Ovolo, South Yarra. The latest incantation from this luxurious, yet seriously fun, hotel group opened in early April to a post-lockdown Melbourne which, judging by its reception, could not be more ready to embrace it.
The boutique hotel is just up from the intersection of Toorak Road and that once-drawcard shopping strip, Chapel Street. While parts of this cultural hub may have lost their edge in recent years and taken a second hit with the city's lockdown, Ovolo prides itself on being ahead of the curve and there is a definite whiff of recovery in the air, strongly aided by the location's solid cultural back story and excellent bones. Arthouse cinemas, good restaurants, the unmissable Prahran Markets and South Yarra Station are a short walk away.
From the street, it's the window view into Ovolo's vegan restaurant, Lona Misa, that captures attention. Entry to it and the hotel is via an unobtrusive doorway - or should that be a portal? For once inside there's no going back to the sudden everyday-ness of the street.
Colour, chrome, '70s music and works by local and international artists such as Ben Tankard and Mr Brainwash guide you along a corridor to the lobby, where a funky neon faux-firepit with seats, a light well, and a futuristic reception desk slap you to attention.
Downstairs are larger chill-out areas with a pool table, work pods and a separate hide-away party room complete with disco floor. Jewelled tones and a wall of gold-framed portraits greet you at Lona Misa, which has quickly become the area's new go-to place for a drink or a date.
Thankfully all that style is backed up with substance in the rooms, which range from micro-bolt holes to rock star suites with monikers such as "Cher" and "Yoko".
My bright and stylish room is compact yet so cleverly designed that I vow to take some ideas with me. Where's the iron? In the natty receptacle behind the full-length mirror. The safe? In the pull-out cupboard disguised as a row of albums.
Master light switches by the bed and easy-peasy air-conditioning and smart TV controls kills three hotel bug bears at once. There's a wall-mounted TV, rain shower, push-button blind control, plunger coffee and good tea.
Ovolo has stamped its brand with green cred (in-room water filters to refill bottles, divided recycling bins, large toiletry dispensers, vegan food) and generosity (freebies include mini-bar contents, continental breakfast, super-speed Wi-Fi, a drink downstairs during social hour, exercise deals and a bag of snacks).
The in-house Lona Misa features vegan and vegetarian dishes by local luminaries Shannon Martinez and Ian Curley. A taste? Smoked watermelon, refried black beans, pickled cucumber and Guajillo cream or Icrisoy potato and baccala fritters with salsa verde.
If you want to head out, try French classics such as coq a vin at the friendly Chez Olivier bistro a few doors up, or book well ahead for another firm local favourite France Soir.
Good Italian, Chinese and Thai options are also nearby but Prahran Market are a revelation. Do not miss sampling master cheese makers Maker & Monger's to-die-for cheese toasties; a giant chocolate snowball from Naheeda's Delight, or the Greek deli's parmigiana pesto with black truffle dip. If it's your last day at the hotel, spend up big here on meat, seafood and fruit and veg to take away - you won't get better anywhere.
The hotel has no gym, but has partnerships with the nearby One Hot Yoga and Pilates Studio and the Kris Smith Fitstop gym.
Ask at reception about guided food tours through the aforementioned market (Australia's oldest) - a 10-minute walk away.
Before or after a bite at one of South Yarra's many restaurants head to the Village Cinemas at the Jam Factory in Chapel Street or to the arthouse Palace Cinema in the Como Centre in Toorak Road.
The Royal Botanic Gardens with its sound experience, Sonica Botanica: Stories & Sounds from the Gardens (until December 31) is also nearby, as is Fawkner Park with its Moreton Bay figs, elms, poplars and oaks, and tennis courts. It's here you may spot the odd big tennis name during the Australian Open. If you want to head further, trains and trams are also at your doorstep.
Ovolo's signature generosity and attention to detail make this the perfect place for both a quick business visit or to party in Melbourne like it will never be 2020 again.
The hotel's warmth, generosity and fun use of open spaces.
Some of the area's (hopefully temporarily) empty shopfronts.
The writer was a guest of Ovolo Hotels.