HOT: High Coffee, Market Lane Bar, InterContinental Melbourne The Rialto, 495 Collins St, Melbourne

High Coffee Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto 495 Collins St Melbourne
In a coffee-mad city, it’s surprising that until the indulgence of high tea hasn’t extended to the celebrating the coffee culture in Melbourne…until now.

Just in time for Mother’s Day, the InterContinental Melbourne hotel, located in the heritage listed Rialto on Collins Street, has just launched High Coffee, available every afternoon from 2-5pm for $55 per person.

High Coffee Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto 495 Collins St Melbourne

I was invited to try tidbits from the classic three-tiered afternoon tea set along with the coffee blends from Espresso di Manfredi, including ‘Audacia’, a blend from Sumatran and Indian Arabicas with a touch of Kenyan and ‘Chiaro’ a blend primarily featuring beans from Papua New Guinea. Not being a coffee drinker, I roped in my three-coffees-a-day friend to help imbibe the double doses of caffeine!

High Coffee Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto 495 Collins St Melbourne

On arrival you’re offered a deeply rich Espresso martini along with an impressive range of savoury and sweet treats on a silver three-tiered tray. Non coffee drinkers can request a classic martini, soft drinks or a choice of Ronnefeldt ‘Teastar’ collection teas.

High Coffee Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto 495 Collins St Melbourne

On the top tier were teeny tiny sandwiches – a twist on the classic smoked salmon poppy seed bagel with the cream cheese replaced with lemon myrtle marscapone, delicate roasted chicken and avocado sandwiches with a bush tomato relish and a Wagyu beef mini panini with a tart cucumber relish and sprigs of baby watercress.

High Coffee Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto 495 Collins St Melbourne

The pretty plate of sweet treats included a dense chocolate and macadamia slice, a mini-pav of sugary meringue, cream and fresh berries and my favourite, a delicate bite of pistachio macaron with a chocolate ganache filling. The least successful sweet was the vanilla pannacotta topped with a raspberry coulis – while I love the presentation of using doll-sized preserving jars and carved wooden spoons, I found the pannacotta a bit watery in texture so it was more soupy than solid.

High Coffee Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto 495 Collins St Melbourne

No afternoon tea would be complete without scones and the InterContinental serve plain and raisin scones warmed, nested in a thick linen napkin to keep the scones at the right temperature, with double cream and strawberry jam.

High Coffee Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto 495 Collins St Melbourne

An unexpected surprise in addition to the traditional three-tiered selection was a fourth plate of hot savoury hor d’oeuvres – flaky miniature, boeuf bourgignon pies, prosciutto and asparagus quiches and warm feta and olive muffins – plus a refreshing palate cleanser of raspberry sorbet.

High Coffee Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto 495 Collins St Melbourne

As you work your way through the savouries a Bodum espresso glass of Café Freddo (iced coffee) arrives and with the sweets you’re given a choice of another coffee or an intense Café Corretto (espresso with a shot of grappa) to really get the party started.

High Coffee Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto 495 Collins St Melbourne

Market Lane Bar has a full wine and alcoholic beverage selection (including one of Melbourne’s most extensive whiskey collections) so your afternoon tea can easily segue into a night on the town.

High Coffee Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto 495 Collins St Melbourne

In an extra touch of luxury you can choose to partake in High Coffee while sinking into the plush leather couches of the elegant Market Lane Bar or take your coffee and treats the tea in your room’s private balcony overlooking the grand central atrium of the hotel created from two adjoining buildings of Victorian gothic architecture.

High Coffee Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto 495 Collins St Melbourne

From each Balcony Room you can also hear the free jazz concerts that are held on the last Friday of every month from 5pm to late, providing you with a private box experience combined with the comfort of your own five-star hotel room.

High Coffee Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto 495 Collins St Melbourne

If you like your coffee (and even if you don’t) I think High Coffee for $55 a head is great value relative to other afternoon teas I’ve tried around Melbourne, especially when weekend rates at some establishments can stretch to $60+. The classics-with-a-twist menu is interesting and there’s plenty of food to share, the surroundings are cosy and glamorous at the same time…and for coffee fiends you’ll drink enough caffeine to keep you buzzing all night!

High CoffeeMarket Lane Bar, lobby level InterContinental Melbourne The Rialto495 Collins Street, Melbourne +61 3 8627 1568
Cost: $55 a head, includes Espresso Martini, iced coffee and choice of coffee/cafe corretto, savoury and sweet bites
Served daily 2pm – 5pm

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The Intercontinental, Market Lane Lounge on Urbanspoon

HOT: The Hatton Hotel, 65 Park St, South Yarra

Sometimes a break from the routine is a good thing for the soul.

