For quintessential cosmopolitan Melbourne, there’s no looking past the Collins Street Precinct
For a number of years during my 20s, my girlfriends and I would spend two weekends a year in Melbourne, choosing to spend our hard-earned cash from our casual university jobs on experiencing the Victorian capital. These were always fun-filled, exciting weekends. We loved the change of scenery, we loved the novelty of the trams, we loved the change of climate, and we loved that we could experience a major Australian city that felt nothing at all like Sydney, where we lived, with only a 50-minute flight.
Those trips were of the sort you can easily imagine a group of mid-20s women taking – we stayed in Prahran, went dancing at Electric Ladyland, shopped on Chapel Street and checked out St Kilda… briefly, until we remembered no Sydneysider goes to Melbourne for the beach. These days, my trips to Melbourne take a different tone, and a few months ago I found myself back in the city for an entirely different sort of weekender: a luxurious girls’ weekend with my mum. This time, we weren’t going to leave the CBD – more specifically, we weren’t going to leave the Collins Street precinct. We were going to walk everywhere, taking in the area’s historic architecture and visiting the precinct’s best dining, spa and retail offerings – in other words, the kind of holiday I can definitely get down with.
The Collins Street Precinct stretches from Parliament House in the east to Docklands in the west. It’s considered Melbourne’s most desirable neighbourhood and its most prestigious business address, and this is something I felt as soon as I arrived. Taking an observation-paced amble, I admired beautiful old buildings juxtaposed against a slew of shiny and new designer shops, five star hotels and the city’s famous arcades. I felt like I was in a European city… without the 30 hours of flying and the jetlag.
If that doesn’t already constitute a successful weekend away, I don’t know what does, so here’s how I recommend spending 48 hours in Melbourne’s CBD. Don’t forget your walking shoes.
St. Collins Lane
Ah, St. Collins Lane, where have you been all my life? Located at the former Australia on Collins site, which undertook a $30 million redevelopment in 2014, this gorgeous retail destination now houses 9000sqm of retail space with an exclusive offering of just 30 boutiques, along with a casual dining space that elegantly reinterprets the bad-taste food courts of yesterday.
Meandering through this stunning arcade was one of my favourite parts of the weekend. Until I set foot inside this gorgeous, gleaming building I had no idea that some of my favourite French fashion brands – Maje and Sandro – or English department store, Debenhams, even had stores in Australia. St. Collins Lane is also home to UK womenswear brand Reiss along with Zadig & Zoltaire, Furla, Cerrone, Claudie Pierlot, Coach, Leica Store & Gallery, Adolfo Dominguez and Lacoste, among others.
But aside from the gorgeous retail offering, it’s the design that really wins me over. Shall I begin by mentioning the spectacular, green sculptural, geometric lightscape? This design marvel runs the entire length of the second-floor canopy, elegantly falling through voids at alternating heights to create a breathtaking centrepiece and focal point for the whole arcade. It features thousands of freestanding LED glass bulbs hanging from the ceiling mimicking leaves falling from trees, and the twinkling emerald cylinders are truly beautiful. If I was into selfies, I would definitely take one here…
Overall, the space is contemporary while still being warm and inviting. ARM Architects has seamlessly integrated the sophistication of Collins Street with the gritty vibe of Little Collins Street, while creating a unique retail experience. Each level of the centre also has its own ‘design language’, as the architects put it, so moving from one floor to the next is a journey in itself.
St. Collins Lane
260 Collins Street
Royal St. Collins
St. Collins Lane
If you need another reason to visit St Collins Lane, this one should do the job nicely. The incredibly posh, European-style tea house that is Royal St Collins is located on the Ground floor of St. Collins Lane and is the perfect spot for a champagne brunch, high tea or even lunch. You can choose from an all-day menu of eggs, salads, quiches, sandwiches and soups, but of course we opted for the signature Royal St. Collins High Tea. The tiered beauty comes with a set selection of high tea sweets including macaroons and point sandwiches along with scones served with jam and cream and a choice of coffee or Harney & Sons tea. For an extra $20, add a glass of Veuve Clicquot… you know you want to (and yes, we did).
Royal St. Collins
St. Collins Lane
260 Collins Street
I cannot sing the praises of this new store enough. As if its gorgeous location in the historic – and forever beautiful – Block Arcade wasn’t enough, crossing over the store’s threshold is like being transported to a day spa in your own home. The interior is warm, cosy and inviting, but let’s not harp on about the design because the real reason you go to Essensorie is for the divine face, body and home products that smell even better than they could ever look.
Founded by French-trained botanical perfumer Nicole Thomas, who runs the shop with her charming son, Essensorie is pure comfort, and not in an impulsive, short-lived retail splurge kind of way. The small but charming shop is a lullaby for the senses, and seems to combine all the best bits of every skin/face/body store you’ve ever been into.
