Paul Kalina gets a taste of the high life as a former celebrity bolt-hole regains its star status.
At one time, the Melbourne's Como Hotel was the only destination worthy of fashionistas, jet-setters and what were known in F. Scott Fitzgerald's era as "swells". When it opened, it was prized, south-of-the-river digs; a luxury bolt-hole for visiting celebrities, bang in the middle of trendy shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and a stone's throw from the MCG and the Yarra.
Then its crown was stolen by interlopers - including the Art Series Hotel chain, whose flagship Olsen opened for business two years ago, - and by demographic changes in that pocket of the city.
All of which goes some way to explaining the hotel's top-to-bottom, floor-by-floor makeover, which is now complete, and its name change to The Como Melbourne - MGallery Collection.
From Chapel Street, one descends a bank of wide steps to arrive in an elegant and expansive lobby decorated with white leather couches, armchairs, vases and small urns filled with apples (three of which the infant getting his first taste of the high life will later claim).
Within seconds of arriving, we are greeted by one of several attentive staff members milling about and are quickly on our way to our fifth-floor open-plan suite.
It's a large room of understated elegance that is as seductive on the eye as Don Draper's office. Indeed, the Como's interiors have elements of that Mad Men look down pat: white walls, clean lines that are free of clutter or fussy ornamentation, simple but bold furniture, and round pendant lamps that rhyme nicely with a scattering of decorative bowls and vases.
Adjacent to the door is a compact kitchen with sink, concealed microwave and fridge and a table for four. There's a desk, couch and armchairs, a king bed surrounded by replicas of Anna Castelli Ferrieri's iconic round storage unit (some hotel traditions die hard, however, as there's a crisp Bible inside one) and a floor-to-ceiling framed mirror, which is angled slightly away from the wall to add to the illusion of space.
The generously sized bathroom has a walk-in shower, vanity and spa bath.
Although the room faces south and it's a grey and miserable afternoon, it is flooded with light, courtesy of two floor-to-ceiling windows, from which there is a clear view of the elegant Japanese gardens that belong to rooms several floors down.
And then we ate The rain is pelting against the windows, but despite being ready for dinner, there's no motivation to leave our temporary haven. The room-service menu is consulted and 30 minutes later, a trolley arrives bearing some trusty hotel staples: a burger, a pizza and a kid's serving of pasta. It's unexceptional comfort food rather than a meal you would expect to be served in a comparable upscale cafe, but no one's complaining as the shades are drawn and we settle back with books, magazines and a make-shift cubby-house of cushions.
The deal maker On the sixth floor, beneath a retractable roof, is the heated pool. Thankfully, we're the only ones there, given the ear-splitting shrieks of excitement from the toddler as he dives off the pool's edge into expectant arms for what seems like an eternity (the pool has a uniform 1.2-metre depth, so children require supervision).
Stepping out The fashion hub of Chapel Street is at the doorstep, as is the Como Centre and cinema, and an array of cafes, restaurants and bars. Book ahead if you want a table at Mamababa, the hot-ticket venue in George Calombaris's expanding empire. Discreetly tucked away on nearby Tivoli Road is MoVida Bakery, where we breakfast on good strong coffee and beautifully simple open sandwiches of egg, poached salmon and avocado. Had we known, we would have taken some of their prepared dinners to the hotel. Next time, perhaps.
The Como Melbourne
— MGallery Collection
Address 630 Chapel Street, South Yarra.
The verdict Designer accommodation without fussiness in the heart of South Yarra.
Price From $225 for a studio suite king to $275 for an open-plan suite midweek; $355 for the open-plan suite at weekends. Reservations 9825 2222, see mirvachotels.com/como-melbourne.
Getting there South Yarra is five kilometres from the city centre and is serviced by trains and trams. Valet parking is available, and there's a public car park underneath the hotel.
Perfect for A dose of retail therapy, a night on the town or an indulgent city escape.
Wheelchair access Yes.
While you're there Chapel Street and nearby Toorak Road are full of restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs.