Hotel Review: Hotel TOTTO, Wollongong
A Winter Weekend At Wollongong’s Hotel TOTTO. Lux Nomade visits the coastal city’s newest hotel and dining destination
As New South Wales’ third largest city – known for its student population and the factories that dominate its coastline – Wollongong is often overlooked by Sydneysiders looking for a weekender location.
And while it’s true that the small towns on the scenic stretch of the coast hold a different kind of appeal, Wollongong’s newest hotel is pulling a new crowd to the region’s capital.
Hotel TOTTO – a 150-room hotel from the interstate venue group EVT – opened at the end of 2022, and has quickly become a key pillar of Wollongong’s tourism offering.
Contemporary design, sleek service and an excellent restaurant create an easy formula and a perfectly central setting from which to experience the quirks of this unpretentious seaside town.
We arrived in the early afternoon, just in time for a stand-up paddle session we’d booked with SUP Shell Harbour – a family-run business that runs private paddle boarding lessons and group sessions throughout the Shell Harbour region. The ninety-minute session involved a SUP yoga class and a paddle around the harbour, led by a super friendly, incredibly knowledgeable couple whose love for the sport was infectious. The sky was wrapped in a thick bank of clouds, and aside from the sailing boats that sat silently anchored to the ocean floor, the harbour was entirely ours. The yoga class was as challenging as you would expect from a board-based balancing act, and after falling into the water an acceptable number of times, we finished with a short relaxation and then got back to our feet and paddled back to shore.
Hotel TOTTO – our home for the night – was helpfully located in the dead centre of town, an imposing building whose ground floor space was immediately striking. Glass doors opened up to a bright, tastefully playful space, complete with bold signage and mismatched sofas in deep green velvet and tan leather. A curved, white-tiled bar lined with bottles of Italian amaro dominated one wall, which was also home to a wood-fired pizza oven and a window that opened onto the large, bustling kitchen. A glass wall at the far end of the room separated the main dining area from a private space, where a bride-to-be was celebrating her engagement with a group of friends and an encouraging supply of artfully presented cocktails.
Upstairs, the bedrooms were compact but carefully designed – with stylish muted tones and ergonomic, functional but sophisticated features.
“The hotel has been tailored to suit travellers who value quality and modern and contemporary interiors, incredible guest experiences, and great dining all complemented by our integrated technology,” explained Norman Arundel, EVT’s Director of Hotel and Resorts Operations.
The clouds overhead showed signs of clearing, so we took the short drive to Nan Tien Temple – the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere, just fifteen minutes out of town. The temple was about to close when we arrived, and aside from the shadows of figures that moved quietly inside the architecturally striking, glowing golden building, we were the only people in sight.
We wandered the carefully manicured grounds up to the gratitude bell that’s perched atop the hill – a huge, ornate creation housed in a wooden cage. We sounded its toll and let the vibrations ring out through the valley as the sun began to set behind the hills and the vibrant pink of the clouds began to fade.
The rain started the moment we arrived back at the hotel – coming down in vicious sheets outside the window. Thankfully, we didn’t have to leave the building for dinner, which was served at Basta – the contemporary Italian restaurant that is indisputably the jewel in Hotel TOTTO’s crown.
We ordered martinis (one dirty, one a house special spiked with Limoncello), and a selection of starters that all arrived quickly and perfectly presented. The seared tuna – served on a salty gremolata – was the main event, complemented by a creamy stracciatella and wood-fired flatbread laced in a halo of garlic oil.
To follow, we ordered a truffle-infused pizza and a dish of roasted fennel that was delightfully caramelised and crowned with a generous shaving of parmesan.
Though the dishes we ordered were perfect for two, Basta is the type of restaurant best enjoyed in larger groups – with a Mediterranean-style menu by Head Chef Kris Swiecinski that’s designed to be shared. Wood-fired pizzas are the signature, complemented by an excellent line of crowd-pleasing seafood (everything from baby octopus to kingfish to spaghetti Vongole) sourced from Shellharbour Fish Market, and Italian Produce from Corrado & Frank.
Our table was an early 6:30 reservation, and the restaurant was already full, a situation that we realised – after speaking with operations manager Jan Dodin – was not uncommon.
“Ever since we opened, it’s just exploded out the door.” Jan explained, after chatting with us for a while about the hotel, restaurant and menu highlights. “On the first night we had about ten guests, then three weeks later we were serving around 100 every night,” he explained.
The rapid popularity of the restaurant was followed by increased demand for rooms, with Jan explaining that the original 50 rooms were consistently selling out before the additional 100 opened back in early 2023. As we carried our wine glasses up to bed – because when you’re staying in-house, why not – we understood the correlation.
The next morning – after a sleep that was shockingly deep for such a central location – we walked down to the beach, an easy 12-minute stroll from the hotel. The long stretch of sand was entirely empty, the ocean was pale blue and icy cold.
Breakfast at Basta was as well executed as dinner, though this time with a more contemporary Australian twist compared to the evening’s modern Italian menu. Options ranged from a terrifyingly thick buckwheat and ricotta pancake to salmon and egg salad on sourdough, which arrived crowned with salty pops of capers and olives.
We left just before the lunchtime crowd arrived and the temptation of an afternoon Aperol proved too strong.
Rooms at Hotel TOTTO start at $179 per night in a standard room.
To book visit www.hoteltotto.com