Review: The Olsen, Melbourne


A contemporary South Yarra hotel themed on Australian artist John Olsen

Spoonbill Restaurant & Bar at The Olsen

A stay and an education: each of the three Arts Series hotels in Melbourne is named after a prominent Australian artist, its walls covered in reproductions of the artist’s work, the very colour schemes of the rooms deriving from the artist’s palette.

The Olsen, located on Chapel Street in smart, well-to-do South Yarra, takes its name from John Olsen. Each room is equipped with a selection of books on Olsen and other artists, and a DVD documentary (I tried in vain to coax this into life in my room, and settled for looking through one of the catalogues of Olsen’s works instead). In addition, guests have the opportunity to tour the hotel and learn about Olsen’s story and artworks with in-house art advisor Jane O’Neill, who was able to tell me about some of the many tiny, well-hidden galleries squirreled away in Melbourne’s laneways, both in local South Yarra and in the middle of town. It’s possible to become an overnight expert in Olsen – equally, it’s possible to simply enjoy his vast map-like canvases on which frogs and birds skip among impressionistic trails that represent native flowers and rivers.

The rooms draw additional inspiration from Olsen – the décor reflects his colour palette of sunny yellows and moss-greens. Rooms are compact, with a neat, well-stocked kitchenette in each, giving them the air of upmarket student accommodation – somewhat out of step with South Yarra’s wealthy, very grown-up locals. Facilities include a small gym and a glass-bottomed, indoor-outdoor swimming pool on the roof, both disconcertingly close to the conference centre – the clever design means you can see them as you exercise, but they can’t see you, so your breast-stroke won’t derail any vital negotiations.

Well-located at the crossroads of the area’s two main streets, the Olsen is a few minutes’ walk from Chapel Street’s cafes and bars, alongside which Antipodean designers from Alannah Hill to Karen Walker have showcase stores; nearby Toorak Road offers gifts, homewares, and an extraordinary number of hair salons whose spartan interiors, uninhabited, resemble art spaces more than salons. Farther down Chapel Street is Prahran Market, a vast food market (open Tues, Thurs–Sat and for limited hours on Sunday) where you can pick up fresh ingredients, handmade pasta and a bottle of cleanskin wine to take back to your room for a cosy meal. I chose to do this, craving a break from dining out, and so didn’t visit the Olsen’s main restaurant, Steer, a New York-style grill. I did go for an enjoyable brunch at Spoonbill, the ground floor, Alpine-ish brasserie that’s open throughout the day to guests and visitors. In addition to excellent food, Spoonbill affords great people-watching – the lazy brunch that starts at 11am and runs for three or four hours is the natural habitat of the incomparably grand ladies of South Yarra. Breakfast is not included in the price of the room, however, and it isn’t competitively priced – with a wealth of coffee spots mere minutes’ walk away (I love C.C. Gaia, on nearby Avoca Street) it isn’t necessary to stay on-site.

The Olsen, 637–641 Chapel Street, South Yarra, Melbourne VIC3141
(+61) (0)3 9040 1222;