So even though I live, work and play in Melbourne I relished the opportunity to take a weekend break at The Hatton Hotel thanks to my friend K.

The Hatton is a 20-room boutique hotel located near the Botanical Gardens in South Yarra, which I guess the equivalent of a foreign country when you live in the gritty inner north and rarely head south of the river these days. The hotel is housed in a historic Italianate mansion complete with an entrance of tiled marble steps, grand pillars and elegant arched stained glass doorways. Apparently it was a hotel back in the 1900s, then turned into a boarding house and was converted back into hotel accommodation about 10 years ago.

Photo by The Hatton Hotel

One of the lovely things about staying in a small hotel is the personalised service. The reception is located in the bar/breakfast area and is manned by a single person who also carries your bags and takes you through the rabbit warren of softly carpeted corridors and unexpected patches of street art and Chinoiserie on display.

Photo by The Hatton Hotel

Photo by The Hatton Hotel

I stayed in a Superior room ($240-$295 a night). Despite being on the lowest flower Room 4 was light and airy and it was furnished with a king bed (which I later discovered was two singles put together, so watch out for the gap if you’re sleeping solo!) , a spacious bathroom decked out in fluffy white towels, bathrobes and L’Occitane toiletries, a small dining setting, a hidden-away kitchenette complete with sink, microwave, fridge, crockery, cutlery and kettle plus French shutters leading out into my own private shaded courtyard. Bliss.

Continental breakfast is included as part of the room tariff and can be taken in the sunny reception lounge, the front balcony or the roof deck.

The rooftop is a really special location – it offers a spectacular vista of the city and the view is crisp and bright by day, romantic and twinkling at night.

The breakfast buffet offers an array of Brookfarm muesli, cereal, toast, cheese, yoghurt, fruit, juice and tempting pastries from Prahran’s Amici Bakery. Over breakfast I lingered over the weekend papers while lolling about in the leather chair but you can also go online with the free wifi.

The Hatton is easily accessible from the city via a very pleasant stroll through the Botanical Gardens and the Number 8 tram stops right outside the door. From my room I didn’t hear any tram noise but if you’re concerned then request a room away from the street. Also, for those noise-sensitive sleepers I suggest asking for an upper level room – the rooms’ floorboards means that footsteps from other guests above you can sound thunderous in the dark of night.

The Hatton is also within walking distance to the cafes and shops on Domain Road and Toorak Road so there’s lots in the neighbourhood to keep you occupied.

I recommend The Hatton if you want to stay somewhere that’s intimate and cosy with a bit of personality, well-appointed in all its details and located outside the hubbub of the CBD but not too far away.

The Hatton Hotel, 65 Park St, South Yarra +61 3 98684800

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HOT: Long Weekend in Bendigo (Part 1) – What to do

Hope you all had a fun and restful long weekend! Did you go anywhere interesting?

I was drawn by the rare opportunity to visit the Grace Kelly: Style Icon Exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery so we headed to Bendigo for a short break.

I’ve only been to Bendigo once before  (in fact, for last year’s special Bendigo Art Gallery Exhibition on White Wedding Dresses) and it’s actually the perfect location for a mini-break. It’s just under 2 hours by car from Melbourne and enroute are great foodie towns like Kyneton, Woodend and Castlemaine. The city centre is easily walkable and the population is big enough to support a range of eateries and accommodation for varying tastes and budgets. There are a few notable attractions that will fill your days without feeling like you need to sightsee from morning to night.

Here’s Part 1 of my long weekend in Bendigo with my selected list of things to do. Part 2 will be where to eat!

See Grace Kelly: Style Icon

Grace Kelly: Style Icon is the third exhibition that the Bendigo Art Gallery has presented in conjunction with London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and it has been hugely popular for the gallery.

The exhibition contains pieces from the wardrobe of movie star Grace Kelly, who later became Princess Grace of Monaco. As you can imagine, there are beautiful costumes from her films as well as haute couture outfits from her role as royalty by designers such as Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Yves St Laurent.

