month, included a refresh of all 336 guestrooms and 28 suites with new silk fabrics and contemporary chrome and metal-blue colour scheme.

Radisson Blu general manager Peter Tudehope said: “We are delighted to announce the completion of the hotel’s redesign and I firmly believe this $13.5 million investment now cements Radisson Blu’s position as one of the leading five-star hotels in Sydney.”

The two-hatted Bentley Restaurant and Bar is a major drawcard, along with the high teas in the Fax lobby bar. 

Chef Brent Savage is currently the SMH Good Food Guide Chef of the Year while sommelier Nick Hildebrandt is a three-time Sommelier of the Year. 

We popped in for a quick drink and were, not for the first time, swept away by the delicious wine and food options. We departed several hours later, satiated and pleasantly sozzled.

All guests at the Radisson Blu receive complimentary internet access with wireless access available throughout the hotel. All guest rooms offer an en-suite bathroom with marble vanity, separate shower and extra deep tub, plus additional amenities including pillow menu, iPod dock, gourmet mini bar, 24-hour room service, tea- and coffee-making facilities, in-room safe and, most appropriately, a daily newspaper.

The staff quality is a highlight. There are plenty of them, whether you need a porter or someone at the check-in desk; and they were uniformly helpful. 

Radisson Blu Hotel Sydney,  27 O'Connell St, Sydney NSW 2000. 
(02) 8214 0000. www.radissonblu.com/plazahotel-sydney  

# The writer was a guest of the Radisson Blu Plaza  

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Voyager Estate shows extreme bravery

It takes tremendous chutzpah - and belief in your own product - to do what Margaret River winery Voyager Estate does each year with its Masterclass roadshow. 

The Voyager Estate winemaking team of Steve James and Travis Lemm selects four or five benchmark chardonnays and cabernets from around the globe - and then visits Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane inviting sommeliers, wine buyers and journalists to taste them in a blind line-up alongside several Voyager wines. 



The Voyager team could be on a hiding to nothing choosing big names like Hubert Lamy from Burgundy, Neudorf from New Zealand and Hamilton Russell from South Africa in the chardonnay line-up and Bordeaux's Cos d'Estournel and Tuscany's Ornellaia in the cabernet bracket along with a couple of crack Californians.

Given some of the big names retail for five or six times the price of the Voyager wines across the estate, block and Tom Price ranges, there was always the danger they could blow the Margaret River wines out the water. 

Fortunately for Voyager, their wines stood up to the challenge in both brackets I tasted at Supernormal in Melbourne, with at least one Voyager wine finishing in the top three in both categories.

The statement was successfully made: the Voyager wines are good enough to match it with some of the best in the world - and certainly offer superb value on a global stage.

The late mining magnate Michael Wright, who purchased Voyager Estate 25 years ago, would doubtless be proud of the quality now being produced. Wright was a teetotaller, but a stickler for excellence. 

Voyage Estate now produces around 40,000 cases of wine a year and exports around the world. 

Here are my favourites from this year's Melbourne tasting: 

Chardonnay 

1. Flowers 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. $80. For more restrained than many Californian chardonnays, this is tight, minerally and delicious. 
2. Neudorf 2014 Moutere Chardonnay. $68. Elegant but with underlying power, this organic, dry-grown wine is beautifully balanced. 
3. Voyager Estate 2014 Broadvale Block 5 Chardonnay. $65. Pure, ripe fruit to the fore with an intense flinty backbone. Matched superbly with a post-tasting Supernormal lobster roll.

Cabernet/blends 

1. Woodlands 2012 "Thomas" Cabernet Sauvignon. $150. From a friendly neighbour of Voyager, this was dark, inky and powerful but intriguingly restrained. One for the cellar.
2. Chateau Cos d'Estournel 2012. $365. One for lovers of leaner-style Bordeauxs; I found this fine and well balanced. Others thought it too green. 
3=. Ornellaia 2012. $290. With attractive fruit and savoury notes, this blend of four varieties has big oak but handles it well. Unmistakably Italian with a bit of swagger. 
3=. Voyager Estate 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot. $70. Fresh and vibrant fruit rules on a palate that is plush and approachable. Drinking well in its youth. 

