Artistic Melbourne

Picture a city where three bronze men wait for a tram that never arrives; where public art is not just an afterthought but an integral part of the city’s development; where there’s a giant wall covered in graffiti interesting enough to rate inclusion in key sightseeing books. It’s a city where yum cha, coq au vin, caramelised wagyu ox cheek, cheeseburgers and sashimi are all equally part of its culinary milieu. A city where you can shop for one-off  Danish furniture pieces, collectable Australian ceramics, designer handbags and Poketo T-shirts; where you can fly your kite in a downtown park, ride a tram, watch rugby in the rain or walk to the opera. And where you can sip a warm margarita with the consistency of custard, a Scottish single malt or a glass of champagne, listening to jazz – or whatever music takes your fancy – while lounging on a fire-engine-red leather Chesterfield couch. This city is Melbourne. So often overshadowed by its eastern sister, the flashier Sydney, Melbourne offers so much that even the jaded traveller will vow to return. It’s a city that is at once sophisticated and moneyed (take drive around Toorak and gawk at the houses or visit the stores around the inner-city laneways) yet with a gritty, edgy fringe (walk the back streets of Brunswick or Fitzroy), not forgetting the picturesque seaside suburb of St Kilda. Melbourne is accessible, safe and, with an efficient public transport system, easy to navigate. Set up base camp at The Lyall Hotel and Spa, a five-star hotel located in South Yarra – a 10-minute drive from the CBD and within walking distance of the key fashion shopping destinations, Chapel Street and Toorak Road. Accommodation includes open-plan studios, and one-and two-bedroom suites. The decor is stylish with Warwick fabrics, flat-screen TVs and lots of art on the walls. Bistro Lyall has great breakfasts and inspired lunch and dinner menus. The Lyall Champagne Bar serves French by the glass. There’s also an award-winning spa, perfect for unwinding after the long flight. Service is friendly and helpful. The Adelphi Hotel in Flinders Lane is the right address for those wanting to be based in the throbbing heart of Melbourne, the CBD. Something of an architectural icon, this former warehouse was converted into a boutique hotel by leading Australian design practice Denton Corker Marshall. With ample glass and stainless steel juxtaposed with solid blocks of primary colours, it’s a trendy number. The pièce de résistance is the rooftop swimming pool overhanging Flinders Lane with a Perspex bottom so that masked swimmers can view the action below. The in-house spa, restaurant and coffee bar are all worth staying in for. Australia has a deserved reputation for excellent food and wine, and Melbourne excels in both choice and quality. Any visitor needs to budget for some blow-out dining bills because it’s not cheap, but equally it’s not worth scrimping on. MoVida is probably the most authentic tapas experience you’ll get outside of Spain. Busy from lunchtime until late, this inner-city restaurant/ bar, a stone’s throw from Federation Square, is all about high energy, wine and Spanish food. Chef Frank Camorra uses top quality produce to create mouth-watering delights such as roasted Spring Bay scallops with jamón and potato foam. Oyster Little Bourke has a French bistro look and a relaxed feel, with a long marble-topped bar and street frontage, dark brown furniture, crisp white paper-covered tables and big mirrors. It’s easy, stylish dining at its best. Opt for the house speciality – oysters – and taste Australian varieties with a glass of bubbles. Across the road Longrain Melbourne, like its Sydney counterpart, is the destination for diners seeking a sophisticated, modern restaurant and bar that pairs the hot, sour, salty and sweet flavours of Thai/ Asian cuisine with wine and cocktails. Afternoon tea at the Hotel Windsor, on inner-city Spring Street, is a Melbourne institution that should not be left off any itinerary, in the same way that high tea at The Dorchester or The Savoy in London is a must. Whether it’s an event to plan a day around or a break from a dedicated shopping mission, drinking tea (or a glass of champagne) and smothering a warm scone with butter, jam and clotted cream before reaching for a second crustless sandwich from the tiered cake stand is an activity that should never be underrated. Some of Melbourne’s best bars (there are many!) are not so easy to find. Unmarked doors, obscure stairways and back rooms are home to some incredibly stylish, hip and happening night-time haunts that you may never discover. ‘Dark laneways are the best places to go down,’ explains Deck of Secrets’ publisher Michelle Matthews. The brains behind the Deck of Secrets’ comprehensive and compact packs of cards, which contain a photo and write-up about each place, Michelle is a wealth of information on the city’s bars, dining, shopping and cultural spots. Compared with Sydney, Melbourne’s licensing laws are more relaxed so many of the bars resemble someone’s lounge rather than big venues that need poker machines and crowds to cover the cost of the license, she says. The card decks are worth buying and her tours will save you a lot of legwork. Here are Michelle’s top three bars, within walking distance of each other in the CBD. If you love a cocktail then 1806 is a complete gem. Named after the year the cocktail allegedly came into existence, this former theatre restaurant is small and lounge-like with long red velvet curtains, chandeliers and Melbourne’s bars’ ubiquitous red leather Chesterfield couch. Try the Margarita Custard that