The exhibition was not large and I wandered through it in just over an hour. Mostly I found it intriguing to ponder on what made up this movie star/princess’ style. In an exhibition focused on the art of the dress, rarely was the fabric patterned and rarely was the colour bright. This was a collection of dresses where ‘less’ was ‘more’ and it was subtle details, such as the contrast of textured lace against same coloured fabrics, that created interest.

The exhibition also showed a smattering of jewels, shoes, hats, bags (including the famous Hermes ‘Kelly’ bag) and the omnipresent white gloves. These were also careful detailed with occasional beading but in no way showy pieces.

Thankfully, the gallery must have thought through the issues of high attendance. There was text above eye-line, making it easy to read about the pieces in a crowd. Many of the pieces were set in boxes, allowing viewing from all sides and reducing the shoulder-to-shoulder shuffle near wall-set cabinets. There was a large text explanation readily at hand.

The exhibition closes 17 June and make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment.

Grace Kelly: Style Icon, Bendigo Art Gallery 42 View Street  Bendigo +61 3 5434 6088

Visit Golden Dragon Museum

The Golden Dragon Museum bills itself as the ‘Chinese Cultural Centre of Australia’ and your $11 entry includes entry into the museum displays, the Chinese gardens and the Kuan Yin Temple.

As a first-generation Chinese immigrant I found it fascinating to learn about the historical significance of Chinese people in Australia. It charts the origins of the majority of the Chinese miners who came for the gold rush in the 1850s with artefacts, furniture and everyday goods and follows their assimilation into Anglo Australian society and their contributions to the communities of Bendigo and Victoria.

On a balcony surrounding the circular central gallery is a collection of the Chinese Dragons and their associated regalia used in the Bendigo’s annual Easter procession. Bendigo owns the oldest, as well as the longest, Chinese imperial dragons in the world!

For those who like Chinese furniture and art the museum holds the St Albans collection, quite a stunning bequest of imperial furniture, carvings and porcelain donated to the museum by John St Alban, an antique collector in South Australia.

Golden Dragon Museum, 1 – 11 Bridge St, Bendigo +61 3 5441 5044

Browse through Book Now

Secondhand bookstores are RM’s weakness and you should have seen his excitement when he discovered Book Now. The store holds the mystique of old dusty tomes waiting to be discovered with the grandeur of a two-levelled Bodleian-esque library. Books are sorted by category (with seating in nooks and crannies between shelves) with highlights including the non-fiction literature and antiquarian collections.

RM was tempted by a collection of Christopher Isherwood’s diaries and Graham Greene’s collected letters but in a rare moment of self-control came away only with a book about James Boswell’s biography of Johnson and Ha Jin’s In the Pond.

Book Now, 1 Farmers Lane, Bendigo +61 (0)3 5443 8587

Bendigo Creek Linear Park

The Bendigo Creek Linear Park is a long bike and walking path which connects the White Hills Botanic Gardens to Lake Weeroona which has ducks and swans and a children’s playground. It runs through the central city’s English-style Rosalind Park which has arched avenues of golden autumnal trees and an old-fashioned Victorian conservatory.

Stay at Jubilee Villa

I booked  our accommodation through the excellent online booking service via Bendigo Tourism. This seems to be the main hub of accommodation listings as many of the places listed with Bendigo Tourism don’t have their own websites. The site is easily searchable for your specific needs.

The main advantage of Jubilee Villa is that it’s a 5 minute stroll to Bendigo CBD and across the road from the Chinese Golden Dragon Museum and a stop of the Bendigo Talking Tram. In addition it’s a charming Victorian block that’s been restored to provide B&B accommodation in restored servant’s quarters or a studio apartment /loft.

We needed a 2 bedroom self-contained unit so were allocated the servant’s quarters. While the building had one side facing the main highway we did not find it noisy through the night, with only the occasional truck rumble penetrating through the thick brick walls.

The accommodation was really charming. The main bedroom had split system heating with a firm double bed (plus electric blankets) and a bathroom with two person spa. From the bedroom you entered a dining room with a bar fridge, microwave, tea/coffee, toaster which used to be old medical consulting rooms and there’s a cabinet full of antique medical jars and instruments. The second bedroom has twin single beds and a second TV and heating was provided by bar heaters so it was significantly cooler than the main bedroom.

Other than checking in with the friendly owners we were left alone for during our stay. A low-key continental breakfast of crumpets, wholemeal bread, raising toast, cornflakes, Weetbix and orange juice was provided for the two mornings.

