The Royce Hotel has all the hallmarks of its former Hollywood mansion feel when it was a glitzy showroom, writes Kirstie Bedford.
If a Rolls-Royce were to roll into the lobby across the Italian Carrara marble floor tiles of the newly renovated The Royce Hotel on St Kilda Road and stop right in front of me, it would not for a minute feel out of place.
This former car showroom has paid homage to its former life in the sweetest of ways, starting with the delicious ‘white tea and fig’ scent that permeates through the air conditioning.
The lobby is home to large circular columns of silver panelled chrome. It was a deliberate design effect to replicate the grill on the front of a Rolls-Royce car. There are deep velvet booths and display cases of Paspaley pearls. And it all sets the scene for what is to come.
A Hollywood history
The 1920s building was built for pioneering Australian motorist, Charles Kellow – reportedly the first person to own a car in Melbourne.
It had a lofty gold ceiling with chandeliers, a marble staircase with an iron balustrade and a palm fountain. Inside it showcased Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars, among others.
In the Second World War, the building was drafted into military service, used as the headquarters of the Royal Australian air force. And in 1990 it was eventually redeveloped as a hotel. But it wasn’t until its most recent renovation it held any of its original Hollywood flamboyance.
Room with a view
Throughout the hotel are artworks inspired by German artist and zoologist, Ernst Haeckel. Large floor-to-ceiling framed works of swans and mountains and exotic birds sit among tropical ferns. It’s a theme carried throughout the 94 rooms.
The palette in the rooms, suites and lofts is otherwise classic, neutral tones. There are chandeliers over spacious lounges (in most). Marble coffee tables are perfect for the bottle of Taittinger you can pop on arrival (the hotel has an exclusive partnership with the champagne house).
In our room on the sixth floor, automatic curtains open to a lush, green garden where beyond skyscrapers peak.
You’re close enough to the city that you can take a stroll there, and far enough away to feel like you’re in a pretty country estate, albeit with the quintessential Melbourne trams rolling past the doors of the hotel – not that you’d ever hear them from up here.
Sit in your plush bed, soak in the deep tub (there are Molton Brown amenities) or pour a glass and cheers to the view from your lounge area. This is not a room you’ll be keen to leave in a hurry.
If you’re hankering for a truly historical stay, choose a loft on the ground level, which are the former ‘service bays’ for Rolls-Royce. Each has a downstairs lounge, bathroom and pretty, winding staircase with a tiered chandelier that is the room’s centrepiece. The mezzanine bedroom has a bathroom and plush bed.
Smaller than the sixth-level suites, these lofts carry all the charm of yesteryear.
Time to dine
When hunger calls, pop down to aptly named The Showroom. Cuisine is created by head chef Pawan Dutta, formerly of the Conrad in Tokyo and Maldives (and several years on superyachts).
Dutta’s dishes have a strong British influence – with a touch of luxe. Think sous vide chicken with potato terrine, braised Dutch carrots and whisky jus, and black angus eye fillet with horseradish tarragon butter, fries and watercress.
My pick? Ocean trout ceviche with radish, pine nut, sorrel pesto and Yarra Valley salmon roe.
Here, booths are set well apart so you’ll never hear the conversation of those next to you (even if you want to), and floor-to-ceiling windows mean you can watch the trams (and people) pass by.
Breakfast at The Conservatory is like stepping straight into a light-filled Parisian café. Think white and grey tiles (they’re heated), rattan chairs and white and grey striped billowed fabric overhead.
We drink barista-made coffee and chai lattes and graze on homemade granola with fresh, local fruits and eggs so fluffy they’re cloud-like. Soft Parisian music plays and there’s no need to discuss if we’re lingering for a second coffee.
Above and beyond
A large ballroom above the dining room has an entire wall of chrome created to reflect the radiator of a Rolls-Royce.
There is also a gym, but who needs it when you have the Royal Botanical Gardens on your doorstep? The property pays tribute to its locality with circular patterns in the carpet reflecting the gardens.
If Charles Kellow were alive today, I think he’d be humbled by this tribute to his former glitzy showroom, and after a short walk around the Botanical Gardens, I’m going to pop another glass of Taittinger and cheers to that.