It's Art Series but not as you know it. The Chen defies the boutique city hotel formula with its suburban locale in Box Hill, about 15 kilometres east of central Melbourne. The hotel is part of the $330 million Whitehorse Towers development, and a bold push to make Box Hill a second CBD.
The eighth installment from the Art Series Hotel Group, The Chen (operated by Mantra) opened in November 2017 and is an homage to the Chinese-born abstract artist and three-time Archibald Prize finalist, Zhong Chen. The artist lives in Box Hill, home to Melbourne's largest Chinese community, and almost 300 of his paintings – influenced by Chinese horoscopes, calligraphy and 14th-century literature – adorn the hotel's walls.
The 100 guestrooms and lobby occupy the first six floors of the largest of the twin towers which, at 36-storeys, is the tallest residential building outside the CBD. The second tower features a dreamy 24th-floor rooftop pool with distant views of the Melbourne skyline, as well as a gym and conference facilities.
There are 511 residential apartments across the two towers. Already a major transport hub, with two large hospitals, a TAFE and vibrant dining and shopping scenes, Box Hill may have just put itself on the map. Walking through the light-filled lobby under a canopy of gold ribbons, set by splashes of Chen's colourful works, it certainly doesn't feel like the 'burbs.
A studio suite with balcony. Photo: Lucas Allen
My corner suite is spacious and bright, with floor-to-ceiling windows and muted decor that allows Chen's works to really pop. Guests can learn more about the painter via the dedicated art channel, in-house art library or on a free tour. There's a well-equipped kitchenette tucked away off the entrance and a compact bathroom that's perhaps disproportionate to the size of the room.
The bed, by AH Beard, is the real hero. The king is luxuriously comfortable and, in keeping with Art Series tradition, can be purchased along with the linen. There's a decent mini bar and some on-demand items such as socks and hairspray. The only disappointment was the view. Tall the towers may be, but the rooms don't make it into double digits, so my views comprised of a shopping centre carpark and glimpses of the Dandenongs.
There are two on-site restaurants – Whitehorse Chloe, a modern Australian café, and Golden Lily, a Yum Cha eatery – but neither is open during my visit. Not to worry. Box Hill is a melting pot of Asian cuisine, renowned for its piquant aromas wafting through the streets and barbecued ducks hanging in shop fronts. We try Tien Dat, a delicious mid-range Vietnamese restaurant in Carrington Road. It's midweek but packed and I'm grateful we booked. In the morning we visit Red Cup Café, a cosy corner eatery serving generous plates of delicious breakfast fare, baked goodies and great coffee.
There are two gardens nearby (Box Hill and Kinglsey), regular exhibitions at the Whitehorse Art Space, and retail shops at Box Hill Central (a stone's throw from the hotel). The shopping centre doubles as the train station and can whisk passengers into the city in 20 minutes (express). The tram is a longer option, but there's a stop right outside the hotel.
Box Hill is also a handy base for a daytrip to the Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley, and a short drive to Westfield Doncaster. Guests can hire The Chen's signature smart car to get around, or hit the pedals on a Lekker bicycle.
The Chen serves up everything there is to love about the Art Series – comfort, culture and cool. The location could be a tough sell, but the group is known for thinking outside the (city) square.
It's hard to pass up a rooftop pool, and The Chen's is superb.
A view like The Chen's is begging for a rooftop bar, but there are no food and beverage facilities on the 24th floor, and very limited sun lounges.
The Chen, 850 Whitehorse Road, Box Hill. Rooms from $180 a night. See artserieshotels.com.au/chen
OUR SCORE OUT OF FIVE
Catherine Best was a guest of The Chen.