It’s 11pm and the traffic on Melbourne’s Spring Street is a barely audible murmur. The temperature has dropped and you sense the cool night air pressing itself against the window as it tries to feel its way into the warmth. Red wine in hand and sunk deep into an armchair inside the King George V suite of The Hotel Windsor, I’m feeling very much at home.
Looking around the suite I realise this place is just so damn comfortable. Reassuringly comfortable like your Grandma’s house. Sure it’s getting a little old while the owners wait an interminable amount of time for final approval to renovate and rebuild but, it’s unapologetically old school and what a grand hotel should actually be.
It’s not shiny services and beautiful interior design from a globally renowned firm that melds Nordic and Japanese influences although I’d stay in a hotel that did. It’s slightly shop-worn and moves at a genteel pace.
The oft-used management mantra of “our people are our most important asset” is for once more than an empty claim. The staff seem to care from the moment concierge Ali welcomes you like an old friend in the lobby or when hotel butler Joseph artfully lays out your room service meal late at night and lifts the cloche cover with a flourish to reveal the burger and fries below. You actually feel like a guest in an aristocratic home.
And the beauty of it is you don’t feel the need to document every second of your stay on social media. It’s a hotel where you can just stop and forget about sharing pictures of fine China and cutlery, a king-sized bed with pillow menu resting bedside or pleasantly arranged Argan toiletries in the marble bathroom.
Former regal digs
If you can, I would suggest booking a suite. These are the expansive high-ceilinged luxury apartments which have entertained royalty and celebrities throughout its history. Rooms where the Prince of Wales rested in the 1920s as well as stars of stage and screen like Rudolf Nureyev, Gregory Peck, Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier. Fast forward to now and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a guest as well as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Kylie Minogue and Daniel Radcliffe. It’s retro glamour where discretion is assured so leave the selfie stick at home.
And while the grand One Eleven restaurant now only serves breakfast and the hotel’s famous afternoon tea, it’s well worth a visit for attentive service, a filling pre-dinner dinner and even the mildly reassuring sound of a teaspoon rattling on a saucer. If you do hanker for a meal the Cricketer’s Bar still serves a range of dishes and room service is efficient and relatively tasty although, a Lamb Curry on a recent visit didn’t quite have the requisite amount of bite to it.
Old school edge
The breakfast menu is a thoroughly modern-take on old-school grand hotel tradition. No buffet and a menu focused on great produce from around the world. There’s a granola with rice milk (terribly hard to milk is rice) for the healthy and chamomile custard trifle as well. A lip-shmackingly proper bacon and eggs with maple-glazed bacon, fried duck egg, pickled green chilli and Pyengana cheddar toast ensures you enjoy a filled to past lunchtime start to the day.
Yet for all the heritage chic The Hotel Windsor exudes, CEO David Perry has imbued it with a modern sensibility. Wifi is quick and little touches such as an ever-changing art installation in the lobby deliver the right touch of millennial edginess.
Just stay there. It’s the grand home you don’t normally live in which is what a great hotel should be all about. I really don’t know why you’d stay anywhere else.