Jubilee Villa (Donna and Darryl Henderson) 170 McCrae St, Bendigo +61 3 5442 2920


HOT: High Tea at Lobby Lounge, The Westin, 205 Collins St, Melbourne

I can think of no better way to spend a cold, rainy afternoon than in front of an open fireplace drinking tea. Better still, drinking tea, eating cakes and lounging around reading an Evelyn Waugh novel.

I recently indulged in my perfect rainy-day afternoon scenario with High Tea at the Lobby Lounge of The Westin Hotel. The Lobby Lounge is on the ground floor of the hotel and is a space set apart from the main reception marked by leather lounges, an open fireplace and bookshelves. It’s quiet enough to read a book and the leather bucket seats are just right for sinking into.

The Westin is all about contemporary glamour and so their high tea is a modern take on the traditional afternoon tea. For $45 ($55 including a flute of Chandon NV Brut) you receive unlimited tea or coffee plus sweet and savoury morsels presented on a sleek tiered platter reminiscent of a vintage drinks trolley. The teas from Jing Tea range from black, green, white and herbal infusions and I tried the White Peony tea and the whole rosebuds. Each pot would normally cost $7 so if you really like drinking tea then unlimited tea is good value!

Tier 1 contained two scones – original and cranberry and raisin. They were quite crusty on the outside and I feared that they might be dry but in fact they were light and fluffy inside. Not the best scones I’ve ever had but nice enough with jam and cream.

Tier 2 held the savoury bites and they weren’t just the standard cucumber sandwiches. First up, smoked leg ham, brie and semi-dried cherry tomato in a black olive and parmesan ciabatta. A mouthful of a description and a delicious mouthful too. The smoked chicken with apple and walnut compote filling was a little tasteless in comparison, though I did like the crunchy sunflower seeds in the polenta bun. To round out the savouries, a teensy smoked salmon tart and a classic crustless sandwich of egg mayonnaise and watercress.

Tier 3 was a colourful array of sweet delights. I liked the pastry of the vanilla marscapone and fresh fruit tart and the lemon tart but the pistachio macaron was too sticky and wet in texture. The two chocolate desserts – a chocolate creme brulee and black forest slice – were a really decadent end to the afternoon tea and I could feel myself dozing over my book as the sugar coma took hold.

I enjoyed The Westin’s contemporary take on high tea and it’s a nice pit stop after some city shopping. High tea is served on weekends from 12-4pm and bookings are recommended as there are only five tables in the Lobby Lounge.

Love afternoon tea? You can also try The Langham and Stranger’s Corridor.

High Tea at Lobby Lounge, The Westin, 205 Collins St, Melbourne +61 3 9635 2222
Lobby Lounge (at the Westin) on Urbanspoon

HOT: Lost & Found Hotel Room, Level 2 at Captains of Industry, 2 Somerset Place, Melbourne

The most coveted hotel room in Melbourne is back for its second season.

The Lost & Found Hotel Room is a pop-up hotel room which is open for 3 months from 1 May to 31 July. It’s in the heart of Melbourne, upstairs from gentlemen’s outfitters and cafe Captains of Industry (who also provided the winter-cosy catering for the opening and will be on hand to get you breakfast during your stay) and specially designed by Six Degrees Architects. The interior has once again been curated by Right Angle Studio, the people responsible for the Lost & Found e-newsletter for Tourism Victoria.

The room is free, fabulous and VERY Melbourne – what’s not to love? To apply for a stay, all you have to do fill out a form and cross your fingers. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak of what to expect as you await your reservation confirmation…

This year, the room is much bigger and they’ve really embraced the idea that one of the best parts of being in the Lost & Found Hotel Room is being able to share the experience with your friends. So there’s a lot more communal space – the living area is set out with gorgeous Danish mid-century leather couches Grandfathers Axe, while the dining area has a round marble dining table by Daniel Barbera matched with dining chairs from Grandfathers Axe and a floral arrangement by Cecilia Fox.

The rug has been specially designed for the room by Sydney artist and graphic designer Jonathan Zawada, who in a nice continuation of the Lost & Found story was a guest of last year’s hotel room.

The bed is a mattress atop a low platform, draped with a translucent boudoir-like curtain and with special L&F linen.

There’s an adjoining grass-green area next to bed, perfect for lolling about with a glass of red wine from Dal Zotto while nibbling chocolates from Monsieur Truffe and feeding your mind with literature from Mag NationWorld Food Books and the NGV Shop.

