Disclosure: I dined courtesy of Spoonbill and The Olsen hotel
I took art in my first year of high school, but quit when I realised that my drawing skills were limited to cartoon horses and cows. Funnily enough, doodles and cartoons won’t get you good grades in art – weird right? Despite my low artistic skills, when I received an invite to dine at Spoonbill restaurant along with an art tour of the Olsen Hotel, I was really interested in learning more about the artworks there.
The Olsen Hotel is part of a series of boutique art hotels in Melbourne. The Olsen, in South Yarra, is named after the Australian artist John Olsen, possibly one of Australia’s most accommplished artists. John Olsen’s works are typically landscapes, depicted in an abstract way via a top down view (though he doesn’t consider himself an abstract artist). He was awarded the Order of Australia in 2001, as well as winning several Australian art prizes such as the Archibald in 2005 for his self portrait – Janus faced.
As with the other art hotels – the Cullen in Prahran and the Blackman on St Kilda Road – The Olsen is “embedded with the spirit” of the artist that it’s named after, as well as being decorated throughout with original works and prints.
We started at the Spoonbill bar with a champagne cocktail and a bite to eat before we were introduced to the Olsen’s in-house art curator Jane O’Neill.
We had a wander around parts of the hotel while Jane chatted to us about John Olsen and his art. This was a fantastic opportunity and I found that I enjoyed the paintings so much more as Jane explained the inspiration and the symbolism behind them.
We even got the chance to poke around in one of the rooms. It looked very comfortable – understated and elegant.
After the tour we wandered up to the private dining area in Spoonbill where the table had been set up beautifully.
After we were seated, each of us were then given a canvas to create an artwork. I inwardly groaned when they told us that we would be doing this activity, particularly when we were advised that they would displayed in the hotel… driveway. They probably should’ve displayed them in the hotel rubbish bin.
Despite my initial misgivings, it turned out to be so much fun, even though I managed to get colour all over myself and the table! Fail.
Here’s my finished work on the left – told you I was no artist. I should’ve impressed with my cartoon horse instead.
While we were drawing, a few entrees arrived. First were two types of tacos ($6.50 ea) – lemongrass and chill snapper with red onion and coriander and waygu rump with avocado, dried tomato, lettuce and emmantel cheese.
I was too slow to try the tacos, but I did have half of a mini burger. There were again two types ($7 ea) – one with wagyu mince, aged cheddar, cornichons, onion relish and mustard which was very tasty. The other burger was filled with a pattie made with organic corn-fed chicken with bacon, tomato, avocado and aioli.
The Yarra Valley quail ($17) with warm potato, olive, tomato and chorizo salad was a nice little nibble.
I particularly loved the Spring Bay mussels ($16) that were cooked in a garlic, chilli and herb broth. There was bread to soak up all that tasty mussel cooking juice.
The scallops ($18) came with a slice of morcilla sausage and were served with a radish and apple salad with pedro ximenez dessing.
After entrees, all our drawing equipment and canvases were cleared away (and I finished cleaning myself up – ahem). A few mains came out for us to try.
First was a slow cooked Otway Ranges pork belly with a sticky glaze. It came with apple coleslaw and a broad bean and potato puree. That mash was a bit weird – so green, and a bit dry – but the pork flesh was tender and the fat had become all sticky and gelatinous. There were a couple of small pieces of crackling sitting on top of the green mash.
The fish of the day was a grilled whiting. Unfortunately this desperately needed more seasoning and the small piece I ate came with a couple of scales. Others found quite a few bones in it.
Much better was the signature John Olsen paella ($30 for 1 serve, $60 for 2). John Olsen lived in Spain in the 1950s and while there, he not only learned to cook paella but the food of Spain aslo served as artistic inspiration. Since paella is a recurring theme in his work, it’s become a signature dish for Spoonbill. And it’s pretty good – full of seafood and flavour.
We finished our meal with a selection of desserts. Even though I’m not a huge dessert person, they were the highlight of the meal.
The hazelnut meringue with coffee cream and espresso syrup ($14) was excellent – with crushed nuts on top of the crispy meringue shell, a marshmallow like interior, and sticky, bitter syrup.
Also incredibly good was the apple delicious ($14) – a plate of apple jelly, calvados panna cotta, sorbet and millefuille. The wobbly jelly was perfectly matched with the creamy layer of panna cotta and the sorbet was intensely apple flavoured.
Poor chocolate fondant. Normally an oozy chocolate fondant like this could win our hearts, but even though it was lovely, it was no match for the other two desserts.
We finished the evening with dessert cocktails. I had a St Ali Martini ($15) – made with St Ali espresso, Cazadores tequila, Tuaca vanilla liqueru, homemade fig syrup and creme de cocoa.
I had a great night at Spoonbill – a big thank you to Camilla and Olivia for their company and to Jane for the tour before dinner.
Our meal was complimentary, however looking at the menu I think the food is a bit expensive for what it is. The food wasn’t bad by any means (excepting the fish, which could’ve been improved) – it just didn’t wow me. Except for the desserts, which were truly very, very good. But Spoonbill has just recently opened so I realise that it probably needs some time to settle in and hit their stride.
I’m sure it’ll get there. The hotel looks fantastic and Spoonbill has a nice atmosphere for a drink and casual bite to eat. And there’s also some awesome art in the hotel driveway that you should definitely check out. :p
For more on our night at Spoonbill, check out The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua.
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The Olsen Hotel
637 Chapel Street
South Yarra VIC 314
Tel: (03) 9040 1333