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Docklands is on the western fringe of Melbourne's CBD and it's still a work in progress: Peppers is the area's first five-star hotel, right beside Etihad Stadium. Just step outside and you're on the stadium's concourse.
Peppers Docklands occupies the first five floors of a new building. The hotel's restaurant, MOMAMI, is on the ground floor, with residential apartments above the hotel. One side of the building looks out onto the Yarra River and the Bolte Bridge, which lights up dramatically at night. The heated outdoor pool and glassed-in gym are in the residential building next door, which will soon be connected by an internal walkway (at the moment, you have to walk out the street entrances). Both have spectacular views of the city skyline. Walk around the side of the hotel to spot a classic Melbourne sight – a commissioned piece of artwork that took leading street artist RONE 250 hours to complete.
Owing to the architect's whimsy, of the 89 rooms, there are 60 different shapes. So if you like a particular room, remember its number for return visits. Room sizes range from the teensy Peppers Petite, at 14 square meters, up to the four Premium Suites. Sitting side-by-side, the suites can be linked together to create a two-bed apartment. There are inter-connecting rooms and the Queen Queens – which have two queen beds in a spacious room – sleep five with a rollaway. Take note, three-kid families. Free high-speed broadband has just been installed, and the hotel's compendium will be loaded onto the tv (so no sticky plastic folders).
I score a Premium Suite, the top room category and the only one with a separate lounge area furnished with a pair of clubby leather chairs. I love the picture of the old tram which has been printed onto the wall above the bed – it's just so Melbourne, as is the colour scheme of charcoal and white, with sophisticated pops of vivid yellow. The wool throw on the king bed is by Melbourne brand St Albans, while the rosella shampoo and Davidson plum moisturisers are by Aussie brand Appelles. The balcony is sunny and the only downer is the lighting around all the mirrors: whoever designed the room's lighting has never walked into a lobby with (unintentional) clown make-up.
Despite Melbourne's plethora of exceptional restaurants (from the pool, you can spy Vue de Monde, up on the Rialto building's 55th floor), plan to brunch in the hotel's restaurant, MOMAMI, from 6.30am until 3.30pm. Order the crayfish omelette served with a green papaya salad and give yourself a pat on the back. In the evenings, the restaurant moves firmly into Asian fusion under delightful head chef Tony Moss, coaxed down from his eyrie atop Melbourne's DoubleTree by Hilton. Expect an excellent wine list with plenty of interesting choices by the glass. Regionality is a key focus, with local sourdough, free-roaming duck eggs and chevre all starring on Bendigo Pottery's handmade plates, as well as a range of Victorian brews and the Yarra Valley's Four Pillars Gin.
WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR
Docklands is still working on its groove, so best to head into the CBD for Melbourne's signature sneaky bars and barbecue restaurants, which are so hot right now – try Fancy Hanks (456 Queen St), San Antone (Crown Melbourne, Southbank) or Meatmaiden (195 Little Collins St), to name but a few. March madness hits with the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival (4-13 March, melbournefoodandwine.com.au) which coincides – perhaps ironically – with the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (7-13 March, vamff.com.au).
This hotel was built for the events market – fans attending footy games and the biggest international concerts are within its sights. However, owing to its generous sleeping arrangements, it should also prove attractive to double daters and larger families who don't want to split up.
HOW TO GET THERE
Peppers Docklands is a five-minute walk from Southern Cross Station, which is where the Skybus service from Melbourne Airport terminates. See skybus.com.au. It's also on Melbourne's free City Circle tram route (No. 35) and a Melbourne Bike Share station. See ptv.vic.gov.au, melbournebikeshare.com.au.
Rooms at Peppers Docklands cost from $289 a night, 679 La Trobe St, Docklands, Melbourne. Phone 1300 987 600, see peppers.com.au.
LOWLIGHT Gloomy bathroom lighting makes for bad make-up, and no mirrors in the lifts, for those of us who like to touch up before we touch down in the lobby.
HIGHLIGHT Give chef Tony Moss his head for a flawless eve of grazing on seared scallops, kingfish sashimi, smoked quail and wagyu beef.
Belinda Jackson was a guest of Peppers Docklands.