One of Sydney five star hotels, the Shangri-La Hotel is located in the historic The Rocks district. The club horizon rooms have recently undergone an upgrade and offer guests excellent benefits from access to the Club Lounge with its spectacular views to an automatic late check out time of 4pm. The casual dining restaurant has also had a revamp changing from a buffet restaurant to Shayan quarter, an Asian themed restaurant with delicious baogers (bao burgers), Asian style tacos and skewers.
Whenever we travel somewhere there is always something that I forget to pack. Sometimes it can be something major like the power cord on my computer (oh the head smacking!), other times it can be costly like contact lens solution (that apparently retails for $25 at a hotel pharmacy) and at other times it is something like toothpaste that can be easily replaced.
It's with a little casualness that I am packing for my one night's stay at the Shangri-la in The Rocks. After all I know that it's a 15 minute drive home if I really forget anything crucial. Mr NQN and I are here testing out the Shangri-La's newly renovated club horizon rooms.
The club rooms offer lounge access to the club lounge on the 30th floor of the hotel. This has expansive views of the harbour with a clear view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. It's hard to know where to look. This is where the club room check in takes place and they offer a refreshment during the process. The lounge is open from 6:30am where a light breakfast is served and continues with drinks and light refreshments during the day until cocktail hour where canapes and cocktails are served to guests as part of their room rate. And for me, the best thing about having a club horizon suite? An automatic 4pm check out (perfect for a Valentines Day stay!) along with free wireless internet for unlimited devices.
I slip my key into horizon suite #3207 on the 32nd floor. It's a gorgeously spacious corner suite measuring 83 square metres. The sitting room is decorated with blue tones from a blue velvet lounge. The coffee table holds a pot of freshly brewed tea and two small cups while a box of chocolates from Cacao in Melbourne sits on the table. There is also a fruit bowl but who is honestly going to go for an apple or orange when there is chocolate? Oh okay that would be Mr NQN...
The bedroom features a king sized bed with soft sheets and two corner windows for maximum gawking (who, me?). There is a large flat screen television and a small closet. The mattress is really quite firm with some good pillows.
The bathroom is a grand sight - almost as big as the bedroom the marble bathroom features a large bath tub, separate shower, large sink and deluxe amenities. So even the fact that we've forgotten the tooth paste (there's always one thing!) it doesn't matter as they have them for us.
I've got more delicious things on my mind. Afternoon tea at the Shangri-la is created by Anna Polyviou, their sweet, outspoken pastry chef who has built up a significant profile for herself. Although her mohawk may make her look tough, she isn't at all and has a delicate touch with her afternoon tea.
They set down a three tier stand for the Christmas afternoon tea. I order an Earl Grey tea. I would have hoped that with an afternoon tea this pretty and creative that the china might have matched but this does seem to happen at other 5 star hotels.
We start with the savoury tier and the tomato and onion tart. This is apparently quite a favourite in the pastry kitchen and harks back to Anna's day at Bather's Pavilion. It's a crisp pastry shell filled with goat's cheese, caramelised onion and sweet tomato. I finish the entire thing in three bites and want more immediately. There is also a savoury eclair filled with pineapple and ham-dubbed "Glazed Ham" with glazed ham, peppered pineapple, golden éclair. There is also a pulled turkey sandwich in a tiny slider brioche bun with cranberry sauce, I would have liked a tad more filling in this. The final bite is a cute play on the traditional prawn cocktail served with Anna's signature syringes. This one is full of thousand island cocktail sauce and we dip a peeled tiger prawn in the sauce.
The scone layer features a plain and a fruit mince scone. These are served with whipped cream and a house made apricot and almond jam. They're nice and fresh although I would have loved the scones to be served warm.
The top sweets layer was always going to be a delight. My favourite morsel is the passionfruit pavlova roulade, all airy lightness with egg white meringue, mango crème and a tropical fruit compote. The slice of chocolate cake is dubbed a "Twisted Christmas Cake" with egg nog mousse, orange marmalade, mixed spice while the candy cane meringue has a little syringe of raspberry syrup. The last morsel is Anna's favourite, a bananarama verrine with caramelised chocolate, gingerbread crumbs and sweet, caramelised banana jam.
It's not all about looking after my stomach (something that I tend to prioritise over other necessities) but also the restoring of self. Chi spa on level 2 is an oasis of serenity. Staff speak in hushed, soothing tones and you are first led into a waiting area where I am offered a glass of strawberry and cherry infused water. They draw the sheer curtains closed while I fill in my particulars. My therapist Rebecca leads me to one of the rooms.
The treatment rooms are large and luxurious and have their own shower and toilet. Rebecca opens up the closet and offers me a robe and slippers. Once I am changed I can take a seat on the chair and ring the bell. She starts the thermal facial explaining that it is made up of layers of masques and heats up gently as the facial progresses. At three points I fall asleep - I'm pretty sure I'm snoring but that's just a secret between you, me and her ok? ;) My skin is so good afterwards that I don't even want to put make up on to go out to dinner.
Dinner at the Shangri-La has changed. Altitude the high end restaurant has just undergone a menu change so tonight we will be dining at Cafe Mix. Usually a buffet, they have changed the offering to become Shayan Quarter, an Asian street food restaurant. I must admit I was pleased about this as I'm just not big on buffets and while it is still on offer on Friday and Saturday nights, Shayan Quarter is the main offering on all nights.
Service is very attentive and eager. They explain that Shayan translated means "The Rocks" which obviously suits the hotel's location perfectly. I start with a pear, basil and lemon juice while Mr NQN goes for a "Shanghai Buck" cocktail made with butter lime juice, rum and ginger beer, a refreshing drop. My juice is predominantly nashi pear juice and it is perfectly sweet.
Shake It Numbing chicken wings with Szechuan salt $21
Our first course to arrive are the Shake-it numbing chicken wings. Presented in a paper foil bag we are to add in some pepper salt and shake it about in the bag.
I add in about half as we both love chilli but I am cautious. I think adding the whole bowl of chilli might be a risky move as it has a good amount of heat while the chicken wings fall off the bone easily.
Sticky chilli caramel pork belly "baogers" $15
My stomach was won with these baogers. A small twist on the steamed bun, these buns are deep fried so that they're crisp and golden but not greasy in any way. There are filled with a luscious cut of sticky chilli caramel pork belly, fresh coriander, sriracha mayonnaise and salad. And I can tell you it took all of my strength and a very tight dress for me to stop at just one. I made Mr NQN eat the third one quickly in case I was tempted to finish it (also because we had ordered quite a bit).
Pork neck skewers brushed with home amde char siu sauce 2 for $9
The pork neck skewers are slightly different from char siu in that they don't have any colouring added to them. It's a house made char siu sauce, rich and full of flavour. It comes with a nuoc cham dipping sauce, crossing cultures but nevertheless working well.
Turmeric flat head with turmeric mayonnaise, fennel and coriander seed 2 for $8
I actually preferred the flathead fish skewers as the fish is very tender and goes well with the creamy turmeric mayonnaise with fennel and coriander seed. I make a mental note to make some fish skewers just like this over summer as it is such a good idea for a healthy meal.
Black pepper beef short rib and crispy rice $25
The black pepper short ribs are soft and good but they've also got a very strong beef flavour that is disconcerting for Mr NQN (he doesn't like lamb for the same reason with the strong flavour). I don't mind it but the flavour is pronounced. My favourite bits are the crispy rice pieces at the bottom of the sizzling hot pot.
Slow roasted goat in tacos
There are two types of meats that are roasted whole at Shayan Quarter every day. The first is a milk fed Boer goat from central Western NSW from "The Gourmet Goat Lady". It is served in soft flour tacos with a vermicelli noodle salad, plenty of fresh, hot chilli and sriracha mayonnaise. It's delicious albeit very spicy-in a good way!
Halo Halo $15
There is a choice of four desserts, all with an Asian theme to them. We go for the Halo Halo and the Mag Anna deep fried ice cream. The Halo Halo is all refreshing coolness with pineapple granita, tropical fruit, lychee pearls and a sweet and a scoop of refreshing pineapple sorbet.
The Mag-Anna is a play on the Magnum ice cream with Anna's name on it. It is deep fried coconut ice cream coated in shredded coconut on a slender wooden stick. It sits partially dipped n a palm sugar caramel. And it is divine. Suddenly, fried ice cream looks totally different!
It has been over 6 years since I last visited Altitude, the Shangri-la's fine dining restaurant located on the 36th floor right next to Blu Bar. Chef de Cuisine Nathan Griffin is in the kitchen this evening.
We visit there on another evening and we arrive at 6:30pm just in time to become transfixed by the view as a large cruise ship slowly pulls out of port. We complement the view with cocktails from Blu Bar while we turn our chairs outward to watch the view. I start with the Fields of Gold cocktail with Mount Gay rum, apricot brandy, orange, basil, lemon and egg white which is deliciously drinkable.