Along one length of the whitewashed room is a low shelf showcasing all sort of lovely objects, such as handcrafted ceramics from Mud and Shelley Panton, Japanese wares from Collingwood’s Cibi and Brunswick’s Mr Kitly and elegant stemware from Plumm.

Fantastical lighting from Dedece – and look at the view from the window!

Artwork from Utopian Slumps.

Once again, the Lost & Found Hotel Room has a cultural concierge who will help you make bookings and provide insider tips for exploring Melbourne. This year there’s even a budget for restaurants vouchers if dining out is on your cultural checklist for Melbourne (so pick your 50 word application carefully)!

You can check out my blog post about last year’s Lost & Found Hotel Room here and read my review of my stay in the hotel room here.

HOT Chat: Markus Bohm of The Langham

Markus chatting with Penny (Addictive & Consuming) and Sarah (Sarah Cooks)

You may remember a couple of weeks ago I was invited to The Langham to enjoy their chocolate indulgence high tea. Today’s your opportunity to find out more about the man behind the magic, Head Pastry Chef at The Langham, Markus Bohm. Thanks Markus!

Markus, tell me a bit more about your background and how you came to be the Head Pastry Chef at The Langham?

I was trained in Germany and worked as an apprentice in a pastry shop. From there, I went into hotels, leaving when I was 20 for Bermuda where I took up my first pastry chef position at the Castle Harbour Hotel (today this is the Marriott). I then spent ten years working as the Pastry Chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York, before moving to the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles – the best hotel in the world at that time.

I came to Australia eighteen years ago to open what was then the Sheraton Towers (now The Langham, Melbourne). I worked as a pastry chef there for three years, before leaving to open up the Le Cordon Bleu school in Melbourne.

Then, seven years ago, the Head Chef at The Langham called me and asked me to return to the hotel. I’ve been working here as the Head Pastry Chef ever since.

What do you consider to be your food philosophy?

My food philosophy would be using the freshest and best ingredients I can find. The ingredients in my desserts have to be good, and I particularly like dark, bittersweet chocolate.

What qualities do you believe a pastry chef has that are different to a regular chef?

I think that as a pastry chef, you have to be more creative and exact (for example at weighing out the ingredients) then a regular chef. You also have to be artistic and have an eye for beauty, and be able to draw. There is much more preparation involved when you are a pastry chef, and you need a lot of patience and even an understanding of chemistry.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your years as a chef? What advice would you give to someone who wants a career in the kitchen?

Aspiring pastry chefs would know that there are long hours involved and that they need to be committed. The starting pay isn’t very high either. But if they work hard and are committed, they can move forward in the kitchen and earn a higher pay. It is quite similar to ballet. The principal dancers get paid a lot while the rest of the corp don’t earn as much.

How would you describe the approach you’ve taken with the pastries and desserts at The Langham? What can customers expect to taste and see there?

The main approach for me is consistency. I’ve kept the popular favourites that guests are familiar with such as a crème brulee and crème caramel. But I’ve also introduced some unusual combinations such as chilli and chocolate and salt and chocolate, and I like to use avocado and goats cheese in my pastries and desserts. I think it is great for people who are adventurous with what they eat. They will be happy with the taste sensations!

Finally, you’re from Germany but now live in Melbourne. What HOT places and things do you love about your adopted home town?

One of my favourite places to visit in my downtime is Maris (15 Glenferrie Rd, Malvern +61 3 9500 0665). I love going there for lunch. They do funky light food with Mediterranean, Morrocan and other influences, and they have a small wine list but it’s packed with excellent wines. They also make their bread fresh, and everything is prepared on site.

Another favourite of mine is David’s (4 Cecil St, Prahran). I love their Shanghai style dim sum, and they have an excellent tea menu there.

For more chats with interesting Melburnians, click here.

HOT: Lost & Found Hotel Room, Little Collins Hotel, 27 Lt Collins St, Melbourne – Part 2

I like myself the most when I’m on holiday. I’m positive and energised, I’m endlessly curious about places and people, I’m intensely mindful of my surroundings and I take the time to enjoy small moments.

So when the temporary Lost & Found Hotel Room told me that they had room at the inn for two nights, I jumped at the chance to have a little vacation in the heart of the CBD.

I’ve already blogged about the layout and furnishings of this special Tourism Victoria-sponsored hotel room here, so this post is a more in-depth review of the luxuries of being a tourist in my own city. Sadly, no casual strolls around Melbourne’s laneways or art galleries for this sightseer though.

