In terms of cities that will have you justifying unnecessary purchases, changing your outfit before dinner, and taking sneaky photos of stylish strangers so you can cop their look, Melbourne is pretty up there.
A friend in Sydney says she thinks we do it better here because we have proper seasons: in Melbourne you need a good winter coat or two, you need a spring trench, you need half a dozen linen dresses for summer. A more consistent climate enables sartorial laziness. Not Melbourne.
Here, you’re kept guessing, which leads to both creativity and a heaving wardrobe. You’ll want to leave room in your suitcase on your next visit. This is a look that travels well.
Checking in at the new Hilton on Little Queen Street in the city, I’m thinking you could stay inside the building the whole time and still wind up with a decent impression of what makes Melbourne tick.
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Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street is an elegant stay.
Opposite the gold-panelled entrance is a storeys-high mural by Kitt Bennett, David Lee Pereira and Jaw. The lobby smells like an Aesop shop, woody and sophisticated, and there are Hunter Lab products in the bathrooms.
Dark wood, velvet and brass decor point to the building’s 1930s heritage, and views of the city remind you you’re very much in the present. The shower is excellent, and I’ve got more than enough time to lazily get ready for dinner. Bliss.
Dinner is downstairs at Luci (that’s loo-chi, not like the woman’s name) where those 1930s touches continue. Art Deco tiled floors, marble surfaces and high ceilings lend it a very opulent, considered feel which is only emphasised when the evening’s entertainment begins.
Dukes Coffee Roasters is tucked away down Flinders Lane.
Each course of this meal is accompanied by an aria from the same part of Italy as the wine and food, sung by a member of the Melbourne Opera’s emerging artists programme. They’re looking to run these again this year.
It’s impossible to overstate how much a spot of Puccini adds to a food and wine pairing. Chef Sam Moore’s delicate, modern Italian food shines.
You can’t visit Melbourne without making kind of a big deal about coffee, so now is an excellent time to pop into Dukes Coffee Roasters on Flinders Lane. Get a little pastry or something too, it’ll enhance whatever you order.
Those who feel like a slightly longer stretch of the legs should pop up to Vacation, on the corner of Flinders and Exhibition Streets, and get the iced black coffee they served with grapefruit soda. Divine.
Light: Works from Tate’s Collection features 70+ installations.
You’ve been wandering, you’ve shopped a little, you’re in need of sustenance. Head to Hero, the restaurant at film museum ACMI, and make sure you give yourself time to wander around the exhibits first. It’s free, and they have the car from Mad Max: Road Warrior and the piano from The Piano. What more could a cinema enthusiast want?
Anyway: lunch. Hero is helmed by celebrity chef Karen Martini, with Philippa Sibley on desserts. Like so many new restaurant openings in Melbourne, Hero was delayed by almost a year, but it’s worth the wait: the menu is seasonal and striking, simple but indulgent.
Hero is the on-site restaurant at ACMI.
If you eat meat, and the vitello tonnato is still on the menu when you make it over, it’s a must-order. You’ll also want to devote some time to Philip Rich’s wine list. You’re on holiday, a bottle with lunch is fine.
If Luci was quiet elegance, tonight’s restaurant is a joyful racket. Supernormal, on Flinders Lane, is all neon and concrete, the kind of place where you might well end up ordering a round of cocktails with the table next to you. It’s noisy, it’s hectic, and it’s very, very good.
Come hungry and order the banquet. They’ll adapt it for dietary requirements and honestly, it’s worth it for the sesame flatbread starter. Of course, the potstickers and the eggplant which come later make their own cases very strongly. We didn’t leave until 11 and were by no means the last table. This is the kind of place that makes you feel cool by association.
Supernormal serves Asian-inspired cuisine.
Treat yourself to a leisurely hotel breakfast. All that pre-sliced fruit feels very fancy, no? Fuel up here, but not to excess, because you know you’re going to find treats while shopping today. We’re heading up through the city to visit the jackets at Acne and all the vintage Levi’s at American Rag.
Then, head north some more for Fitzroy: Gertrude and Brunswick streets are calling. Wander along these two intersecting streets and you’ll find a mix of Australian labels, vintage cowboy boots, homewares and design.
Collingwood’s Smith Street, a block or two east, was recently named the coolest street in the world. It’d be a shame not to have a look.
Smith Street, Collingwood, has been named one of the coolest streets in the world.
If you’ve got any sense you grabbed a banh mi from Trang’s on Smith St earlier, but now it’s time for refreshments. Retire to the lush, green courtyard at Milney’s, tucked just off Brunswick St, and reflect on your excellent purchases. I’ll see you there.
Getting there: Melbourne is a four-hour journey from New Zealand, with major airlines operating multiple flights per week.
Carbon footprint: Flying generates carbon emissions. To reduce your impact, consider other ways of travelling, amalgamate your trips, and when you need to fly, consider offsetting emissions. To offset your carbon emissions, head to airnewzealand.co.nz/sustainability-customer-carbon-offset.
Staying safe: Check safetravel.govt.nz prior to travelling to stay updated on the latest travel advisories.
The writer was hosted by Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street.