How to Experience Sydney like a Star
In a city full of extroverts, the true elite prefer to be a little more understated.
VIP experiences in Australia's harborside city fall into two distinct categories: those that are designed to create maximum publicity for participants and those that cater to folks who value their privacy. Venues such as the aggressively glitzy Ivy bar downtown and the showy Icebergs restaurant at Bondi Beach attract international pop stars, socialites, and the extremely wealthy, all of whom feign annoyance when they spot the ever-present paparazzi hovering by the windows. But for discerning A-listers who spend time in Sydney—acting greats like Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman, as well as titans of media and business—there is a whole other city to enjoy, dotted with sophisticated venues that respect and protect their clients. Below, five experiences that will make you feel like a star, regardless of your background.
1. Dine at Quay
Australia's most awarded restaurant, Quay, has maintained its primacy for several years, thanks to chef Peter Gilmore's restlessness. The harbor views from the dining room may impress on arrival, but it's Gilmore's inventive and ever-changing menu, which combines European and Asian influences, that makes the lasting impression. Diners this season should try the crayfish sashimi with squash seeds, cultured cream, tapioca, white cucumber, and green almonds, or the sea urchin with koshihikari rice, salted yolk, fish maw, sweet prawns, and umami broth.
One of the few permanent menu items, the snow egg, is rightly lauded: it's a beautiful ice-cream-filled meringue served on a bed of seasonal fruit granita that will charm diners young and old. The atmosphere at Quay is respectful and restrained, with a surprising lack of pretense—formalwear is definitely optional, and those on staff are friendly and attentive without being overbearing. Charming touches, like the recently introduced pairing menu of non-alcoholic drinks and the excellent vegetarian options, give the place an "everyone's welcome" feel, which clearly pleases the VIPs who regularly book tables.
2. Catch a Seaplane North
Publicity-hungry celebrities usually see Sydney's iconic sights onboard large yachts that remain conveniently close to the shoreline, within view of packs of photographers. For the privacy conscious, a better—and more rewarding—option is to charter a seaplane from centrally located Rose Bay and fly north toward impressive beaches like Palm Beach and Whale Beach. Lunch spots in this area include Jonah's, which is renowned for its wine list, and The Boathouse, which specializes in breakfast. Both spots are favorites of sophisticated stars. On the trip back to central Sydney, ask your pilot to show you some of the region's rugged national parks and dramatic cliffs, which may impress even more than the Opera House and Harbor Bridge.
3. Book the Sydney Suite at the Park Hyatt
World-class luxury hotels are hard to find in Australia—until relatively recently, there simply wasn't enough demand from international travelers to generate competition at the very top of the market. The Park Hyatt, with its unbeatable waterfront location between the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House, heralded a new era when it reopened in 2012 after extensive renovations. Finally, Sydney had a truly exceptional luxury hotel, with plush rooms and superb amenities, including a rooftop pool and day spa.
Today, despite increasing competition from other luxury brands, the Hyatt remains the hotel of choice for many VIP visitors to Sydney, who appreciate its discreet staff and quiet vibe. Those who demand the best book the top-floor Sydney Suite, an enormous two-bedroom residence with a 270-degree vista of the harbor, a sauna, a fireplace for winter, and an expansive outdoor entertaining area. Cleverly designed to maximize views while protecting occupants from prying eyes, the suite rivals Sydney's most expensive residences in terms of sheer "wow" factor.
4. Shop at Harrolds
The Westfield mall in downtown Sydney is impressive by any measure. Every major luxury house of note, from Bottega Veneta to Gucci, is represented here, alongside specialty brands like superlative Australian skincare line Aesop and Parisian bakery Ladurée. What really sets the mall apart, though, are the two branches of the Harrolds boutique, one for men and one for women. Fashion aficionados accustomed to New York and London retail will be impressed by artful curation here: you'll find Rick Owens, Saint Laurent, Tim Coppens, and numerous others, plus fragrances by Comme Des Garcons and eyewear by Dita.
Four Australian brands that produce work of international repute—including Song For The Mute for both sexes and Ellery for women—are also represented on the racks, wooing fashion-forward first-time visitors as well as expatriate Australians visiting from Hollywood or Manhattan. Westfield offers several services with high-profile shoppers in mind, including after-hours access, stylists, and valet parking.
5. Discover the City's Best Bars
Steer clear of the attitude and the crowds at so-called celebrity institutions like the aforementioned Ivy, and hop between these three less obvious options instead. At the basement bar Baxter Inn, you'll find a lively mix of inner-city business types, young creatives who appreciate fine spirits, and famous faces hoping to escape the scrutiny of Sydney's "look at me" hot spots. Whiskey is the star here, with cult international purveyors represented, but there's nothing elitist about the atmosphere. Next, try the unassuming Bulletin Place, located in an attic space within walking distance of the Opera House. The ever-changing cocktail list takes advantage of seasonal fruit, and the bartenders will happily guide you through it. The interior is shabby and the place is not trendy in the slightest—which is perhaps what endears it to so many of Sydney's well-known residents. Love Tilley Devine is more down-to-earth than the 300-strong specialty wine list might suggest, attracting creatives with a European sensibility and many of the well-known residents of nearby Elizabeth Bay.