The exclusive range of aromatic products, each conceived at Nicole’s country Victorian farm and perfumery, celebrate the artistry of natural perfumery and focus on natural ingredients and essential oils. The products are all 100% pure plant essence fragrances and contain a complex alchemy of scents masterfully formulated with a base, heart and top note – just like a perfume.
Essensorie also focuses on sourcing products that are produced sustainably and certified organic where possible. All body and home products are sulphate-, paraben-, mineral oil-, artificial colour and fragrance-, SLS- and petrochemical-free and no aromas are synthetically derived, so you know that each fragrance you smell is the pure essence of nature, in a bottle.
My pick for weary travellers? The Geranium Bergamot Travel Roll-On Remedy has been designed to alleviate the stress and anxiety of long-haul flights and draining commutes and emanates floral, citrus and leafy notes. It might not emulate the feeling of Business Class but it will certainly calm you down, and the aroma is divine. Believe me when I say it’s scent-sational – it’s so good I’m not even sorry about the bad pun.
The Block Arcade
282-284 Collins Street
Liminal is located at the prestigious Paris end of Collins Street on the ground floor of the T&G Building, which is essentially the office building to end all office buildings (think: cafés, shared working spaces, designer furniture-clad meeting areas, bespoke club-style concierge services… you get the idea). Similarly, Liminal is not your usual office building café.
The eatery is a cafe, wine store and event space all in one, and the food focuses on seasonal produce sourced from local, small-scale growers and producers. It’s farm to table in the urban jungle; food that will make you forget that you’re in the heart of the city. My pick for breakfast is the prawn and cauliflower scrambled eggs on toast with paprika oil. If this doesn’t banish Mondayitis for T&G workers, I don’t know what will… except for maybe some retail therapy at the nearby designer stores dotting the Paris end of Town.
161 Collins Street
Garçon Paris Steakhouse
Staying with the French theme in Melbourne’s le petit Paris, French brasserie Garçon Paris Steakhouse is a must-visit for a sensational steak-frites affair in a traditional brasserie straight out of the City of Love. Located off Collins Street at Alfred Place, the restaurant opened in July 2018 with a menu inspired by Paris’ famous steakhouses, and after digging into the ginormous, signature steak-frites as well as a fresh garden salad and the best French onion soup I’ve ever had, it’s fair to say this joint is the real deal for French bistro fare.
And the food isn’t even the whole picture. The interior is cozy and inviting with a style inspired by tongue-in-cheek 1980s Paris, and if you’re lucky enough to be served by the restaurant’s manager, Clive, you’ll also be giggling your way through the meal – mouth full of fries, no less. He’s the kind of character a Parisian steakhouse would have had in the 80s, and he really knows his way around a wine list, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself trying wines you’ve never even heard of – it’s all in the name of joie de vivre.
Garcon Paris Steakhouse
6 Alfred Place
Botanica Day Spa
When it’s time to get your pamper on, it’s time to head to an oldie but a goodie: InterContinental Melbourne at the Rialto, where you’ll find Botanica Day Spa. Lovely soft and elegant interiors ensure you’ll exhale the moment you arrive, as exactly as I did. I opted for a 60-minute massage, and my therapist was evidently experienced and skilled, targeting the various knots in my shoulders while still ensuring I stayed relaxed – I’m not here for a workout, after all – this is spa time, not boot camp.
My mother chose a Dynamic Resurfacing Precision Peel – the ultimate in beauty-meets-science skincare, targeting the signs of ageing and uneven skin tone through powerful exfoliation and renewal. Needless to say, when her treatment was complete, and I emerged with massage face, I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was some confusion around who in fact was the mother and who was the daughter in the relationship…
Want more Melbourne CBD Recommendations? The below are some other excellent eateries to try:
Trinket Flinders Lane
This pizza and cocktail bar is always a good option for an after-work aperitif or a late-night tipple. Not to mention, there’s a hidden cellar bar located through a wardrobe… straight out of a C.S. Lewis novel.
Oli & Levi
A top-notch coffee shop with a chilled-out and relaxing ambiance, Oli & Levi is an ideal spot for breakfast and lunch. Be sure to try their delicious egg puff pastry, available in a variety of flavours like ham and chilli jam, and jalapeño and cheddar.
Lucy Liu Kitchen & Bar
One of Melbourne’s trendiest Asian restaurants, Lucy Liu offers a variety of share plates and a bespoke drinks list. Don’t leave without trying the barramundi and scampi dumplings.
Lello Pasta Bar
The place for pasta aficionados, Lello’s pastas are all made by hand every day. Go here for delicious Italian comfort food in a cosy and romantic environment.
With expertly-plated Peruvian dishes, the word on the street is only in-the-know locals know about this joint, so you’re welcome. Expect impressive wine and cocktails and good moods all round.
The Sherlock Holmes
A casual, English-themed bar with a rustic-chic interior serving craft beer, share plates and classic pub grub.