Spicers Balfour Hotel
How soon is too soon for your first weekend away with a new belle or beau? When I reveal I’m taking a six-week-old relationship on the road, my friends’ jaws simultaneously head south. However, with me moving overseas in a few months, this is a fast-tracked frisson, love-express if you will, and all normal timeframes are thrown out the window.
So it is that my freshly minted Mr Smith and I make for Brisbane one Friday afternoon. He has a Longchamp sports bag casually slung over his shoulder, while I wrestle with my crammed carry-on, attempting to give that insouciant impression of low maintenance, but secretly seething that I've left a third pair of heels at home.
No matter the age of a relationship, the rules for weekends away are standard: switch your regular mascara for a waterproof version (Courtney Love-style smears are so 1995) and plump for a heavy-duty blow-dry that’ll last a few days so he doesn’t see how long you really spend in the bathroom. (The only downside to this is that you spend those steamy shower sessions desperately trying to keep your head out of the water: shower caps in this scenario are simply not ok.)
As it’s early days I’m still out to impress, so have arranged to have a hat-wearing, sign-bearing chauffeur from Spicers Balfour Hotel greet us at the airport. We bundle out of the sleek BMW 20 minutes later and into our weekend retreat, a 110-year-old Queenslander in the arty New Farm precinct that’s been transformed into a nine-room hotel.
It’s approaching 11pm when Corey swiftly checks us in, pointing out the rooftop bar and escorting us to our Executive Room. Mr Smith and I take in the Rowena Cornwall-designed surrounds, a quirky, well-curated mix of modern-meets-vintage, with plush, sink-your-toes-in carpet, a mammoth bed piled with cushions and antique Sino-chic bedside tables. I also spy a see-through panel at the base of the bathroom door, just a few feet from the bed, immediately wiping out any hope of modesty.
Within minutes of unpacking, which for Mr Smith entails flinging every item in his bag around the room (note to self: if this takes off, we’re going to need a cleaner), he speaks six of the sweetest words I’m ever likely to hear, ‘Babe, can we take a bath?’
For someone who spends hours soaking – and whose previous boyfriends have been of the hop-in-hop-out persuasion – this is pure heaven. We run the bath, splashing in half a bottle of Côté Bastide bubble bath, before realising something’s missing from this blissful scene. With no minibar in the room, we dash upstairs to the rooftop bar to order drinks, then slip back down with a bottle of sparkling wine, just in time to turn the taps off and avert a soggy situation.
Wrinkled and pink, we emerge two hours later and flop onto the king-size bed. Flinging all but two cushions off the bed, I make a half-hearted promise to peruse the pillow menu tomorrow.
A chipper Kiwi called Alex shows us to our linen-topped table for breakfast the next morning on the breezy, deep veranda. As I devour a delicious pumpkin and goat’s cheese omelette and Mr Smith attempts to make a dent in the big breakfast, Alex happily shares tips for the day ahead.
First stop is GOMA, Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art, where we take in a Matisse exhibition and ogle Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s playful displays of polka dots. A short walk along the Brisbane River brings us to bustling South Bank and a lunch of fish and chips at South Bank Surf Club, before we catch a CityCat ferry back to New Farm.
As we’ve booked afternoon tea at the Balfour, the 10-minute walk from the jetty to the hotel turns out to be an appetite-inducing godsend. On the frangipani-fringed veranda, Corey brings us Pimm’s and a tower of treats, brimming with crustless sandwiches and petite cakes.
Barely have we scoffed the last scone when it’s time for sunset canapés on the rooftop terrace. Around a dozen guests are at the open-air bar, perched on stools overlooking the Story Bridge, to enjoy Balfour’s free spread of beetroot tarts, salmon rillettes and prosciutto wraps. While other couples look like they’re settling in with backgammon and a bottle of wine, I knock back a last sip of champagne and hurry Mr Smith along for our imminent dinner reservation. By now, his face is a mixture of bemused and abused. This lady likes to eat, ok?
The force-feeding is forgiven as soon as the first plates land at Ortiga, a buzzy Spanish restaurant just a short hop away. In the edgy, street-level tapas bar, we gorge on golden croquettes, crispy fried prawns, house-cured meats and salty pimientos de Padrón (also known as Russian roulette peppers, as one in 10 is mouth-searingly hot), washed down with cocktails and cava.
Next stop is the Bowery in neighbouring Fortitude Valley, a speakeasy-style bar that’s very Manhattan. After a negroni for me and an apple and cinnamon martini for him (Mr Smith has a knack for ordering the girliest drinks), we stroll back to Balfour, ducking into Ortiga for an espresso martini en route.
By now Mr Smith knows the drill, and is running a bubble bath within seconds of our return. Hours evaporate, pillows are flung and the sleep that follows is deep. So deep, in fact, that when we awake the next morning it’s almost time to check out. A quick call to the ever-helpful Alex buys us an extra couple of hours, and the cheeky aside ‘to have fun until then’. Breakfast, we think sadly, has passed us by… yet Alex impresses once again when he calls to say he’ll keep the kitchen open. Weekends away don’t get better than this.
After a luxurious lie-in and another knockout meal (it’s no wonder the Balfour is a brunch favourite among locals), Alex calls us a cab. It’s just a regular run-of-the-mill taxi this time, but that doesn’t matter – all pretence has been dropped and Mr Smith and I are already plotting our next weekend away. Fast, yes. Fabulous? Absolutely.
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Smith extra at Spicers Balfour Hotel
A glass of Veuve Clicquot each on arrival