October 22, 2022

From tobacco, leather and wooden furniture to luxury hotel: The evoloution of The Porter House Hotel Sydney - M Gallery

My fascination with unusual hotels is no secret, particularly the historic properties that either started life as hotels or some other civic or private structure.

Wandering the streets of the Sydney CBD is a self-guided tour anyone can do, spotting the old sandstone and marble structures some of which, like the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hyde Park Barracks, date back to the convict architect, Francis Greenway, of the early 19th century.

The list of Sydney CBD hotels reborn from heritage buildings is growing. There’s the Intercontinental, Radisson Blu, Ovolo Woolloomooloo and Harbour Rocks to name but a few built into the internals of former historic buildings. And we’ve lost at least as many to rampant mid-20th century development such as the iconic Australia Hotel in 1971.

So I was excited to be invited to stay at the newest hotel in this star-spangled cast, The Porter House Hotel Sydney - MGallery. 

Despite the slightly convoluted name, the former Porter House at 203 Castlereagh Street is now a luxury boutique hotel offering 122 rooms and suites, which occupy the first 10 floors of a 36-storey mixed-use tower, the work of award-winning architect Angelo Candalepas of Candalepas Associates

A residential component comprising 131 apartments, with private entry via Bathurst Street, sits above the new MGallery hotel, while a multi-level food and bar destination has been created within the restored 1870s heritage-listed building itself.

Like so many old Sydney buildings, The Porter House has had many lives and stories. 

Sir William Dixson
eldest son of Sir Hugh Dixson
Designed by JF Hilly in 1875 and completed in 1876 by the builder Mr Eycles for Sir Hugh Dixson, a tobacco merchant, noted citizen and philanthropist. In 1877, it reached ‘classic’ status following publication in the "Town & Country Journal" and in 1879 it was described in the "Illustrated Sydney news" as "an ornament of a city".

After 1891, it was the headquarters of the furniture manufacturer WW Campbell and later leather merchant, George Johnson & Sons. Now, after a thorough restoration and transformation, The Porter House becomes the Accor Group’s 400th property in the ultra-competitive Australia/Pacific hotel market. 

Accor Pacific CEO, Sarah Derry, says “This stylish, urban sanctuary is seamlessly connected to the historic Porter House building with the ultra-modern tower built around the original building. The new-build hotel pays homage to The Porter House’s heritage and Sydney’s bustling Victorian commercial era with a modern take on old designs such as contemporary curved windows that reference the original building’s iconic brick archways.”

While we weren’t able to inspect every corner of the new hotel, (the Spice Trader bar is located on the top level is due to open later in spring) suffice to say our sampling was enough to satisfy our initial curiosity. The ground floor hosts the all-day cafe, Henry's Bread & Wine, a perfect spot for excellent coffee, pastries and snacks. Upstairs on Level 1,  I make particular note of the new destination dining, Dixson & Sons, with shout-out to maitre'd Daniel who warmly welcomed us and chef Emrys Jones (ex-Fish Butchery) who has created an adventurous, yet satisfying menu touting such items as sweetcorn bavarois, coriander, seeded cracker or Spencer Gulf Hiramasa Kingfish, apple and cucumber for starters and John Dory, wilted greens, mustard and roe velouté, desert lime for shared main. 

From experience, John Dory is a difficult fish to cook. Unlike snapper or cod, the delicate white flesh can get leathery, curly and tough if even slightly mistreated. Chef Emrys delivered quite probably the best example of John Dory I have ever sampled. “We get the fish in a couple of days earlier and hang them to dry,” Emrys tells me, “that way there is no excess moisture. The fillets tend to be thin, so we just cook them over charcoal, skin side down only.” Well done, sir. 

Our eastward-facing room, 802, was a modest 28m2 Superior Room with a beautifully comfortable  King Size bed and lit by wide, bright windows with remote controlled curtains. The decor is dusty pink and mushroom grey tones with brass, leather and gold feature elements. The complimentary WiFi is strong and reliable and the massive 65cm intelligent satellite flatscreen TV will allow Chromcasting. The Nespresso machine makes an excellent coffee, although you’re limited to black if you want a hot beverage.

The shower pumps like a fire hydrant and the amenities are quality refillable Appelles Apothecary & Lab liquids and lotions, so there is no ‘takeaway’ tubes or wastage. 

With an entire floor dedicated to meeting and events, it would follow that some guests may be travelling for business. A niggle perhaps, but the tiny table really only fitted my laptop and I found myself leaving my other kit on the floor or shelving it on the generous window sill. Not ideal.

While it may take a few minutes to get used to, the iPod-based DigitValet is a boon for hotels and allows guests to control virtually all aspects of the experience from curtains and TV to restaurant bookings and room service.

In summary, a most pleasing experience and a worthy feather in Sydney voluptuous heritage hotel hat. 

The writer stayed as a guest of The Porter House Hotel

STOP PRESS: The Porter House Hotel, Sydney took home the award for New Build Hotel of the Year, as well as the overall 2023 Paul Davis Award for the Australasia-Pacific Hotel of the Year at the 2023 Design Inn Symposium.


203 Castlereagh Street
GPS:-33.87435, 151.20891
 Telephone+61 2 8236 8888
Contact emailhb1b3@accor.com

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