Hinch Travel

The Crown Jewels

It was the annual two weeks winter break away from the 3AW microphone during a non-ratings period.  I was determined not to devote every waking moment to such necessary things as a painful visit to the periodontist, a session with my lawyer over an ongoing defamation action I’m taking in the Supreme Court, and some editing work on the Hinch magnum opus,  Human Headlines. Read all about it!

The first week was happily locked in with a flying visit to New Zealand to visit my 91-year-old Dad and to attend the 45th wedding anniversary dinner for my elder sister Barbara and husband Les.

All four Hinch kids were there, and in good form, which is surprising and a blessing when we considered that we are all over sixty (or approaching it) and  three of us --  Sandra 57, Des 68, and me 64 -- had all had serious life-threatening illnesses in recent years.

Which brings me back to our father, Dick. Ninety one not out. ‘Not a bad innings’, he says. His granddaughter was more succinct. ‘When they drop the big one there’ll only be two things still living. Cockroaches and Grandpa’.

The two-week break had started well with an invite to a dinner for ten atNobu at Crown with the legend Nobu himself in the kitchen. (See Hungry Hinch Review). And on the Saturday night when I flew back into Melbourne I went straight to JJ’s at Crown for dinner with Mrs. Nosebag – who couldn’t make the trip because of work commitments. (People who do real work for a living don’t get as many holiday breaks as radio and TV stars).

It got me thinking again about what a great oasis of indulgence Crown has become. And you don’t have to be a gambler (problem or otherwise) to enjoy it.

It’s now more than eleven years since it opened. A two billion dollar project that was finished hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. It seems light years since that night when the-then owner Lloyd Williams (Ron Walker’s partner in Hudson Conway) smiled jauntily in his white dinner jacket as the-then Premier –a bloke named Kennett – cut the ribbon.

 And, for some reason, actress Rachel Griffiths decided to protest topless outside about Sodom on the Yarra. Obviously, that was long forgotten when she was feted at Crown as a guest for the Logies years later.

Crown covered more than half a million square metres…more than two city blocks. It now attracts more than 16 million visitors a year. There are now two hotels on the site:  the original Crown Towers, the Crown Promenade (which was originally supposed to include a lyric theatre) and construction has started on a massive third hotel opposite Jeff’s Shed at the Clarendon Street end of the complex. The third tower is needed. Occupancy in the other two, even in these, straightened times, is around 90%.

There are more than 40 restaurants, cafes and bars. The policy to up the ante and bring in famous restaurateurs is paying off. The name ‘magnets’ for good food lovers started with the closure of Cecconi’s when Crown refused to renew their lease.

I wrote back in 2006 in my Hungry Hinch column: 
‘There have been rumblings in foodie circles that Cecconi’s may be closing down. That Crown was refusing to renew the lease. Maria Bortolotto, whose family runs the restaurant, has confirmed it. They’ll be applying to renew the lease – which expires in September – but chances are not good. There is a strong rumour of a change in Crown policy. They want big names to run their restaurants. The hottest name being bandied about is the peripatetic Neil Perry from Sydney.’

Well, Perry did move in with his bar and grill and wine bar. Followed quickly by Nobu with his world class Japanese noshery, and then Bistro Guillaume and now the latest Guiseppe Arnaldo & Sons.

Add those to Number 8, The Brasserie, Breezes, Koko’s and JJ’s and you’ve got a mini-city of great dining. And there’s more to come.

I have never indulged in the sophomoric internecine warfare between Sydney and Melbourne –having lived in both cities many times – but I have to mention Crown in the same sentence as Star City in Sydney.

I was going to say that compared with Crown, the Star City complex was like a leagues club. But that would be unfair to a league’s club. Apart from the theatre (where Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the Musical was born) the place is an abomination.

I read of a plan to spend something like $90 million to revamp it. They should bulldoze it and start again.

Having started the first week of my winter vacation at Nobu at Crown  and the second week at JJ’s I thought we should go the whole hog. I paid for it except for a complimentary night in a  Crown Towers suite with a spa, stunning, panoramic night light views of the city and the MCG and the Botanical Gardens and Government House and South Melbourne right out over the bay.

I looked at the fairy lights and the lights ablaze in office skyscrapers and thought ‘ Boy, that Earth Hour really had an effect on people’.

We were also given temporary membership of the 29th floor Crystal Club made available for house guests and high rollers.

Tuesday night started with drinks at JJ’s  with a couple of friends before dinner at Number 8 where their dusted calamari pieces ( not rings) are the best in town and so is their coffee and their chocolates. Then a nightcap at the Crystal Club and a spa bath in the suite. Not with the friends!

Wednesday was lunch at the new Italian gem  Guiseppe Arnaldo & Sons – the new venture for Maurizio Terzini and Robert Marchetti whose previous successes in Melbourne and Sydney include Caffé e Cucina, Otto’s, Icebergs, Il Bacaro, Marchetti’s Latin and Marchetti’s Tuscan Grill.

Then we managed to score, through the concierge, two tickets to Village Gold Class (at Crown) to see the most awaited and most talked about movie of the year Sex and the City. It’s not just the ultimate ‘chick flick’. I enjoyed it.

Back to JJ’s briefly before heading home, feeling like we’d been overseas.

And how did I spend the last Saturday night of the holiday break? Back to Crown for the Midnight at Royal Ascot party which started with cocktails at 8.15p.m., then dinner and live entertainment, and a charity auction, with a real TAB and the races coming in Live from Ascot. The last race was broadcast at 2.30a.m. The party finished at 3.

They took it all seriously. No eskies or thongs. The dress code for ‘ladies’ stipulated:  ‘Her Majesty’s Representative wishes to point out that only formal day dress with a hat or fascinator will be acceptable. Off the shoulder, halter neck spaghetti straps and dresses with a strap of less than one inch and/or miniskirts are considered unsuitable. Midriffs must be covered and trouser suits must be full length and of matching material and colour’.

At the real Ascot this year the women were advised that any females not wearing knickers would be barred from entry. That raised two questions in my mind:  Who would have the effrontery to check?  And what the hell went on there last year?

By then it was well past midnight at the Crown oasis. It was time to put the camel to bed. It had been a great holiday without travelling more than a kilometre from home.
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