This review of The Prince in Melbourne is taken from our guidebook Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection Australia/New Zealand.
Everyone needs a hometown hotel. There’s something deliciously extra-indulgent about ringing down for room service or getting your socks tidied up when, just a couple of blocks away, your own bedroom looks burgled and the fridge festers with a mouldy jar of pesto and a parmesan block so hard you could repel intruders with it. It’s even more life-enhancing when the said hotel is home to one of Melbourne’s best restaurants, most luxurious spas and a boho mix of sophisticated vodka bar, divey public saloon and iconic live-music venue. So it is that St Kilda’s deco delight, the Prince, is a local love shack for this particular Mr & Mr Smith.
We arrive today, on a balmy and even more illicit mid-week evening, to celebrate Mr Smith the Just Younger’s forty-something birthday. It’s one of those perfect late summer afternoons – a hair-rustling breeze off the bay, light sharp enough to cut paper and a temperature in the high 20s I have learned to call mild.
It’s a little over a year since the last time we were here, sleeping for a nanosecond between a riotous civil partnership and a hung-over early-morning dash to the airport for an LA and Aspen ‘honeymoon’. The Prince is that kind of hotel – great for life’s Big Events. It’s certainly sleekly theatrical on arrival, with its minimalist double-storey reception backed by an abstract grey-green artwork and black staircase.
Welcomed back with minimal fuss, we are taken to our room, a balconied bolthole on buzzing Fitzroy Street with views down to the water. We all know that when it comes to ocean views Melbourne can’t compete with its dramatically harboured sister city to the north, but with the low sun streaming through the plane trees outside and the faint sound of clattering mastheads making it up from the marina, it’s hard to complain.
Tonight’s plan is simple: quick shower (the Aurora products are always a treat), dress for dinner and a vodka pre-prandial at Mink Bar in the basement. The rooms are fairly spacious at the Prince and have an uncluttered masculine style – dark woods, chocolate-grey carpets, simple white bedlinen with obligatory mohair throw – which we love but some find a little cold. The hotel is such a phantasmagoria of amenity options, though, you’re unlikely to want to plump up the pillows and watch cable anyway.
I have to say Mr Smith the Just Younger has scrubbed up very nicely for his birthday treat. He’s often told he looks like Charles Dance (mostly by his mother), but tonight it’s more casually suited rock star; there’s a cheerfully futile ruffling of plumage from a glamorous table of tanned and lithe St Kilda girls as we enter. We toast them from our clubby high-backed chairs and remember last year’s chance encounter in the small hours of the morning with the charming and bespectacled creator of Harvie Krumpet, Oscar-winning Australian animator and local boy Adam Elliot. We can’t remember who was more drunk. The Prince is that kind of place, too.
A Mai Tai and some neat Zubrowka under our belt, we wander back upstairs for dinner. Having recently celebrated its tenth birthday, Circa has freshened up, moving the dining spaces into its light central courtyard and trading its former pink and white decor for a voguish mix of grey banquettes, zingy yellow and white chairs, graphic wooden tables and sinuous metal pendant lamps, backdropped with shelves of homegrown herbs. The Asian- and Pacific-accented dishes taste and look just as good. This evening it’s exquisite barramundi and celebratory Tasmanian sparkling that hits the spot. Supremely well fed and slightly tipsy, we call it a night.
Luckily, tonight’s not a gig night and there’s work on the tram tracks outside, so the screeching and rattling so familiar to Melburnians is soothingly absent. We sleep like babies, in other words, and after a quick coffee and beautifully buttery croissant at downstairs Il Fornaio (Circa does its own, knockout breakfast, but the more relaxed streetside café is our local anyway), we are ready for our next and last treat at the generous Prince kampong: the Aurora Spa Retreat.
Ushered to the upstairs lounge, overlooking an expansive deck through Moroccan-inspired steel screens, we’re soon supping green tea in fluffy mushroom-hued robes and being introduced to our softly spoken masseurs. I opt for a good old Bliss Massage, which doesn’t disappoint, but I’ve booked a special detox treat for Mr Smith the Just Younger: a hydrotherapy Rainshower Treatment that takes place in a private steam room. A good thing too, it turns out, since the treatment involves standing upright against the wall in your underpants and being sprayed by a high-pressure water hose. It’s very exhilarating apparently, as well as exfoliating.
Too soon, then, our little steal-away birthday treat comes to an end. We check out as late we can, have a final coffee at Il Fornaio and postpone our five-minute journey home to pop in to yet another Prince offshoot, the Prince Wine Store; it’s one of the few places in Melbourne where you can buy our favourite tipple, Beaumes de Venise. The culture-forming pesto and parmesan concrete need company in the fridge. We’ll be back soon of course; the Prince is our hometown hotel.