Day 1

I checked in after work and on entering the hotel room with its big cheerful HELLO sign, clapped my hands in delight (yes literally). I then went about the room, thoroughly uncovering every little well-thought out detail – touching, feeling, sniffing and listening.

These beautiful flowers from Cecilia Fox decorated the high-set glass dining table from Thomas Place, which cast intriguing ethereal shadows on the ceiling.

I invited some of my friends over to check out the room, here’s S trying to work the record player. Eleven university degrees and one professional musician in the room, and not one of us could operate this vintage piece of machinery properly. So no Melbourne music for us.

For pre-dinner festivities, we raided the mini-bar package from the Yarra Valley Dairy. Creamy marinated Persian feta and Spiced Syrian Fig relish on crackers, marinated Mount Zero olives and glasses of Pizzini red wine went down very well.

After stuffing ourselves we then proceeded to stuff ourselves further at cheap and cheerful Singapore Chom Chom.

The evening was perfect for more cosying back at the hotel room. The Koko Black chocolates made the perfect dessert with the Larsen & Thomspon flowering tea as we gave the curious ffixxed double wearable picnic rug a test run…

….constructed elephant puzzles made by Black Panda….

….looked up Youtube videos of our friend on the provided Macbook (an another Thomas Place desk)…

…and after our friends had departed, indulged in a bath with fragrant Aesop products and some uniquely Melbourne-esque bedtime reading.

Day 2

A bath in the morning (!) before heading out for breakfast at Liaison Cafe around the corner. My step was jaunty as I headed to work in my 5 minute commute, already planning my lunch stop at Stellini Bar. I wanted to eat carbs, lots of carbs, just so I could go take advantage of having an available bed in the CBD and having a post-prandial nap! Even though I didn’t get a chance to sleep in the end, I’m glad that I managed to briefly enjoy the room in the daytime , as it was a light-filled oasis of calm compared to the dim cosy ambience of the night before.

And after work that night, back to the hotel room with no Masterchef, no housework, no disturbances, just books and bed.

Day 3

Another indulgent morning soak. Check out. Back to reality. Sigh.

Have a look at some other photos I posted on the guestbook gallery here.

NOT: Crown Metropol, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

Today we have a guest post from Foo of the Melbourne-based blog Frugal Foo, which is all about finding great value in food, travel, shopping or anything. Really quite invaluable information, and my favourite posts are Melbourne’s Food Court Underbelly and Where to eat in Melbourne for under $30 a day.

Foo has written up a review on his recent stay at Crown Metropol…which didn’t quite live up to expectations. Thanks Foo!

The Crown Entertainment complex (or just “Crown”) has become a living, growing organism, spreading it’s girth and gaining strength each time a new international hotel suckers itself to the main host. The newly opened Crown Metropol hotel is the third international hotel to join this mega entertainment precinct. The bridge across from Metropol’s Whiteman Street address, forms another artery into mother Crown and seals a symbiotic relationship exchanging a vital flow of clientele. On the Crown side of the bridge, the stream of passers-by circulate through yet more shops, cafés and a reborn food court. Mr and Mrs Foo spent a night at Crown Metropol to check it all out.

The location has a lot going for it. One could easily spend a weekend being fully immersed within the insular world of Crown casino and the adjoining cinema, bars and restaurants, not stepping outdoors even once.

Crown Metropol Room with a View

Crown Metropol is a modern hotel. The spacious lobby sets the tone with few frills and an uncomplicated neutral colour scheme. Rich timber veneers and woven wicker textures extend into our room which is a corner suite overlooking Southbank and the bay.

Toilet with a View

Gone are the sentimental trappings of yesteryear such as tea and coffee-making facilities, or a fully enclosed private bathroom. This is a hotel for the 21st century. Rooms feature large flat screen TVs, iPod docking stations and motorised curtains. Sliding panels surround the bathroom forming, at best, a semi-private place to answer natures sudden demands. That’s fine if you’re on your own, but honeymooners will receive more information about their new life partner than they may have been expecting so soon in the marriage.

Bathroom with a View

On level 27 is the swimming pool, plunge pool, gymnasium and Isika Day Spa. If nothing else, head up there for the views overlooking Melbourne.

For an extra charge, you may head up to the private lounge on level 28. Here a privileged few will sample drinks and nibbles on winter evenings while gazing over the city skyline. A special “28” button in the ground floor lift lobby suggests a sense of priority befitting top level access. Breakfast is also served on level 28 for those who have opted for the $120 upgrade.

