Many have forgotten how much fun travel can be after a year of being spooked by state border restrictions — but even during a pandemic there are many exciting new venues to tempt people out of hibernation.
Melbourne in particular is seeing a raft of openings after many hospitality venues saw their plans delayed by the lockdowns due to the coronavirus outbreak.
With the vaccines now being rolled out, and a continuing trend of zero case days in Australia, a weekend away will soon be back on the agenda.
Here are some of the best new things to experience in Melbourne, and why you should go sooner rather than later.
With its instagrammable and sexy vibe, W Hotel, located in trendy Flinders Lane is a great option for those wanting a laidback and creative style of accommodation that maintains all the comfort (and cloud-like bedding) of a luxury hotel.
It was originally due to open last year but the first guests only began arriving last month thanks to the pandemic.
For about $400 a night you can rent a “fabulous” room that features a neon-lit mini bar stocked with local goodies and even boardgames, a large tub and Japanese-style bidet toilets that self-clean when you open the door.
The large “wow suite”, which will set you back about $1500 a night, has a full kitchen and dining table for six people, and seems firmly aimed at bachelor/bachelorette or pre-wedding events, or for those wanting to host glamorous dinner parties.
The focus here is on “discovery” and there is a sense of fun in exploring the room, which features quirky graffiti-style messages.
Many of Melbourne’s famous cafes, bars and eateries are just blocks away and the hotel also has a fantastic new restaurant onsite called Lollo (see below).
After being closed for almost two years, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) has unveiled a light-filled, hi-tech and innovative museum experience at the centre of Federation Square.
The redesign of the space has transformed the once pokey, dark and confusing layout into a welcoming place that encourages people to linger and gather.
The permanent exhibition space has also been revamped into an interactive and lively display of film, TV, video games and digital culture and art.
Displays about social media, costume design and TV shows sit alongside LED artworks inspired by theatre special effects, ancient shadow puppets, Victoria-era magic lanterns and arcade games that you can play for free.
People are encouraged to engage with the displays as many of them are interactive. For example, you can create your own “flipbook” animation clip in a booth and upload this on to your social media accounts through a special Lens collector, which is basically a circular cardboard disc that allows you to “collect” information for reference later.
The Lens allows you to revisit the exhibits when you get home, giving you information as well as links to full video clips or other resources.
It’s free to visit the centrepiece exhibition, called The Story of the Moving Image, but there are time-limited displays. Currently this includes the film You will see me, a fascinating mash-up of media clips that provide an insight into how we perform in front of cameras, which is on until February 16, and Raumlichtkunst, a restored version of the first multimedia projections made in 1926 on nitrate film accompanied by avant-garde music.
There are only five versions in the projection in the world and only one is allowed to be shown at a time. ACMI’s will be shown until February 11.
ACMI also features a brilliant new food and wine bar called Hero with a seasonally-driven menu developed by acclaimed Melbourne chef, Karen Martini.
GET INSPIRED TO GROW YOUR OWN FOOD
One of the hottest tickets in Melbourne is a dinner reservation at Joost Bakker’s 100 per cent sustainable, modern farm in the middle of Federation Square.
The house itself, part of Bakker’s Future Food System initiative, is an inspiring example of how nature can exist within urban spaces.
Pumpkins drip over the sides of a rooftop garden in this modernist structure, where the Yarra River is framed by bean, fruit and vegetable vines.
The small house’s walls are made of straw and its floor tiles are made using recycled glass from Victoria’s Concrete Collaborative.
After a year when many of the gains made towards zero waste living were thrown out the window due to the pandemic, a visit to this structure is a reminder of sustainable principles and how to put them into practice.
It’s also particularly relevant as Australians were warned this week of price rises for fresh fruit and vegetables by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.
Bakker seeks to get people to rethink what they can grow in a tiny space, and the house features aquaponics, solar power, micro-farms and a charcoal tank that all help to grow some of the produce served to diners.
Chefs Jo Barrett and Matt Stone have been living in the structure, which is self-sustaining and zero waste, since last year. Everything they eat is sourced from their garden, which they planted in August.
Barrett says they have harvested 8kg of beans, and they also have marron and golden barramundi grown in tanks, chickpeas, buckwheat, tiger nuts (used to make gluten and dairy free cookies) and lion’s mane mushrooms sprouted out of plastic drums.
You’ll leave their “home” full of fascinating stories, such as a Melbourne woman who grows 100 trout a year in her backyard tank, and suggestions on systems to get your own veggie patch cranking.
The structure is due to come down in April. Lunch and dinner reservations (that can only accommodate 14 people), and costing about $400, are already sold out.
Tours are also sold out but it’s still possible to register for a free talk by Bakker and Barrett on March 24 at Federation Square.
CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE
The free Triennial exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria may be just what COVID-weary masses are searching for.
The wide-ranging exhibition is on until April 18, with the works of more than 100 artists and designers dotted throughout the museum. It is a colourful and lively collection of works featuring many multimedia exhibits that transform gallery rooms through music and projections.
Refik Anadol’s large-scale digital animation greets art lovers with its hypnotising and ever-changing vibrant display driven by quantum computing.
Whimsical clouds hang from a ceiling next to traditional oil paintings, and a room of ceramics is illuminated by a contemporary artist’s changing fluorescent lighting that highlights species at risk of extinction.
The exhibition, held every three years, seeks to present significant projects that demonstrate the intersection between contemporary art, design and architecture.
The interesting range of artworks provide an exciting glimpse of the future while also complementing the museum’s permanent exhibition of masters.
Bonus: If you don’t like crowds then going to a gallery during the pandemic is wonderful as the timed tickets mean there are less people visiting at the same time.
Who opens a new restaurant during a pandemic? Apparently there’s no stopping restaurateurs in Melbourne, with plenty of new offerings in the CBD despite a very tough year where many had to delay their plans.
There has now been a rush of new venues for foodies.
One of the most highly anticipated is the elegant new Chicago-style restaurant Gimlet, which has a caviar service, as well as premium wood-fired meats and seafood. The food here is simply presented but full of flavour.
In the hands of chef Andrew McConnell, a basic crudités plate bursts with crisp flavour, and roast chicken is granted subtle flavour through the use of vadouvan spice mix and curry leaves.
Importantly, they also deliver a fantastic version of their namesake cocktail.
Just a few blocks away, chef Adam D’Sylva (Coda and Tonka) has delivered a creative menu at Lollo, located in the W Hotel. His Italian-Indian heritage is well channelled into flavourful dishes like the duck lasagne and a spicy red duck curry. The menu also spans house-made pate, tataki and steak tartare.
The modern dining space delivers a fancy dining experience without feeling stuffy.
And trust Melbourne to have refined gourmet delivery into a fine art.
Those who aren’t quite ready to commit to a trip, or prefer a long-distance taste of this foodie heaven, Co-Lab Pantry can deliver a variety of locally made, gourmet goodies to your door, across Australia.
This includes hand-rolled potato gnocchi from Melbourne’s Lello Pasta bar, locally made salami, and salted caramel popcorn from Piccolina Gelateria.
COVID hasn’t been all bad.
*The author travelled as a guest of Visit Victoria