For more details see www.voyagerestate.com.au.       
      

Friday, 26 August 2016

One of those rare hotels that gets all the elements right

As someone who spends half their life in hotels, I am often overly critical. But this time, most unusually, I couldn't find anything to complain about. Nada. 

And then my wife said: " I really like this hotel, I don't want to leave".

The Swiss-operated Mövenpick Hotel Sukhumvit 15 Bangkok is the hostelry that managed to get all the key elements right and impress both a regular hotel habitué and an occasional one.


First, there is the location. Right in the centre of the action in the Sukhumvit district, walking distance to both Asoke and Nana BTS stations as well as Sukhumvit MRT. 

The hotel is a few hundred metres down Sukhumvit Soi 15, but that means you have convenience plus peace and quiet. And the hotel has free TukTuk taxis 24 hours a day to whisk you either the corner of Sukhumvit Road or Terminal 21 shopping centre.

These TukTuks actually depart when a guest is ready - no waiting, no searching for a driver. 

The staff, overall, get a big tick. Helpful, attentive and very much on the ball.



In addition to the location and staff, the rooms are extremely well-equipped. I'd make sure to pay for a room category that gives access to the excellent executive lounge. This is a lovely little oasis offering coffee, tea and soft drinks during the day and beers, wines, spirits and delicious gourmet snacks in the early evening. 

The lounge also does very impressive breakfasts. 

You'll also find cheerful staff who are happy to answer questions, daily newspapers from around the world, and a computer terminal at which you can print out boarding passes or just check your emails.



Other strengths of the hotel; very comfortable beds, an attractive rooftop swimming pool with bar service from the Rainforest bar; the traditional complimentary Mövenpick afternoon chocolate feast, a well-equipped gym and a quiet lounge area where you can read a book or just chill out.

The on-site Lelawadee restaurant (very busy at breakfast) offers a menu that stretches from local dishes to Indian specialities and burgers, and there are dozens of restaurant options within a short stroll, ranging from Hooters to street food.



The Mövenpick Hotel Sukhumvit 15 Bangkok has 297 rooms and suites with a choice of garden courtyard and city views. There is fast and free wifi access throughout the hotel, large 46" LED TVs, modern bathrooms with walk-in rain shower and complimentary tea and coffee making facilities.

My wife liked: "The nice, quick-filling big bath, the lovely lounge, the fact the lighting was easy to use and the relaxed atmosphere."



No hotel is perfect, but this one comes pretty close. A lack of shade by the pool at certain times of the day is the biggest criticism I can come up with - and I'd certainly be very happy to return as a paying guest.

Mövenpick Hotel Sukhumvit 15 Bangkok, 47 Sukhumvit 15, Sukhumvit Road, Klong Toei Nuea, Wattana, 10110 Bangkok. +66 2 119 3100. 

# The writer was a guest of the hotel.  

    

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Planning ahead the key to a pain-free flight

There are many things that can go wrong when you are flying. 

You can end up with a dreaded middle seat for a long-haul flight, find yourself eating awful food or - the most expensive mistake you can make - paying hundreds of dollars in excess baggage fees. 

The key to avoiding all of these issues, and many others, is to plan ahead. 

You can generally book your seat well in advance online - making sure you don't get one right by the toilets. The same applies to food - and you can usually book a vegetarian or gluten-free meal (depending on personal preference), or take your own food with you.

Trying to board your plane with an extra suitcase, however, could cost you a motza - but can also be avoided with pre-planning. 

Say you are flying from London to Melbourne with Emirates; an extra bag could cost you excess fees of £1193 for 25kg,  according to a survey conducted by luggage delivery service Send My Bag. 

Two lessons here then. 

1. Check your baggage allowance (it varies from carrier to carrier, and low-cost airlines are often the most vicious) and make sure you are under it. 

2. If you are going to be way over, enquire into having your baggage sent separately. 

Send My Bag says it offers a door-to-door luggage delivery service worldwide starting from just £25. That's true, but to send a 15kg suitcase from England to Australia in 3-4 days would cost $265. 