Sunrise Over Southbank

In-room dining comes from the kitchen of Maze restaurant downstairs. The menu promises to deliver a Gordon Ramsey experience without leaving your room. And no, that doesn’t mean you’ll be subject to a narcissistic tirade of abuse and bullying.

The in-room dining service was slow but we were kept informed of progress. My starter, the beetroot and mache salad was simple, inoffensive but a little boring. The beetroot was no different to that which I would pull out of a tin. For main, the rib eye steak served with a béarnaise sauce was better. Some effort had obviously gone into selection of produce before being expertly prepared by a chef at Maze Grill.

At $8 for a coffee from the in-room dining menu we where beginning to wish the room had instant coffee-making facilities. Curiously, there is an electric jug in the room, but no milk, tea bags, coffee, sugar or cups.

Gordon Ramsay's Maze Dining Room

For the great unwashed who don’t have access to level 28, breakfast is served at Maze on Level 1. For $35 you can eat an array of hot, cold, fresh baked and toasted goodies until you explode. It’s standard fare for a hotel like this. There is no chef assigned to cooking eggs to order, but all manner of eggs are readily available from the servery scrambled, poached or fried. I also recommend the smoked salmon.

Crown Metropol Cold Breakfast

Crown Metropol Hot Breakfast

Coffee is delivered to the table in a plunger ready to poor. Not that I mind filtered or plunger coffee, I have become accustomed to it on my travels at three star bed and breakfasts, but this was Crown Metropol. We asked the waiter about the possibility of a cappuccino, and after a perceptible nanosecond of inner deliberation, he explained that there would be a good 15 minute wait. Perhaps the barista was busy with orders from the level 28 set. Not wanting to create a fuss we settled for the plunger coffee as I’m sure most other level-oners who know their place would do.

Checking out is not a quick process on this Sunday morning at the Crown Metropol. The lifts at that time of morning are all full. At least one lift was not in operation while others seemed to linger endlessly at other floors. There are long queues at reception for check out. Express checkout is a better alternative.

As a romantic night away, or for a special occasion, Crown Metropol is NOT sizzling hot.  I have not given it a HOT rating since I don’t think it stands out as above average for the price I paid.  There’s just no soul here – nothing to make you feel like you have stepped out of ordinary life and into a world of indulgence.  Bathrooms need to be private and in this country tea and coffee-making facilities are standard even in the most basic motels.

Crown Metropol does recover some respectability with its functional approach toward the overall experience.  Customer service is efficiently delivered to a formula. Perhaps you might consider the Crown Metropol as a convenient place to stay in Melbourne if you can snatch a good last-minute deal from the likes of WOTIF.COM and if your favourite colour is brown.

NOT: Terrace Bar & Bistro, Art Series The Cullen, 161 Commercial Road, Prahran

The Cullen is a glamorous boutique hotel in Prahran which has been inspired by artist Adam Cullen, and it’s one of the series of Art Hotel popping up in Melbourne.

While a hotel is not an obvious location for dining out, a high-end boutique hotel does have a certain reputation for quality to uphold, and that extends to its food options. On one side of The Cullen is the heaving branch of CBD’s Hutong Dumpling, while the other side is flanked by the much quieter Terrace Bar & Bistro.

The Terrace Bar & Bistro offers middle-of-the-road Mod Oz/Mediterranean fare at mid-range prices. The extensive menu spans antipasti, pasta/risottos, pizza and mains and there’s nothing particularly unexpected or unusual about it.

The décor is also uncontroversial, featuring polished floors, screen printed lamp shades and an open kitchen. The vibe is informal, the service friendly, there’s nothing really to complain about.

So why the NOT? Well, because I thought it was all a bit yawn-worthy.

I had the antipasto plate ($18) with items selected by the chef. Normally it comes with cured meats or fish but feeling virtuous I asked for vegetarian items. Very pretty to look at, but no real taste sensations (and maybe that’s my own fault for discarding the meat and fish). Nice toasted ciabatta with drizzled with olive oil.

The mushroom risotto was liberally dotted with mushrooms and looked very hearty. D described it as ‘good’. I have no idea what was dotted on top but given how creamy it looked already I’m not sure whether another dollop of dairy was necessary to add richness.

