Melbourne Travel Guide: Luxury Hotel Concierges' Recommendations

John O'Ceallaigh, The Daily Telegraph, June 25, 2013

An enduringly popular destination with British travellers, Melbourne is Australia's self-proclaimed cultural and sporting capital and one of its most cosmopolitan cities. As the Lions rugby tour arrives in Melboure, concierges from three of the city's best hotels explain how visitors can make the most of their stay in the city, and where they can get the best flat white.

Sharing their knowledge are:
James Ridenour, chief concierge at InterContinental Melbourne The Rialto .
Peter McBrearty, chief concierge at The Langham, Melbourne
Christian Sujer, chief concierge at Park Hyatt Melbourne

I’m new here. Tell me something I don’t know about Melbourne.
James: Melbourne is the most liveable city in the world! We also have the largest tram network in the world.
Peter: We like to think that where our sister city to the north, Sydney, historically received the convicts, we received the culture. Accordingly, while Melbourne may not be quite so much a city of obvious landmarks, many visitors do find that it really does reward anyone happy to wander down its alleys and laneways and immerse themselves in the bars, restaurants and cultural activities. That said, we are also the undisputed sporting capital of Australia!
Christian: Melbourne is the sporting, fashion, food and culture capital of Australia. Try to get to as many restaurants, bars, galleries and big events as you can- there is always something happening.

Which attraction should I definitely make time to see?
The State Library of Victoria is an off-the-beaten-track gem. The galleries in the dome of the LaTrobe Reading Room feature an impressive collection of books purchased when Melbourne was one of the richest city in the world. There are some very interesting historical displays as well.
Peter: The city itself – walk the streets, go down the alleys, explore the laneways. For a city of its overall size, the centre of Melbourne is very compact and pedestrian friendly. On your own, or with a guided walking tour – Melbourne is the attraction.
Christian: Eureka Skydeck, because you will get an immediate idea of how Melbourne spans from the Dandenong Ranges to the ocean with the city and Yarra River in-between. A beautiful view, particularly at sunset.

Which of the “must-visit” attractions should I avoid?
All the Melbourne attractions offer great interest and value, I wouldn't avoid any of them.
Peter: The Docklands precinct is still trying to find its mojo, and while many people ask us about the Lygon Street “Italian” precinct there are better restaurants elsewhere and the Italian flavour of the area has disseminated a little over the years. The same could also be said for Acland Street in St Kilda, where the European nature of the cafes and so on is gradually giving way to more generic outlets. Christian: Harbour Town, which is a discount shopping complex. It isn't in the easiest location, there isn’t much around there and the stores aren’t as worth visiting as DFO South Wharf, another outlet complex. Crown Entertainment Complex, which includes a casino, restaurants and shops is another one - it's busy and very touristy; not really the ‘authentic’ Melbourne.

Is there a particular exhibition I should see while I’m here?
The National Gallery of Victoria 's Australian Collection in Federation Square is excellent. This permanent collection features Aboriginal, contemporary and historical art. The gallery is free to enter but is closed on Mondays.
Peter: The current Monet’s Garden exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria is magnificent and attracting large numbers of visitors. It will be on display until September 8.
Christian: Monet’s Garden at the National Gallery of Victoria is a stunning exhibition devoted to Claude Monet’s iconic garden at Giverny.

Where can I take the best picture of Melbourne?
You will get your best snap of the city in Melbourne's Lanes and Arcades – it’s bustling with people, and full of life and colour.
Peter: For an overview of the city, take a shot from the Eureka Skydeck – the 360-degree views are genuinely spectacular at daytime, dusk and in the evening. Also along the Yarra River at night, facing towards the Princes or King Street Bridges.
Christian: Princess Bridge which spans the Yarra River and looks back onto the city.

I’d like to try something new here – what do you recommend?
Melbourne's street art is superb and can be viewed in various locations around the city centre and inner suburbs. The quality is world class. A few areas to look out for are Hosier Lane, Union Lane and Centre Place. The suburbs of Collingwood and Fitzroy also have excellent street art.
Peter: It’s a little out of town, but the William Ricketts Sanctuary up in the Dandenongs (the foothills outside of Melbourne) has a strange, distinctly unearthly appeal, with mystical sculptures of Aboriginal character emerging from the bush surroundings.
Christian: Visit Melbourne Cricket Ground and National Sports Museum to learn about our rich sporting history and about how important sport is to this city and country.

Are there any sports-related activities you recommend?
Melbourne is the perfect city for sports fans – there’s something happening year round. The National Sports Museum is one of the best museums in town, located in the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground stadium. Of course an Aussie rules football match (Australian Football League) in winter or a cricket match in summer is a must. Melbourne is also host to a six-week-long horse-racing festival called the Spring Racing Carnival which features the famous Melbourne Cup race. We can't forget the Australian Formula One Grand Prix either!
Peter: Attending the Australian Open tennis in January; definitely experiencing an Australian Rules football match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in winter (it’s quite easy to pick up the rules - even for the uninitiated); and the Spring Racing Festival features frocks, fillies and champagne.

