It’s not only rock stars who get made over, as Belinda Jackson discovers in Melbourne’s revamped Como hotel.
Robbie Williams stays here whenever he’s in town. Beckham drank in the hotel bar and of course La Minogue has hit the penthouses.
In its 22 years, South Yarra’s Como hotel has had ’em all, from Nana Mouskouri to Cyndi Lauper and Paris Hilton, a swagload of tennis players and old-school rockers including Springsteen and Bon Jovi.
Situated on Chapel Street, near Toorak, which is the equivalent of Monopoly’s Mayfair, the star-studded hotel has changed hands and fallen into the MGallery suite of unique properties.
Quite a lot of gold has also changed hands though the new owners are coy about the number of dollars in the multimillion-dollar makeover, but the figure of $5.3 million is bandied about, roughly $50,000 a room. Consequently, the hotel purrs like a well-fed cat.
The lobby is a funky affair of poke-in-the-eye bright magenta carpet and sparkling white Space furniture, which sets the tone for the hotel: a gentle palette spattered with ultra-bright colour. Neutrals freaks, don’t be scared; the colour is maturely toned down with soft greys that are surely inspired by an autumnal Melbourne sky.
Originally built as an office, the building that houses the Como is horseshoe shaped, which makes it a little confusing finding the rooms. Our party of three checks in to our fifth-floor one-bedroom suite: my sister gets the comfy trundle that’s already made up, her own stash of Morrissey toiletries on the towels. The baby gets a cot tucked in beside my king-size bed that’s built for jumping on.
Out the window, we can look through a glass roof into the Como Centre, an upmarket shopping centre almost completely given over to hairdressers and European-style cafes, as well as the Palace Cinema.
One wall of the suite is a slick kitchenette, the diminutive name belying the stack of cutlery, glassware, fridges and microwave, and there’s an office nook with – get this – reachable power points.
Pendant lights hang over a round dining table and two wide couches look towards the TV. It’s all very spacious and large free-standing mirrors feature in all suites, opening the rooms up further.
A motif of the hotel’s mascot, a rubber duck, now appears throughout the marble-tastic art deco bathrooms, but the duck himself (and it is a him) is also enjoying a makeover, to be revealed next month.
The hotel comprises 107 rooms, including six “des reses” on the third floor that open onto a Japanese garden. But the Como’s calling cards are its three penthouses, now renamed Gold, Gem and Pearl. They really are very adult – each spans two floors, connected by a winding staircase.
Pearl, as the name suggests, is all about sophistication, with a sexy, subdued palette, whereas Gem is fired up with accents of strobe-yellow by way of a laser-cut coffee table. Both have a bedroom on the entry level, then you climb that staircase (a deathtrap after too many glasses of pop) to be absolutely smacked in the eye by a mezzanine level given over completely to bathing. On one side is a little sauna smelling deliciously of Norsca forests and on the other is a sunken tub attended by richly upholstered ottomans and walls of sparkling, metallic tiles.
The Gold penthouse is the entertainer’s hang, with a table for 10 and that baby grand, which has been bashed by Robbie Williams, Michael Buble and many, many others. The bedroom is upstairs, away from the party zone, a wall dividing it from a spectacular free-standing tub.
Sensibly, the hotel serves only breakfast and room service – why would you keep an entire restaurant when there are a hundred on your doorstep? To test the theory, we take a one-block wander around the hotel for dinner.
A minute from the hotel, we could choose George Calombaris’s Mama Baba for “Roman-Greco flavours and freshly made pasta”, but plump for the hip new kid of the Melbourne dining scene, Claremont Tonic, a saucy little pan-Asian restaurant that gives off the vibe it has a secret nightclub out the back.
It’s got Vietnamese, it’s got Thai, and of course it’s got the flavour of the month, Korean.
We hoover bo ssam duck and knock back a chenin blanc, and while it’s pricey, compared with many other good options in the area, the service is smooth and professional.
The next morning, we hit the breakfast room, which spills out into the hotel foyer – however the interior tables are squishy and it’s just not warm. The buffet has all you require: lashings of yoghurts, fruit, a decent toaster and cereals, and the hot menu turns up a seriously mean omelette, which comes accompanied by a bacon mountain.
At 10.30am, our room is a disaster zone and I ring downstairs to confirm checkout time. “It’s 11am but I’ll extend you to midday, if you like?” I like, thank you. I could stay even later, for $25, but we opt to pack up and stash the luggage in the car and swim and shower upstairs in the gym bathrooms. The heated indoor swimming pool has a retractable roof for those hot, summer nights, while the small gym is getting a lick of paint.
Facing the Como, Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio is surely a kids’ playground, we reckon, but the shop is packed with adults, cooing over delightful chocpops, banana milk chocolate bars and tiny cakes.
Back at the hotel to check out, I’ve read all the celebrity gumpf about the hotel, but forget rock stars, the foyer is dominated by two young children, albeit clad in gorgeous Japanese-design raincoats, who team up with my progeny for an impromptu play session.
Just when I’m starting to think that it’s toddlers, not rock stars, who are now trashing the hotel rooms, the lift doors open to show a suitably grungy couple in top-to-toe black, with lashings of tatts and facial jewellery. And then, in the lobby, I spy a bloke in a black band T-shirt hauling a few shopping bags full of booze upstairs, and my concerns for the Como’s reputation are assuaged.
She’s still rockin’, she’s just wearing a whole lot more bling.
The Como Melbourne, a hotel of the MGallery Collection, 630 Chapel Street, South Yarra. (03) 9825 2731, mgallery.com
How much From $255 a night. Get a free breakfast for two, worth $50, on stays until January 31.
Top marks Huge airy rooms. The Japanese garden rooms are true serenity in the city.
Black mark Annoying, pricey wi-fi. In 2012, really? Plus the breakfast room is set up like an afterthought.
Don’t miss A dip in the top-floor pool. Yes, it’s heated: we’re in Melbourne.
Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald