At last! Someone’s designed a boutique hotel with me squarely in mind. The Adelphi, a Melbourne city-centre institution, underwent a substantial refurbishment late in 2013 and reopened as “Melbourne’s first dessert-themed hotel”. Why yes, I will, thank you.
As to what this theme entails, it’s really only at dinner on the second night that things cohere for me. Before that, I’m having to slightly work to knit the various thematic elements together. The rooms – spacious and well-designed – have monochrome zigzag carpets that somewhat remind me of liquorice allsorts; above the minibar there’s a glass vase crammed with packets of popcorn, jelly beans and fairy floss; guests are given a “drinks voucher”, in the form of a striped straw, to redeem at the ground-floor bar on one of a number of exceptionally sweet cocktails; and at turn-down you’re given a macaroon for before bed. (Macaroons remain a big deal in Melbourne, it seems, despite a charming inability of the Australian accent to cope with the word. You tend to hear it pronounced like someone’s surname: “McCarron”.) Some thought has gone into the rooms’ quirky fixtures and fittings – perhaps too much in the case of the occasional table made from a strip of steel folded into three parallelograms, and which I was unable to approach without tripping over one of its extrusions.
Yet the bathrooms are all stainless steel and frosted-glass walls: pleasingly clinical, but not very dessertish – I found myself wondering whether they’re meant to represent the industrial kitchens where sweets are made – and in providing toiletries that are botanical, rather than sweetie-scented, the Adelphi has surely missed a trick; I’d have plumped for Caudalie, whose vineleaf-scented products remind me overwhelmingly of the floral gums I used to adore as a child.
Elsewhere, the hotel is a confection (sorry) of bright colours, pleasantly lurid artwork (of which there is, refreshingly, none in my room) and plated, mirrored walls and ceilings. The reception desk is styled as a trailer pulled by a sculpted wireframe horse. It’s fun, jazzy, and informal; the restaurant and bar spills over beyond reception so you could, should you wish, have your evening meal at the very front of house, looking out on Flinders Lane. You could also have it below the hotel, downstairs at Ezard. Chef Teague Ezard’s multi award-winning restaurant has been the Adelphi’s basement tenant since the turn of the century. A write-up of Ezard’s cooking is beyond the remit of this review; suffice it to say that’s what happening upstairs is no poor relation.
One major, indeed now iconic, boon for a hotel in the very heart of this city: there’s a rooftop swimming pool, narrow but long, which catches the sun for much of the day, and which partly overhangs the street, so you can recover from a bracing length by peering down through its glass bottom at the toy-town cars and people nine storeys below. It’s accessed via a stairwell at whose top is a mural based on a famous Aussie cider advert – happening upon it is a little like taking a shortcut down one of this city’s famous alleyways and encountering a hidden work of street art. The pool’s surrounding area feels like it could do with a little bit of smartening up – I couldn’t quite work out if the two barbecues behind the pool were defunct, or functioning items for rooftop parties; presumably the latter, since this area stays open until a very reasonable 10pm – but the very fact of actually being able to go upstairs (rather than downtown) for a swim more than compensated.
Something was prickling at me as I went down for dinner after my dip. It was partly that, in a monumental lapse of taste, the Adelphi has christened its regenerated restaurant Om Nom, a name which causes my teeth to itch as I type it
Something was prickling at me as I went down for dinner after my dip. It was partly that, in a monumental lapse of taste, the Adelphi has christened its regenerated restaurant Om Nom, a name which causes my teeth to itch as I type it. I have a hard enough time resisting deleting Facebook friends who use the phrase about some dinner they’ve eaten; seeing it used as the name of an ostensibly serious restaurant puts me in mind of nothing more than those stories of repressed businessmen who like to dress up as babies and be spanked by a bored woman pretending to be Nanny. Moreover, it drastically undersells what is, it transpires, a serious restaurant: gimmicky the menu may be, relegating half a dozen savoury options (many of which have sweet syrupy glazes and the like) to a distant quadrant in favour of all manner of desserts, traditional or “liquid” (ie cocktails), and the jauntily-headed wine lists (“Whimsical Whites”, “Vivacious Reds”).
I have a sweeter tooth than almost anyone I know, but I had some misgivings, all swept aside when my duck with celeriac purée, cider jelly and galangal honey sauce arrived: to my surprise, this was grown-up, sophisticated cooking, handsomely presented, and quite excellent. The duck – four nuggets of breast, and two little cylinders of confit leg – was perfectly cooked; the honey sauce subtler than I’d feared; and only the domes of celeriac purée, mint-green and decidedly reminiscent in texture and flavour of skooshy cream from a can were a little off. Of the dozens of dessert options, I picked an “apple” comprising a white chocolate sphere painted green to resemble the fruit, inside which were layers of caramel, poached apple, and a lemongrass mousse which gave the dish a nice perfumed heat. Frankly, though, given world enough and time (and an exceptionally stringent gym routine), I’d have liked to work my way through the mango and shiso profiteroles, a Basil Garden of basil and white chocolate, and even an Avocado Mousse which sounded just weird enough to work, surrounded with flavours of caramel, coffee and chocolate. And then I’d have moved on to the liquid desserts.
It struck me, as I realised this, that it’s precisely the restaurant you’d take a 12-year-old daughter for her birthday, as a sort of entry-level introduction to fine dining
Where this restaurant – I am not going to type the name a second time – succeeds, then, is in a kind of bait-and-switch. Styling itself as a dessert bar where one might decide on a whim to pop in for a late sweet (it stays open until midnight), or even to repair from a previous meal where desserts weren’t as enticing, this place then surprises with its quality of food. The crowd when I was in were early twenties scenesters enjoying the hanging sofa seating, girlfriends catching up with gossip over dinner, and, overwhelmingly, families with at least one young child. It struck me, as I realised this, that it’s precisely the restaurant you’d take a 12-year-old daughter for her birthday, as a sort of entry-level introduction to fine dining (“I don’t like it,” I overhear one wee girl joshing her parrents as she digs into her colossal dessert. “I love it!”). It’s great fun, cynicism-lancing, the food is excellent – and it’s utterly unthreatening.
Even the waitress gets in on the act: “Here it comes for you,” she says, delivering my main course, for all the world like a mother bringing a pusher-full of baby food close to a child’s mouth: “Here comes the aeroplane!” C
Adelphi Hotel Melbourne, 187 Flinders Lane, VIC 3000, Australia
+61 3 8080 8888; adelphi.com.au