Service is lovely and deferential and patient - you see everyone that sits down to this view takes out a phone or camera and starts getting photos and the wait staff are patient with guests. We decide to go with the Epicurious menu, a six course menu derived from the a la carte menu for $150 per person.
First out is the bread basket. I remember the bread basket from last time. It was so good that we almost didn't have room for food as they were so generous with it. During the night, they bring this around several times during the savoury courses should our supply be running low.
Next they bring out the amuse bouche - two perfectly fresh Sydney rock oysters natural that we swallow with relish.
Kingfish ceviche, blood orange, gazpacho textures
The kingfish ceviche comes as three thin slices of kingfish with a blood orange granita and gel and a gazpacho caviar. It's quite mild but fresh in flavour.
Tasmania salmon, pickled cucumber, horseradish, granola
Mr NQN loves the salmon which has been sous vide at 46°C/114°F and served with apple caviar, compressed apple, cucumber and yuzu gel with frozen horseradish creme fraiche. It is delicately flavoured although I didn't expect the horseradish creme fraiche to be quite so frozen so I was surprised when I ate a large piece of this. The granola provides a crunchy counterpoint and is made of oats, pistachios, black sesame seeds and caraway seeds.
Swordfish loin, corn, curry, coconut
My favourite course of the evening is the swordfish loin that is cooked perfectly (sometimes swordfish can tend towards dry but not this). There is white balsamic, curry puree, curry powder and a talc soft coconut powder. All of the elements in this course combine beautifully together and I take to the juices left on the plate with my bread.
Duck, turnip, black garlic, pearl barley
Our next course is a neat serving of duck breast, pan fried with a turnip puree, thinly sliced duck gizzard and Blue Mountains turnips. I particularly like the duck breast and gizzards together and on the bottom is a dark, rich, umami black garlic that has a distinct flavour not unlike Vegemite.
Before our mains arrive they bring us a small glass of elderflower, yuzu and ginger sorbet with some Blue Mountains redcurrants. Some of the produce is grown especially for them in the Blue Mountains region of Blackheath by Epicurean Harvest.
Kurobuta pork, braised endives, pickled and dehydrated cherries, Burnt apple puree with marjoram
There is a choice of three dishes for the main: pork, lamb or wagyu beef. We went with the pork and beef. The Kurobuta pork is really one for me. Mr NQN doesn't like the unctuous fat of the Kurobuta pig but I do. There are three types of pork here: pork belly, rack and loin. The belly is my favourite of course with its paper thin crispy crackling on top. The rack is a little harder to eat and requires picking up with fingers and gnawing while the loin is also good. It comes with a spicy braised endive as well as pickled, dried and dehydrated cherries and sliced apples. Some thinly sliced pig's ears top off this rich and decadent dish.
Wagyu, braised short rib, nettles, bone marrow, heirloom carrots (g) (15 supplement)
If I thought that the pork was rich, then the wagyu is also all intensely rich flavours. It comes with white carrots, smoked potato and a smoked eel croquette. It's very good but you'd have to have a strong hunger to finish this all after all the preceding courses.
As a palate cleanser before dessert we have a layered apple jelly, passionfruit sorbet, fresh passionfruit topped with apple foam. It's tart and fruity.
Peach, vanilla poached peach, peach parfait, pistachio mousse, honeycomb
The dessert course comes out and it's pure peach perfection. The white peaches are poached in star anise and cinnamon and then frozen again (although by the time we eat them, they're chilled but not frozen) and it is served with a peach parfait and a dairy free peach sorbet and thin slices of honeycomb and ground pistachios. The spices enhance the peach flavour well and the three treatments of the fruit have us both in raptures.
Chocolate, Peanut snow, peanut praline, peanut ice cream, chocolate gel
We asked if it were possible to try another dessert instead of getting two peach desserts. This is their take on the Snickers bar. It is made of an aerated milk chocolate mousse, home made peanut butter gel, ice cream, powder and praline. It's very rich and perhaps best as part of a three course meal over the degustation but it is rich and delicious.
They bring out a plate of petit fours: hazelnut truffles, raspberry pate de fruit and honeycomb. And despite how full we are, we just have to try them. Of course ;)
So tell me Dear Reader, tell me something new today! Especially since I forgot to ask my question-oops!
NQN and Mr NQN stayed as guests of the Shangri-La Hotel.
176 Cumberland Street The Rocks Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9250-6000