Circa 2010

The Prince:

2 Acland St, St Kilda VIC
(03) 9536 1111 or

The Prince of Wales has a split personality: for Melbourne rock fans, it’s a rite of passage that leads straight out of the front bar, past security, and upstairs to the band room. If you let it out of the bag that the Prince is also home to a fine dining restaurant and upmarket boutique hotel, they’d likely chortle, slap you on the back, look you up and down thinking, ‘this guy has no idea’, then never speak of it again. And it’s probably best left that way. For never has a venue played the chords for two different demographics with such aplomb. The Van Haandel owners have always approached the business with an eye for quality. Quality touring bands are the mainstay of the band room, Circa was one of the finest degustation destinations under the eye of previous chef Andrew McConnell, Aesop soap in the bathrooms, Philippe Starck bathtubs in the Premier suites (because what would a boutique anything be without a little Starck), and in 2008 the Prince Hotel was voted Australia’s Leading Boutique Hotel at the World Travel Awards, described by the Wall Street Journal as the ‘Travel industry’s equivalent to the Oscars’. So when McConnell had to leave to focus on his other ventures, and Matt Wilkinson stepped in as head chef, it was time  for Circa to evolve into a different kind of quality. Time for a handful of local designers of all disciplines to step in,  “to create an environment to soothe and stimulate the senses,” said John van Haandel. To match the new shared-dish menu, the courtyard has been converted into a relaxed, light-filled space flanked by a Joost-designed herb garden across one wall with a few peepholes into the kitchen. Most of Circa’s dining now takes place here, under  a canopy of glass and pressed metal. Comfy Comer & King wingback settees and Gervasoni white wicker chairs nestle into custom made American Oak tables by Native. The restaurant itself divides into three private dining rooms, each with a balcony overlooking Fitzroy Street. Here, alfresco levity is replaced by Sans black organza curtains, triple-feather window etching by Australia theatre designer Loudon Sainthill, alpaca velvet, grey Belgian linens and classic yellow floral designs tarting up Thonet chairs, ottomans and banquettes. Finally, upstairs, the Prince’s rooftop deck has another Joost vertical kitchen garden that Wilkinson is over the moon about, “Now with everything at our fingertips, things couldn’t be fresher.”

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