combines tequila, Cointreau, lemon and egg served hot and eaten with a spoon, perfect for post prandials. Siglo, upstairs from the popular Melbourne Supper Club, is a chic rooftop bar alongside the historic Princess Theatre. French-café style chairs, small round tables and an enclosed awning mean this is a summertime hit. It’s got a great wine selection, interesting snack menu and a perfect perch for celeb spotting. Madame Brussels is the kind of place that looks dull and mismatched by the cold light of day. Come darkness things at this self-dubbed ‘rather fancy terrace and public house’, named after the late Melbourne brothel keeper, go a little awry in a seriously fun way. The main Parlour Room has Astroturf, the Terrace divans for enjoying views of the city, horizontally, and the Den of Iniquity offers more than 20 choices of rum alone! This may be the Land Down Under but the shopping is not to be downplayed. In the CBD you can find international and local designer boutiques, department stores David Jones and Myer, and high-end decor and furniture specialists such as de de ce. Fashionistas after labels from Marni to Comme des Garçons can thrash their plastic at Assin and Cose Ipanema. Head to Chapel Street for the likes of Country Road, Hoss, General Pants Co., Gant, Sass & Bide, Wayne Cooper and Bendon lingerie. Lovers of contemporary, one-off pieces of jewellery need to visit Gallery Funaki. Malvern Road, Hawksburn and Gertrude Street in Fitzroy are the current favourites for quirky stores stocking everything from vinyl toys, collectable Danish furniture, cult T-shirts and locally made jewellery to imported and local homeware. Otherwise, contact Savvy Shop Tours to formulate a personalised shopping trip for you. Melbourne is also known as the country’s cultural and arts capital. Public art can be seen everywhere in large and small-scale works. Get the Deck of Secrets: Culture Secrets Melbourne pack for a full list, but for starters take a walk down Swanston Street and view large sculptures from the Swanston Walk Public Art Project; visit the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art; Bunjilaka – the Melbourne Museum’s Aboriginal Centre; Bus Projects Art Gallery, Immigration Museum and Craft Victoria. Daylesford is to Melbourne what the Blue Mountains is to Sydney: a popular tourist destination in the countryside, less than two hours’ drive from the city, which has that ‘I’ve- escaped-from-the-mayhem’ appeal while still providing a good cappuccino and posh nosh. The mid-week population of Daylesford and neighbouring Hepburn is about 4 500, but this more than doubles on the weekends. The area is home to organic vegetable, flower, trout and eel farms, and a strong arts community. The Lake House is reason enough to take the trip, if only for a night. The brainchild of Russian immigrants, it’s grown from a restaurant to an award-winning 33-suite hotel with 2.4 hectares of garden and a spa, all built around a lake. Executive Chef Alla Wolf Tasker’s cuisine is strongly influenced by the desire to reduce food miles, using regional, seasonal produce to create dishes such as smoked Skipton eel in pancetta with shallot confit, beetroot rémoulade and fresh horseradish. The rooms are spacious with separate bathrooms and great views over the lake. The main lodge’s deck is ideal for sundowners (try their own Bombay Blossom) enjoyed with warm, locally grown olives and freshly baked grissini. In Daylesford you can ‘take the waters’ in the traditional European way at the Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa. The natural mineral waters of the region are known for their health and curative qualities. The Bathhouse has two communal pools where people can relax and enjoy the act of bathing. A more private experience is available in The Sanctuary section, which has individual baths and also a variety of spa treatments. The purification wrap is the perfect antidote to the indulgences at the Lake House the night before. When you’ve worked up an appetite trawling through the antique stores and galleries, drop in to Cliffy’s for lunch. It’s quirky, with a general-store decor style created by packed shelves, mismatched mirrors, enamel teapots, chandeliers, Chinese lanterns and pink walls with brightly coloured stripes. As is the trend in Daylesford, Cliffy’s focuses on home-grown and home-made food. Have a cup of tea and sample their berry shortbread, ginger cakes and old-fashioned jam drops. A cosy spot just right for lazy afternoons when the temperature drops and it’s nothing but wet and rainy outside. Once you’ve had a taste for a jaunt outside the city, it’s worth turning your attention to the Yarra Valley. Book a hot-air balloon ride with Global Ballooning or explore in comfort with Ashley Dickinson at Canterbury Limos and his sleek Bentley. Less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne, at the foot of the Dandenong Ranges, the Yarra Valley is predominantly known for its fine wines. Start with a tasting at Domaine Chandon, which was established by the French champagne house Moët & Chandon in 1985 as part of the aim to expand their sparkling wine production. In this elegant winery overlooking the vineyards, it’s easy to while away an afternoon sampling their respected Chandon bubblies and other wines. Giant Steps Winery, named after John Coltrane’s first solo album, is a convivial spot from which to enjoy tastings of the Innocent Bystander and Giant Steps wines or to enjoy a bottle over lunch. The pizzas are tops. HL travelled to Australia courtesy of Tourism Australia. This article was originally featured in the October 2009 issue of House and Leisure.