Monday , May 27 2019
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SO/Auckland, New Zealand’s newest luxury hotel, is oh so cool

As the sun sets behind behind us, stylish 20- to 40-year-olds ignore the glorious vistas over Waitematā Harbour and Rangitoto Island from the 16th floor.

They’re much more interested in quaffing boutique gin paired with an appropriately expensive tonic. Or catching up with friends and obsessing over the hotel’s dramatic interior design by WORLD, “the renowned Kiwi fashion innovator”.

Thirty years ago, that phrase would have been an oxymoron. Today, there’s no doubting New Zealand’s style cred. As the signature designer of the Auckland hotel, WORLD designer and director Benny Castles follows in the footsteps of Kenzō Takada (SO Mauritius), Christian Lacroix (SO Bangkok) and VictorRolf (SO Berlin).

The November opening of SO/Auckland (those capital letters are SO important) marked the debut of the brand in the southern hemisphere. It’s only the seventh SO hotel in the world after SO/Mauritius, SO/Vienna, SO/Berlin, SO/Singapore and two hotels in Thailand.

The Mega Chandelier by Moooi sets the right tone in the “lobby”. Tessa Chrisp

The brand is a slicker, less fussy offshoot of Sofitel, itself part of the France-based Accor empire. Think of it as a more tech-savvy, fashionable younger sister in tune with what affluent Millennials want from a hotel.

Lobby with a difference

The incredibly friendly and youthful concierge team points me to the lobby – except the traditional lobby has been replaced by Mixo, a funky cocktail bar complete with Moooi’s Mega Chandelier. It’s designed to look as if “it might be the meeting spot for celebrities, the fashion elite and rock stars”, as a media release puts it. (Sadly, I don’t spot any.)

Here, my key is prepared by a beautiful receptionist wearing attire that’s so chic, no one could call it a uniform. She escorts me to my SO Cosy room – just one of the endless SO prefixes you get used to, although they don’t get any less annoying.

The subterranean lap pool, well-equipped gym and luxury spa (local favourite: the healing Manuka honey facial) would be just as enticing without being called SO Wellness.

The guest rooms, such as this Vapour room, have been created by NZ fashion designer Benny Castles to evoke the country’s volcanic features. Supplied

Fortunately, the restaurant on the 15th floor – one level down from HI-SO but with equally glorious views – departs from the trend.

Harbour Society is the unlikely new home of French chef Marc de Passorio. He and his wife took a holiday to New Zealand in 2012 and were so impressed they decided to emigrate. De Passorio sold his Michelin-starred restaurant, L’Esprit de la Violette, in Aix-en-Provence and they arrived in November.

Like the rest of the hotel, Harbour Society’s decor is elegant and sophisticated. The main restaurant seats 110, but there are also two private dining rooms (seating six and 22 respectively) if you’re out to impress clients.

My itinerary doesn’t allow me time to sample the vodka crayfish, de Passorio’s signature main. But the bowl of greens (with fresh lime, lemon, caster sugar and egg white), buckwheat pancakes and a teeny smorgasbord of local smoked salmon and cheese hit the spot for breakfast.

The location – and the views – are superb. Supplied

Room with a view and more

But what of my room? Well, you certainly can’t miss the bath.

It’s a free-standing Victorian pastiche at the foot of the king bed – with a twist. There’s a wooden bath tray across its width big enough to hold wine glasses for two. (As I take a long, relaxing soak I can’t help feeling lonely.)

Only later do I discover that Castles‘ designs reference Auckland‘s volcanic features, with guests able to choose from three different themes – “vapour”, “liquid” or “solid” – in whatever room type they’ve booked (the two penthouse suites are called SO Lofty and SO VIP, with a “caldera” and an “exposure” theme respectively).

Is SO Auckland worthy of Accor’s luxury boasts?

French chef Marc de Passorio helms the hotel’s Harbour Society restaurant. Tessa Chrisp

It was early days when I stayed, which meant a few teething problems. But the location is superb, the staff are joyful and the place has that special “I’d like to come back one day” vibe.

The verdict? SO far, SO good.

The writer was a guest of SO/Auckland.

NEED TO KNOW

SO/Auckland, 67 Customs Street, Auckland. Tel +64 9379 1860. Rates Rooms from $NZ447 ($426) a night via the hotel’s website accorhotels.com

A tempting creation on the dessert menu at Harbour Society. Tessa Chrisp