Check the small print and shop around - but you could make a major saving. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Now Siri can change the light settings in your hotel room

Ever stayed in a hotel room where you've found it impossible to adjust the air-conditioning when it gets too warm at night, or been unable to turn all the lights off without a tour of several switches? 

Now Siri can come to your aid, fixing problems like this through an in-room iPad. 

Aloft Hotels, which employs a robot butler in a couple of its US properties, today unveiled the futuristic-sounding Aloft voice-activated hotel rooms. 


Simply by saying “Hey Siri”, guests are now able to control key in-room functions including temperature, lighting, and more simply with the sound of their voice. 

The pilot scheme has launched at the Aloft Boston Seaport and Aloft Santa Clara hotels.

Each Aloft voice-activated hotel room is equipped with an iPad running a custom Aloft app used for controlling the in-room guest experience. 

"Forget the phrase ‘at the touch of your fingertips.’ Today’s early adopter, hyper-connected global traveler wants a level of personalization unlike ever before, and that means being able to control their hotel experience with the sound of their voice,” says Brian McGuinness, who goes by the absurd title of Global Brand Leader, Aloft Hotels. 

“We’re thrilled to be the first hotel brand to bring voice-activation to our guests in this way, using Siri to control room temperature, lighting and more during their stay.”
When guests arrive, they will launch a custom Aloft app on their in-room iPad to control various aspects of their voice-activated room. A personalized welcome screen will advise guests on how to set up their room and use their own voice with “Hey Siri.” 

Each iPad also offers a simple tutorial to guide guests through the set-up process and answer any questions they may have.

The app will be able to switch the room temperature, adjust all the lighting, set the music and volume levels or get advice on local attractions. 

The new app, part of Project:Jetson, also allows guests to browse the internet and check the weather. 

Aloft Hotels now has over 100 hotels in 16 countries around the world and is part of the Starwood group. www.alofthotels.com.

A new five-star hotel option at Sydney Airport

There are several good hotels in and around Sydney Airport - but until now there has been no five-star option. 

The recently opened Pullman Sydney Airport, an ultra-modern, new-build hotel next to its budget sibling Ibis, fills an undoubted gap in the market. 

It is the 15th Pullman property across Australia, and, remarkably, the 700th hotel to join the Accor Hotels group's rapidly expanding network in the Asia Pacific region.



The 229-room Pullman ticks most of the luxury boxes, particularly for guests arriving or departing from domestic terminals. It is a shiny, attractive, well-lit building with similarly charismatic and helpful young staff and some fun modern sculptures - as well as free cookies at check-in. 

It is located on O'Riordan Street, it is just 600 metres from the domestic terminals and a $7 ride on the Sydney SuperShuttle from the international terminal - although the train link from Mascot Station is probably a better bet for those with minimal luggage. 

The bright, high-ceilinged lobby - with plenty of staff to aid with baggage and check-in - merges into a lounge area and the Mobius Bar & Grill - a well-priced and thoroughly stylish eatery with an open-plan kitchen. 



Expect dishes like charcuterie plates with pickles, salt and pepper squid, rack of lamb with eggplant sambal as well as a range of steaks. There is a fun ambience which makes it a welcome addition to a district previously lacking in dining options. 



The rooms, "designed" by WMK Architecture and SODA (Thailand) Architecture+Interiors are comfortable enough with all expected five-star mod cons, but it there are two people staying in one room, the lack of definition, called "open design", between bedroom and bathroom which means one guest is woken each time the other needs to use the bathroom. This definitely needs a re-think, as does the sub-standard ironing board.

Otherwise, the accommodation is large and very comfortable.


There is a stylish Executive Club Lounge for regular Accor guests, providing work room and evening canapés and beverages, as well as a 24-hour gym. 

Bernie Boller, the hotel GM, said the hotel aims to be "a welcoming sanctuary for business and leisure guests, away from the hustle and bustle of the airport" - but close to it. 




Opening rates started at $229 per night including wifi (which should, of course, always be free but is not automatically so here) - and the hotel is already popular with meeting and conference groups, catering for up to 280 delegates at a time. 

Pullman Sydney Airport, 191 O'Riordan St, Mascot NSW 2020. (02) 8398 4600
To book visit www.accorhotels.com 

# The writer was a guest of Pullman Sydney Airport