The Fullerton Hotel brand has opened its first hotel outside Singapore – The Fullerton Hotel Sydney. Curious to see the GPO building’s latest incarnation, I dropped in during a recent visit back home.
Number 1 Martin Place
The first sign we’re in Fullerton territory is the shiny chauffeured car that rolls into my sister’s driveway in the suburbs. We wave regally from the window as our driver whisks my daughter Sophie and I into Sydney’s CBD, over the coat hanger and the gleaming harbour. The second is the towering Christmas tree in the foyer, made of trademark Fullerton bears, one of which is immediately gifted to Sophie. During our stay she’s made to feel like a small princess by staff, who are fabulous with kids. We take Robby the bear, appropriately dressed in a vintage postmaster’s outfit, up to our digs. The 416-room hotel is divided into heritage suites in the original building, and new rooms in a tasteful modern extension. We’re in the newer Tower Suites, a plush five-star pad by any standards, but a gradual interior refurbishment will swing into action in the future. For now, the focus has been on the exterior of the building, with experts from Stonemason and Artist undertaking a 38,000-hour chemical free cleaning process to restore the street façade to its former glory.
Our first stop is lunch at The Place, a sophisticated eatery in a light-bathed atrium, overlooking the GPO heritage courtyard. The concept is a collision of Asian and Modern Australian dishes, with a few nods to Singapore’s hawker flavours. We order a starter of Braised Pork Belly served in Steamed Bun, Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce, and Wagyu Beef Rendang. There’s a healthy kids’ menu but Sophie chooses Singapore’s national dish, Chicken Rice, from the main offerings. At A$38 it’s a little more expensive and sophisticated than the slap-dash plastic plate dish she’s used to! The taste is spot on, though, and it’s a novelty to eat chicken rice in such a salubrious setting.
The hotel is walking distance to lots of iconic Sydney sights. On our first day we visit friends at Circular Quay – wandering along the ferry terminals, watching flamboyant buskers, and enjoying million-dollar views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The second day we shop ‘til we drop at nearby Pitt Street Mall, The Strand Arcade and Queen Victoria Building. Famished, we get a dumpling fix at Din Tai Fung in Westfield. You can take the girls out of Singapore…
One morning, we walk across The Domain to visit the Andrew Boy Charlton swimming pool, an outdoor 50-metre saltwater pool set on the shores of Woolloomooloo Bay near the Royal Botanic Gardens. Poseurs, families, squad lappers and a group of learner scuba divers take up most of the eight lanes, but we find a space to squeeze in, immediately cooling off in the refreshing salty water. Like locals, we lay out our towels on the deck, pull down our shades and gaze at the breathtaking views of Sydney Harbour.
Afternoon tea for two
No trip to The Fullerton (either Singapore or Sydney) is complete without trying their traditional Signature Afternoon Tea ($58 with tea or coffee). Dressed in our best frocks, we head to The Bar and sip delicate TWG tea, taking our pick from a silver tier of treats. Sophie loves the Pandan Kaya Lamington, a delightful nod to the hotel’s Australia/Singaporean ties, as well as bites of Pecan Maple Tart, Citrus Pannacotta, Key Lime Tart, and warm Classic and Raisin Scones, served with clotted cream and strawberry jam. On the savoury side, the Boston Lobster Cornet stands out, along with beautiful White Truffle Egg Mayo Sandwiches. To finish, I simply must try the house special – the Sydney Sling ($23). A variation on the fruity Singapore Sling, it blends Four Pillars Gin with hibiscus liqueur, ginger liqueur, blood orange juice, fresh lime and ginger juice. I wisely stop at one!
Restoring the Grand Dame
History is at the heart of the hotel, and The Fullerton run two complimentary heritage tours on Fridays and Saturdays. The 10am tour is exclusive to hotel guests, but the second at 11.45am is open to the public. Docent Margaret Monger is our guide back in time, a role she clearly relishes. Prior to joining The Fullerton’s team, she guided school groups on heritage tours through The Rocks district for many years. Ready to retire, she was lured back to work by the GPO building’s rich past.
The walking tour takes around 90 minutes and explores the elegant post office building, designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet and dating back to 1874. Despite its advanced years, the GPO is remarkably intact and preserved. We discover the history of the people who worked there, connecting a rapidly developing Sydney to the world through telegrams, letters and a lively phone exchange. We look at the 73-metre bell tower – dismantled during 1942 for fear it would become a target during the war – a sweeping grand ball room, hand wound clocks, and even a small ‘No Smoking’ sign on the sandstone wall, which has remained in place since the days of gas lamps.
Our favourite section of the tour is gazing up at the intricate street carvings which feature the NSW Coat of Arms, Queen Victoria, and twenty-four carved heads which represent either a continent, country or state. On the Pitt Street side, Italian sculptor Tomaso Sani carved ordinary people of the time, going about their professions and trades. The carvings were considered uncouth and debate raged for years about whether they should be taken down. Thankfully they were left as a record of everyday life in the 1880s.
Before we head back to Singapore, Sophie writes a couple of postcards to family (and one to herself!) and drops them into the GPO’s resident vintage red post box – a nice way to honour the incredible history of this much-loved building.