L had a rib eye with red wine gravy ($35) but had to order sides separately, so she went for the huge mound of buttery mashed potato. Main course meats or fish that come with nothing are a personal pet peeve of mine, but I know it is very common practice.

The baby roast chicken looked the most appetising of the bunch but the meat was a little bit too dry and the plate was drenched with too much oil for J.

We shared an impressively large bowl of fries ($8) with tomato sauce and aioli which unfortunately consisted of mostly soggy chips. I hate soggy chips.

The Terrace Bar & Bistro was pleasant enough but left no real impression on me such that I would be hungering to return, telling you all about my amazing time there. I’m sure many others will disagree with me and tell me how great their pizzas are or their chocolate pudding or whatever, but it just drives a path that’s too safe for my personal preference. It’s arguable that my impression was coloured by the kind of dishes we ordered, but honestly our choices were very typical of the kind of food on offer generally. Just call me a food snob for that night! Meh.

Terrace Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

HOT: Chocolate Indulgence Afternoon Tea, Aria Bar and Lounge, The Langham Melbourne, 1 Southgate Avenue, Southbank

Afternoon tea is my all time favourite meal. In fact, I could happily eat afternoon tea at any time of day, every day. I love the elegant atmosphere, the dainty food and best of all the decadent sweets and pastries.

So you can imagine my delight when Nuffnang invited a group of Melbourne food and fashion bloggers to The Langham to sample their famous Chocolate Indulgence Afternoon tea, which they offer on the weekends (they offer a Tiffin afternoon tea on weekdays). I accepted the invitation without hesitation and focused on choosing an appropriately pretty outfit with an elasticised waist.

The Langham Melbourne is one of the Leading Hotels of the World and The Langham‘s afternoon tea is held at Aria, a bar and lounge elevated from the lobby and accessed by a glittering grand staircase. We were seated on cushy couches and leather seats and given a brief talk by Head Pastry Chef Markus Bohm about what to expect: a silver tiered stand with scones and finger sandwiches; a chocolate bar piled on beautifully patterned hatboxes and featuring desserts made from single plantation chocolates from around the world; and made-to-order souffles. I’d died and gone to heaven.

I won’t go too much into describing the delicacies on offer but will just let you drool over the pictures.

The Langham Torte, an almond marzipan, cherries, brandy and Valrhona chocolate concoction.

A shot glass of raspberry jelly, fluffy orange mousse, chocolate and topped with wonderfully delicate chocolate antlers!

White chocolate strawberry mousse tart with berries.

Chocolate biscotti dipped in dark chocolate.

One of my favourites, miniature chocolate eclairs with a crisp dark chocolate icing dusted with gold leaf.

Lime and agastura bitters tart. Another one of my favourites.

Amarascata (cherry) and white chocolate roulade.

I’m not normally a fan of rocky road but I did like the huge macadamias in this version.

Lady Mogador Mousse Cake, a deliciously rich cake made with dark Venezuelan cocoa topped with a passionfruit glaze that cut through the richness. It’s a shame it was one of the last things I ate, because it was gorgeous but I was a bit chocolated-out by then. I also love the Escher-style pattern decorating the side of the cake.

The tier of sandwiches, including traditional smoked salmon, tomato and goats cheese and prosciutto with some form of cheese (definitely not cheddar). The fruit scone was light with a firm outer crust, just the way I like it.

Last but not least, the promised souffles. The miniature chocolate chip and passionfruit souffles took precisely 8 minutes to bake. I was impressed that they were transported from the kitchen in a portable stove so you don’t lose that hard-to-achieve high top.

If you’re now convinced that afternoon tea at Aria is a must-do, the best news is that on Thursday 10 June, The Langham Melbourne and all the Langham hotels worldwide are celebrating their 145th anniversary with a Global Tea Party. That means that every Langham hotel will be offering the Tiffin afternoon tea for the original price of 1 shilling 6 pence, or 20 cents! The catch is that bookings are only open to families booking for three generations or more, ie grandparent, parent and child.

Online ookings open at 1865 hours, or 7:05pm on Tuesday 8 June at and only 40 places are available. If you miss out on a place, you will be offered the opportunity to try the Chocolate Indulgence Afternoon Tea on weekdays in June for $28.40, 18.65% off the usual price of $35.

You can read more about the experience from fellow bloggers Much Love Anna, Sarah Cooks and Addictive & Consuming.

Thank you to the The Langham Melbourne and Nuffnang for inviting me to sample the Chocolate Indulgence Afternoon tea.