Is there an unusual Melbourne souvenir I should buy?
One of the best shops for unusual and fun souvenirs is Melbourne Style located in Clarendon Street, South Melbourne.
Peter: The Melbourne Shop By Lumbi, located down a small laneway in the CBD (Central Business District), is unusual in that not only doe it sell a range of quirky Melbourne specific souvenirs and artistic items, but they are actually made in Melbourne – something that is quite rare these days. Some of the items are unusual enough to bring a smile to the faces of potential purchasers, far more interesting than a stuffed koala that’s been made overseas!
Christian: Ugg boots, or Australian Aboriginal art from galleries around the Queen Victoria Market.

Tell me a phrase or piece of slang I can use to fit in around here.
“Fair dinkum” which means a true, real or honest deal or person
Peter: Perhaps surprisingly, Australians don’t necessarily all use quite as much slang as many people expect, but one local term, many visitors come to adopt, is short, sweet and very appropriate for a good holiday – “No worries”.
Christian: "No worries, mate."

What’s the best restaurant in Melbourne right now?
Ezard which serves a modern Australian a la carte or degustation menu. An excellent choice for carnivores and vegetarians alike with the best vegetarian degustation meal anywhere!
Peter: Always a subjective recommendation, and it can very much depend on our guests’ personal preferences, but Attica, Vue De Monde, or Jacques Reymond are all garnering excellent feedback.
Christian: Our restaurant, radii restaurant & bar, serves beautiful modern European cuisine and was voted ‘Deluxe Restaurant of the Year’ recently. Vue de Monde is another restaurant frequently cited as best in the city.

And where’s best for drinks? I don’t want somewhere touristy.
Hannah's Bar at Epoch Restaurant; it's very Melbourne. Look up and see the original survey plans for the Carlton Gardens etched on the ceiling. Soak up the Victorian architecture and contemporary paintings featured on the second floor of this beautiful terrace home.
Peter: Naked in The Sky, the upstairs bar at Naked For Satan (don’t ask!) in Fitzroy, the Everleigh in Gertrude Street for cocktails, or Lily Blacks in town. Bar Americano (for those who can find it) is also a wonderful spot and possibly the smallest bar in the city – so small it has no seats, but they do an excellent negroni.
Christian: Eau De Vie, an intimate, dimly lit, jazz-infused speakeasy located in Malthouse lane in the CBD. Naked for Satan rooftop bar is a Basque-style pintxos bar with a funky, eclectic rooftop bar that is heated and has views of the city.

Where’s good for listening to live music?
Paris Cat has a great variety of jazz and world music.
Peter: Both Bennett’s Lane or the Paris Cat are wonderful venues for live jazz located right in the CBD. Christian: Bennetts Lane, which features international musicians every night.

Which Melbourne beach do you recommend?
St Kilda beach is the most popular beach and great for people watching. Make sure you visit the iconic St Kilda pier.
Peter: In winter I’d probably recommend looking at St Kilda beach while comfortably ensconced beside the fireplace in Donovan’s Restaurant - as the alternative could well be an advanced case of hypothermia! The best beaches tend to lie outside the metropolitan area and along either the Christian: Mornington Peninsular or Great Ocean Road, which is quite spectacular and a beautiful drive. Brighton Beach for great views towards the city and for taking photos next to the colourful beach boxes.

Where can I get the best flat white in Melbourne?
Patricia on Lt William Street in the city. It's hard to find but worth the effort. The cafe is standing-room only.
Peter: If you asked 10 Melbournians you’d very likely receive 10 different answers, as we’re loud and proud consumers of good coffee and each of us tends to believe our favourite café is without doubt the best in town, but perhaps for history Pellegrini’s in Bourke Street, for the purist Brother Baba Budan in Little Bourke Street, and as an exercise in space utilisation, Cup Of Truth in the Degraves Street Subway to Flinders Street Station. Mind you, there are so many great cafes in and around the CBD that true aficionados of the noble bean may well overdose on caffeine well before they run out of contenders in this category.
Christian: Brunetti - an iconic Melbourne Italian style coffee and cake shop found in four locations from the CBD to Carlton and Camberwell.

I’m going to propose to my partner while I’m here – where should I do it?
Vue de Monde on the 55th floor in the Rialto Towers provides excellence in dining with the best view in Melbourne.
Peter: It’s quite small, and only open a few days a week, but the Eureka 89 restaurant is also an intimate space with a stunning view over and beyond Melbourne – the only risk being that even the view from the bathrooms may cause your paramour to forget the question you’ve just asked them.
Christian: Great Ocean Road, for rainforest backdrops, striking cliff-faces along a coast full of crashing waves.

Who’s the standout creative talent in Melbourne right now – is there someone in particular whose work I should check out before I leave?
Bangarra Dance Theatre, which is home to an aboriginal modern dance troupe whose aim is to tell the story of Aboriginal Australia through interpretive dance.
Peter: As a self-confessed philistine I’d never venture to judge an individual talent, but a popular way to look at a number of emerging local talents is to visit the Rose Street Art Market, open on Saturdays and Sundays and located in a former junkyard in Fitzroy, a bohemian inner-city suburb within easy reach of the city centre.

Thanks for your help. Should I tip in Melbourne?
Tipping is not obligatory in Melbourne; however, you will never offend by offering a tip if you are pleased with the service you receive.
Peter: While tipping in Melbourne (and Australia in general) is certainly appreciated, it is not expected as such and is entirely optional. Guests will often diplomatically ask us for guidance for tipping in restaurants, taxis and elsewhere.
Christian: Tips are not compulsory in Australia but are appreciated; 5-10 per cent is the average.