Who are your favourite painters and what sort of style of art do you like? When you look at paintings, do you see the same things that others do? It perhaps follows reason that if you are a food lover, you might like an artist that paints food. Staring up at The Olsen, I see a fantastic illuminated painting in yellow hues that resembles a ball of the sun. I later learn that it is called paella and suddenly, it all makes sense. Of course it is paella!
I'm in Melbourne for a very quick visit to try out The Olsen and their restaurant Spoonbill. Inside the lobby is a large framed contemporary Landscape painter John Olsen original. The Art Series Hotels is a relatively newish concept started in 2006 in which three Melbourne hotels are dedicated to three Australian artists. There is also The Cullen and The Blackman with The Olsen being the flagship hotel. There are several original Olsen paintings as well as several prints on the ground, all from the owner's private collection.
Service at the hotel is very friendly and personable and I go upstairs to my room. I was a little surprised at the room size, it is small at 24 square metres, It features a kitchenette on the right and a king sized bed with a small balcony on the left. The view is of the tennis courts nearby and I hear the gentle thwacking of the tennis balls which remind me of popcorn. There is a large art book called William Creek and Beyond left open on the bed. This is the book of the exhibition that the Art Series Hotels owner commissioned in 2001, where he asked 10 Australian landscape artists to paint a series of oils and etchings.
The bathroom in this deluxe balcony room is small, there is no bath and the toiletries are made up of shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, grooming kit, shower gel, shoe care and soap. The mini bar makes me giggle; there's a big lollipop and four types of vitamins (for men, women, liver and sleep well). Teas are by T2 and the mini bar is very reasonably priced with a soft drink for $3.50. Internet is charged at either $3 an hour or $10 for 24 hours which is a reasonable cost and the speed is quite fast.
Other pluses are easy powerpoints to work with and a big flat screen television. They also hire out scooters, smart cars and bikes to guests (smart car hire is $10 an hour) and the location is excellent right on Chapel Street and the shops nearby with a stretch of vintage shops or high end boutiques a short walk away. A couple of things: the iPod dock and clock are blinking showing no time (and I have not the wits nor the time to reset it) and there is no place for the luggage apart from on the floor at the door.
One of the most important things is the bed which is extremely comfortable and can be purchased along with linen and keychains and luggage tags. There is also a kitchenette for self catering. I usually think of self catering as an option for long term guests or families although I don't know if this is what I'd consider a family hotel.
Later that evening I meet my friend Nic for dinner downstairs at Spoonbill restaurant and bar which is their signature restaurant. I'm glad for the proximity and the fact that I don't need to don a coat for the chilly weather. The restaurant uses herbs from their own edible herb garden and John Olsen's paella dish is one of their signature dishes. It seems only fitting given the enormous reproduction of his paella painting and the menu reflects his Mediterranean travels.
The room itself is welcoming with booth seating as well as free standing tables and bar tables with high partitions for privacy. There is a giant woven structure that reminds me of a hornet's nest and the bar shows the specials or signature items in chalk. The menu has a map of Australia and points to where the menu's produce comes from.
Smoked almonds and olives
I find the salted smoked almonds quite addictive and polish most of them off while Nic likes the olives.
Tacos $6.50 each
Shortly after, the first tacos arrive and there are two types: a lemongrass and chilli snapper, red onion and coriander which is strongly flavoured with lime and reminds us of a ceviche filling. There is also a soft taco filled with Wagyu rump, avocado, dried tomato, lettuce and emmental cheese which is nicely balanced and is both of our favourite.
Scallops $18 for three
"I have to take a photo to send to my husband" Nic says as her hubby is a huge scallop fan. These are a beauty with a sweet apple puree, thin radish and apple julienne and a thin slice of morcilla (Spanish black pudding) sausage and a sweet Pedro Ximenez reduction to dress it.
Zucchini flower $5 each
A surprise course were the zucchini flower, beer battered and filled with goats cheese on a preserved lemon guacamole which gives it a slightly different flavour to regular lemon.
Otway Ranges Pork $31
The mains arrive and the first is a square of slow cooked belly with a jellied top, an apple coleslaw, a green broad bean & potato puree and two pieces of crispy crackling. The pork belly is so rich and given that we've had so many entrees it is hard to finish it all but the texture is soft and creamy. I did however miss the crackling or crispy skin that sometimes comes with pork belly.
John Olsen's famous paella $30 for 1 person
The paella comes as a serve for one, two or four and we had a serve for one. It was filled with a lot of seafood from clams, prawns and mussels and chorizo (although the chorizo was in one corner clustered together). It was strong with safforn and slightly wetter than paellas that I've tried although the flavour is good and the seafood generous and nicely cooked.
Asparagus, egg and jamon salad
This salad had us divided. I was surprised that this was fridge cold including the plate and so was another table where the woman asked this to be heated for her. However, Nic was quite happy with this cold.
A Taste of Chocolate $14
Billed as a "selection of chocolate decadence" there were three parts to this dessert. Firstly, there was a chocolate ganache triangle and then there was a thick fudgey rectangle with a rich chocolate sauce on top which was so thick and dense and chocolatey. There were raisins inside this and you could just have a little square of this and have any chocolate craving satisfied. The last component was a scoop of vanilla ice cream which was a good partner for the rich chocolate.
Apple Delicious $14
Another three parter, there was a sublime apple jelly and calvados panna cotta - slightly firmer than we've had, There was also a refreshing apple sorbet which tastes of pure apple and a mille feuille filled with a similar filling to theapple puree from the scallops which isn't bad but perhaps the element that we loved the least out of the three. Both Nic and I liked both the desserts but we couldn't choose one over another as they both satisfied different palates.
I feel sorry for Nic who must brace herself to go back out into the cold. Me, I'm going upstairs for a sleep where I dream that the sun has turned into a giant ball of paella.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever tried an Art hotel and if so, what did you think of it? And do you use kitchenettes in hotel rooms or do you tend to eat out?
NQN was a guest of The Art Series Hotels
637-641 Chapel Street South Yarra VIC 3141
Tel: +61 (03) 9040 1222
637-641 Chapel Street, South Yarra 3141
Tel: +61 (03) 9040 1333