Since they were completed in 1977, Newcastle’s old council chambers have been hard to miss – housed in a brutalist cylindrical building, right off the main drag, towering above nearby buildings. Now, the desks have been replaced with king-sized beds, soggy weekday sandwiches with an upscale restaurant, and the council workers with hotel guests. These days, the building lives a very different life to the one intended for it – it’s the burgeoning coastal city’s first five-star hotel, the Crystalbrook Kingsley.
The sustainability-minded Crystalbrook hotel group took over the building a couple of years ago, opening right before Sydney went into lockdown in 2021. As well as sleek guest rooms, it has a rooftop bar and a restaurant, both operating under a new executive chef, Matt Smith (ex-head chef at Banksii in Barangaroo).
Stepping into the elegant double-height foyer reveals the dramatic curvature of the structure; the communal spaces and rooms wrap around a central pillar that, in the foyer, is draped with dramatic curtains.
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Upstairs, 130 rooms look over either the harbour or Newcastle’s leafy Civic Park. They’re decorated in greys and whites, with sharp splashes of orange, red and goldenrod in the form of throws, cushions, and bright lounges and armchairs. Each room is kitted out with a Nespresso machine (with recyclable pods, in keeping with Crystalbrook’s sustainable ethos), a rainfall shower and a smart TV with hundreds of free movies. Key cards are made from recycled timber, single-use toiletries and plastic bottles are off-limits, and recycled paper is refashioned into coathangers.
While the guest rooms are a boon for out-of-towners, the rooftop bar, Romberg’s, and adjacent Roundhouse restaurant are windfalls for both visitors and Newcastle locals. Both bestow visitors with panoramas of the Steel City out to the beaches beyond from floor-to-ceiling windows. And both the bar and the dining room are decorated in light woods and dotted with large pots holding native trees.
Named for the building’s architect, Frederick Romberg, Romberg’s offers a sophisticated menu of cocktails that incorporate native and locally sourced ingredients. A “zero-waste” menu sees kitchen offcuts such as fruit turned into cordials, syrups and garnishes. Similarly, the bar’s food menu uses extras from Roundhouse to ensure minimal waste. For example, Smith says trimmings from the beef tenderloins on the Roundhouse menu are turned into a tartare with duck-egg jam at Romberg’s. You might also find bits and bobs from the evening menus in the breakfast buffet, as well as at ground-floor bar and cafe Ms Mary.
“Obviously it’s good practice regardless, but when you’ve got that sustainability [focus] as a group at the forefront of everything we do, [we have to ask] what’s the outcome of this, and if it’s negative or not green enough or not sustainable enough, we have to come up with alternatives,” Smith tells Broadsheet.
For extra accountability, every menu in the hotel has symbols indicating whether it helps reduce waste, is made using locally sourced ingredients or ethical meat, or is “culturally considered” (i.e. sourced directly from Indigenous suppliers).
“We’re making sure we’re doing things that are going back into the community,” says Smith. “We only want to rely on companies that are doing the right thing.”
Smith’s first menu at Roundhouse – where the views are the equal of those at Romberg’s – incorporates European and Asian elements. Giant grilled Yamba prawns are doused in XO butter and topped with native succulents, while a traditional crème diplomate is given an Aussie twist with eucalyptus, and topped with candied native black olives, strawberries macerated in local gin and a quenelle of strawberry sorbet.
“We’re keeping it pretty simple, not going too overboard,” says Smith. “Not reinventing the wheel, just good, simple produce – which every chef says!”