Welcome to Checking In, a new review series in which our editors and contributors rate the best new (and revamped) luxury hotels based on a rigorous—and occasionally tongue-in-cheek—10-point system: Each question answered “yes” gets one point. Will room service bring you caviar? Does your suite have its own butler? Does the bathroom have a bidet? Find out below.
Describe the hotel in 3 words: Cultivated. Relaxed. Metaphysical.
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What’s the deal?
In the 1980s, Tom Wolfe wrote an essay that divided New York’s most prestigious residential buildings into two categories: “good” and “not good.” What made a building “good” wasn’t just its material facts —location, layouts, high ceilings, etc.—it was something more evanescent. It was a building’s culture, sensibility, desirability, social trajectory, and the calibre of people who inhabited them. The same logic can be applied to hotels. There are really only two types, and what divides one from the other often has little to do with its physical components. It’s something in the air.
The Capella Sydney—which opened in March (appearing on our Best of the Best list) in a converted sandstone government building near Macquarie Place Park—has all of the ingredients of a good hotel.
Occupying a full block with 192 rooms spread across nine levels (some dating back to 1912, some new construction), it’s the brand’s first foray out of Asia and into Australia. Until now, Sydney had been rather lacking in luxury hotels, and Capella’s approach was to give locals and travelers alike a second home with rooms styled like ingenious (slightly shrunk down) private residences with neutral palettes and oversize bathtubs (bring a friend). While it has all the luxury parts (more on that below), it’s that “something more” that really makes it great.
The Best Room
The hotel offers four Prestige Suites, ranging from 1,130 square feet to 2,529 square feet. They are all oozing with elegance (even a more standard suite comes with a generous dining area and living room). But naturally you want to know about the biggest.
That is the Capella Suite. Located on the ninth floor it has a fireplace, curated artwork, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Royal Botanic Gardens, a separated dining area, a personal bar and herringbone marble in the bathroom. Have a party, because it’s designed for entertaining.
Rate: $4,500 per night
Does the resort have a standout perk?
Capella is known for its Living Room program, a social space for drinks and conversation with other guests, as well as convivial concierges known as “culturists.” It’s something that could feel forced, or a bit sad. Instead, it’s a place you actually want to be. Stop in for pre-dinner cocktails (or pre-cocktails cocktails) and get the lay of the land. Most hotel concierges are under-utilized, but here they offer more than dinner reservations—they give you local city lore and in-the-know-tips for off-the-beaten-path adventures. Because they have time to chat, they can zero in on your interests.
Did they greet you by name at check-in?
Yes. The person who checked me in was waiting when my car arrived, personally took my hand luggage, and guided me to the lobby floor where essential details were exchanged.
Welcome drink ready and waiting when you arrived? Bonus point if it wasn’t just fruit juice.
No. I arrived in the morning for a pre-arranged early check in. While it’s never too early for Champagne, I was after espresso, which was easily available.
Private butler for every room?
No butlers, but staff are abundant and enviably dressed in retro, almost Wes Anderson–influenced suits. (I seriously want one).
Is the sheet thread count is higher than 300?
More! Italian textile juggernaut Frette once again tucks you in with more fibers than are strictly necessary. The bedding here was some of the most comfortable I’ve experienced in a while, evocative of clouds, sheep, marshmallows, and other such pillowing things.
Is there a heated floor in the bathroom? What about a bidet?
No and yes. No, the floors were not heated. Yes, there was a robotic Japanese bidet toilet that greets you with a saluting lid when you open the door and a warm seat. Why this is not standard everywhere, we don’t know.
Are the toiletries full sized?
Oh yeah. Australia is generally so good about being green, and Capella has a bespoke collection of vegan, sustainable in-room amenities designed in partnership with Haeckels, a luxury, U.K.-based, waste-neutral beauty brand.
Is there a private pool for the room’s exclusive use?
In Sydney? Come on. But if you’ve had enough of Bondi, the in-house pool is impressively large, pretty, and open until 10 p.m.—much later than many hotels. That means a post-dinner visit to the sauna and steam room is in the cards.
Is the restaurant worth its salt?
The food here is so good you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a restaurant with a hotel tacked on. The main dining room is Brasserie 1930, which has already earned two hats (the Aussie equivalent to Michelin stars). No wonder: Head chef Brent Savage serves up the best of Aussie produce—which we are both sad and happy to say is simply better than what we get in New York (no disrespect to the Union Square Market). That’s especially true for meats, which are cooked on a charcoal grill in the open kitchen. Start with spanner crab in a sea urchin sauce and order something hardy like a lamb rump with carrot and hazelnut to follow.
Is there caviar on the room service menu?
No. The in-room dining menu features old-school country-club fare with modern flair: minestrone soup, local oysters, tiger prawns, and a club sandwich. Asian items such as sashimi, nasi goreng, and rice noodle soup are all especially good in Australia—and even better here.
Do you want to spend Friday night in the lobby bar?
Do I want to feel cool, good-looking, and well-heeled? Definitely. The McRae Bar is named after one George McRae, the 1900-built edifice’s original architect. In a rare instance of the PR saying it best, it’s “a modern rendition of a Victorian-era drinking den.” Accurate. Moreover, it celebrates “the first golden age of fine drinking through a contemporary Australian lens.” I concur. A possible downside: If you are used to New York–style heavy hitters like we get at King Cole, Bemelmans, Mark Bar, etc., unfortunately that’s not really a thing in Australia. Oddly, people in Australia measure and count their drinks in something called . . . “standard servings.” We’re not sure what all of that is about. Just set us up again, Sammy. Here’s how!
Would you buy the hotel if you could?
I would unleash an army of bloodsucking attorneys. I would be hostile in my takeover. I would commit any number of white-collar crimes for the chance to be the Basil Fawlty of this Down Under dilly. Without any special knowledge and based on the scene at the restaurant alone, I have to assume this place prints money, filling the owners’ (Singapore-based Pontiac Land Group) hearts with song. But it’s also just so good looking.
This is the best new hotel I’ve been to in 2023—and perhaps the best hotel I’ve been to this year period. It’s the kind of place that makes you start muttering Frenchie words like “élan,” “éclat,” ”panache,” and “recherché” under your breath. It walks that magic line of making you feel rich, like you are somewhere important and therefore are, without beating you over the head with formalities. In fact, it’s relaxed, easy. If I was forced to find fault I could name two things: 1. From certain rooms, the bedroom windows look directly into the office tower across the street, giving them full view of your shame if you have any (I don’t). 2. The rooms operate on what is supposed to be “intuitive” smart technology. But it made me feel dumb. I never could figure out how to properly open or shut the curtains and I never could turn some of the lights off with the damn iPad. But perhaps these are personal faults.
Rate: $650 per night
What Our Score Means:
1-3: Fire your travel agent if they suggest you stay here.
4-6: Solid if you’re in a pinch—but only if you’re in a pinch.
7-8: Very good. We’d stay here again and recommend it without qualms.
9-10: Forget booking a week. When can we move in permanently?
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