This review of The Islington Hotel in Hobart is taken from our guidebook Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection Australia/New Zealand.
Six months into the year and Mrs Smith and I have the horrifying realisation that we haven’t been on a single break. This, we decide, has to change. To the Apple Isle, immediately. Smith Jr at home in capable hands, this trip is about getting away from everything.
Arriving at Hobart Airport, Mrs Smith decides we need to eat – and fast. A lazy lunch, she figures, will get us into the swing of this trip. Panic creeps in when we can’t get hold of the friend we hail as ‘Tasmania’s all-knowing expert on where to eat’. As we’re due to check in at the Islington Hotel, we tap the hotel on where to go for a relaxing meal. Lisa, one of the hosts, sends us confidently in the direction of Meadowbank Estate.
Detouring off the freeway, we motor down a gorgeous country road flanked by cherry blossoms and vineyards. We arrive at the recommended winery 15 minutes from Cambridge, and the view from the dining room’s floor-to-ceiling windows swallows our attention. French provincial-style tucker, great wine and the vision of mist swirling around the mountains are what the doc ordered; we leave hours later in a new state of mind, officially relaxed.
Hobart is a pretty city: situated on the coast, split down the middle by the Derwent River and backdropped by Mount Wellington. For us it’s shrouded in a soft white haze, pierced occasionally by shards of sunlight. Driving through one of Hobart’s dress-circle suburbs, we admire gracious old houses, beautiful gardens and river views. As soon as our tyres crunch on the gravel of the Islington Hotel driveway, Lisa and Thomas rush out to welcome us. Their friendly, confident approach sets the mood. We’re in safe hands.
Resplendent in Regency notes, the architecture hails from 1847. These days as a hotel it houses lounges, a dining room and five bedrooms in the original building. A double-height, glass-and-steel conservatory comprises a new extension, where we find a fireplace-flaunting bar, open kitchen and the offer of informal dining, plus six additional contemporary rooms up for grabs. The whole affair is lovingly couched in an acre of gardens designed by Andrew Pfeiffer, a landscaper celebrated in London, Istanbul and Buenos Aires for his green-fingered Midas touch.
From foliage to soft furnishings, we give the decor in the public areas a thorough once-over. It exemplifies the popular anything-goes aesthetic of mixing old and new, antique and à la mode, Asian and Euro – held together elegantly in this instance by the owners’ art collection. Contemporary local artists hang alongside Brett Whiteley and walls are festooned with travel memorabilia and artefacts reflecting both familial and local history. Seeing another person’s passion boldly on display reminds me of why I love to travel. Our room, located in the contemporary wing, is beautifully understated, modern but far from minimalist. Outside is the classic English garden setting, augmented by exotic Australian birds flitting through native flora. And add to that a postcard-perfect view of Mount Wellington.
After a pinch-me-it’s-paradise afternoon of napping, reading and garden perusing, we’re ready for dinner. Dressed for the occasion, we head to the rose-tinted drawing room where Thomas uncorks a bottle of champagne. Sinking into a sofa, Mrs Smith and I have a long catch-up while Thomas attends to every need, topping up glasses and plumping cushions. We’ve ordered tasting plates matched with some of Tasmania’s finest wines. In that stunning show kitchen, the chef creates a beautifully balanced menu harnessing the region’s bounty – impossibly fresh oysters, delicious ocean trout and succulent lamb – cooked with precision and care. And, of course, imbued with passion.
The next morning, over breakfast, we plan our Derwent Valley attack. Before whetting your appetite for wanderlust, let’s get you salivating again. If only every day I could tell a chef how I’d like my eggs. Home-made granola and poached fruits are followed by organic scrambled eggs and house-cured gravlax.
Lisa takes the reins of our day, arming us with directions, bookings, re-bookings and more bookings – all of it with a smile. We set off first to explore antique stores in New Norfolk, then in the opposite direction for lunch. Peppermint Bay overlooking Bruny Island is a wonderfully of-the-moment providore with a tempting restaurant and bar. Great service, first-class local produce and crayfish, and a fabulous wine list prove that having Lisa play architect to our excursions outdoes relying on our all-knowing mate.
Back at the Islington, the sun disappears behind the hills and our afternoon segues to evening with another bath, another siesta and another bottle of bubbly. Tonight we’re off to Hobart hotspot Piccolo, an Italian eatery and bar. Post-carbs, bed beckons, but instead we’re sidetracked by the Islington’s conservatory and its cocktails. Looking up through the glass roof, the stars are twinkling so brightly it’s as if we’re in the country.
Another heavenly sleep in the bespoke Angel beds (custom-made locally) and our perfect escape is at an end. But we got what we came for: pampering, relaxation and a deluge of great food. Just before we leave, Mrs Smith reads a quote from the in-house brochure: ‘It feels like you’re staying at a rich friend’s house,’ she shares.
‘It’s better than that though,’ she suggests. ‘It’s as though your mates have gone away and left all their staff at your disposal too’. Now there’s a service that really trumps that in-the-know Tasmanian pal of ours.