Whenever I throw a temper tantrum, friends usually enquire if I’m feeling particularly McEnroe-ish. Known as much for his game as for his sour temper, tennis player, John McEnroe, was probably one of the very few guests who have ever been asked to leave the premises of the Sofitel Wentworth in Sydney, known back then only as The Wentworth.

A deep-scooped concave façade greets me as I step out of my taxi onto the windy Sydney streets. The façade is otherwise easy to miss. From the cabined confines of a cab you can barely spot the massive swoop of 15 floors above you. But ask most people for directions and they’ll point to exactly where this little spot of history lies; right in the heart of Sydney’s central business district.

It was the umpteenth time I was silently repeating that well-practised phrase as part of my short trip to Sydney. However, my cheerful “Gi day, mate!” would be of no use as I was greeted by soft “Bonjours” on my way up to the 14th floor where I had been assigned a Luxury King Room. The room is king-sized only in a way that modern hotel rooms can be. A minimalist décor faintly adorning the bedroom as well as the bath lends the room an illusion of more space than it physically occupies. Resting on the frayed ottoman next to the window, I part the sheers to see the hotel’s courtyard on the fifth floor. In neat rows of green and brown, the open courtyard has been adorned with lush green plants and quaint wooden benches perched on a white Cararra marble floor. Anyone who’s spent some time in the iconic courtyard would come to realise that the space lets you take in the pulsating pace of the city while still pleasantly detaching you from the chaos with its protective little curve.

The only way to get to the courtyard is through Sofitel Wentworth’s Garden Court restaurant. When I go in for breakfast one morning, I notice that one massive wall is adorned with beautiful black and white damask patterns while the other is pure glass looking out into the heart of the city. An ode to all things French, this bistro-style restaurant has hidden traits reminiscent of cafes you might find lining Paris streets. The wrought iron chairs, carved wooden tables and monochromatic stripes on the cushions take little away from the view and lend a certain laidback air to dining in the restaurant. The breakfast buffet is a wide selection of things from around the world – so you can start with a cupful of warm miso soup, move on to crunchy hash browns with sweet chilli sauce, pork sausages with barbecue sauce, to free-range eggs – poached or scrambled and oven roasted veggies. I line up slices of Australian brie, blue cheese and goat cheese with French baguettes and chocolate croissants, and polish off the late breakfast with generous helping of fresh, juicy kiwi scoops, watermelon and muskmelon slices.

A storm raging through northern Sydney would have me cooped up in the hotel room for an entire day and more. At night, I revisit the Garden Court hoping I can strike a conversation with someone whose plans of exploring Sydney better too have been mercilessly thrashed by the storm. There’s no one except an elderly couple sharing a candle-lit table right by the entrance. When I walk in I can’t help but feel like I’m intruding in their personal space. The lady’s relentless stare doesn’t exactly alleviate the discomfort. Thankfully, Claude comes to my rescue in time.

Claude has walked the length and breadth of the Garden Court for close to 40 years now. I almost ask him if Prince Charles is as ugly in person as he looks on screen. Or if at the end of his meal, Marlon Brando made him an offer that he dared to refuse. But, no, the questions seem too inappropriate to be directed at someone with so much grace. Before I unwittingly blurt out an embarrassing enquiry, I quickly grab the menu for a scan. It didn’t take much time to settle on the Classic Coq au Vin and what is supposed to be a house classic – the Wentworth Cheesecake. Three generous cuts of corn-fed chicken braised in red wine come to my table within ten minutes. A smattering of button and porcini mushrooms as well as bacon accompany in a warm comforting broth. The cheesecake, tantalisingly dressed up with slices of ruby red strawberries, was unlike most you’d find. Instead of cutting through layers of cream cheese, my fork went through two layers of sponge embedded in the cheesecake as well. Just as I savoured my last bite, Claude came up to clear my plates and asked almost worryingly if my food had been alright.

This has been said often and with good reason. If you look at the fine line that almost always distinguishes the good and the best, it’ll probably spell “attention to detail”. Just like that little extra concern in his voice asking whether the dinner was to my liking, the extra touches in the guest rooms make for a special gesture at Sofitel Wentworth. For example, the bed I sleep on for two days is Sofitel’s proprietary MyBed. The setup comes with a special Multispire mattress which is loaded with more springs where they’re most needed. And in case I really want to get used to the feeling of being curled up in the soft cocoon of MyBed, I can even buy one off Sofitel. I prop up against standard issue down pillows at night but those who need it can even request for non-allergenic pillows. There is an in-room pillow menu in case the ones on your bed are not to your liking.

All residents have complimentary access to the Elixr Health and Fitness Club located on the ground level of the hotel. But in no mood to get my muscles moving over the weekend, I decided to give it a miss. What I was really craving for was a dip in the pool but the property doesn’t have one.

The comforts and conveniences inside the premises almost match the ones outside. Consider the fact that if you’re in Sofitel Wentworth Sydney on work, your office will probably be within a 3-block radius. In case you want to step out for some retail therapy, high-end shopping malls as well as classy cafes line up all adjacent blocks of the Wentworth property. If you don’t even want to step out, just run over to the annexe to admire art pieces or pick one up at the Wentworth Arcade. A five-minute walk down the property and I reach Circular Quay, to the right of which lies the iconic Sydney Opera House and to the left, the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

For a lazy lunch the next day, I go the informal way with a Do-It-Yourself Pizza and Sofitel Sydney Wentworth Apple Tarte Fine. While the mozzarella on the pizza had been sprinkled more generously than I could get used to, the Apple Tarte was just the perfect combination of crispy and soft. The buttery flakes of the tart almost melted away before you bit into the apple filling topped with French vanilla bean ice cream and drizzled with rich caramel sauce.

Unlike yours truly, if you hadn’t had a late lunch, you could probably make the most of the Wentworth Afternoon Tea experience served between 2:00 – 5:00 PM everyday.

It wouldn’t be difficult to get used to lavish breakfasts, lazy afternoons, candlelit dinners and down pillows. However, to be bid an ‘Au Revoir’ as you leave Sydney, that does take some time getting used to.

mahananda.bohidar@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on March 5, 2013)
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