I must say that the decision to host the launch of the new Lexus LC 500 Coupe at Jackalope Hotel in the Mornington Peninsula was a fitting, and strategic decision, by the team at EVH. Like Lexus, the recently crowned Australian Hotel of the Year by Gourmet Traveller is also in the EVH portfolio, and I recall commenting shortly after my arrival about how tough it must be representing such horrible clients.
Perched atop the sweeping hills of Willow Creek Vineyard, Jackalope Hotel is the brainchild of 29-year-old Chinese developer, Jiyuan “Louis” Li. The Willow Creek site was purchased in 2013 for $9.5 million through Li’s family’s JKLP Group, presumably backed by his father Li Jie, Chairman of the KCC Real Estate Development Company (formerly known as Kunming Construction Company). KCC Real Estate Development Company is no stranger to the tourism space having developed a host of resorts in South-west China’s Yunnan province, partnering with US-based Hyatt Hotels, Singapore’s Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts and Pullman, owned by French hotel group Accor.
Louis, the sole director of Pub Li City Pty Ltd, has since acquired the Maria George Building at 181 Flinders Lane for a reported $11.4 million in 2014, and the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel for a reported $45 million in 2015. Pub Li City counts Mr Li, Jie Li (his father) and Wenxiu Zhao as shareholders, with Louis holding the larger stake*.
While clearly ambitious (and fortunate to have such an opportunity), Louis, who moved to Australia in 2007 to study film and complete an MBA at RMIT, is obviously a skilled operator. I had the pleasure of meeting him while dining at Rare Hare, the hotel’s rustic bistro-style space, where somehow, the food outshone the stunning view. Dressed head to Yeezy’s in Black, the charming Louis thanked me for attending before discussing plans for the Jackalope Brand, with works already underway to open Jackalope two at the Flinders Lane property he purchased in 2014.
Louis engaged a handful of Melbourne architects and designers to bring Jackalope’s debut property to life which includes an imposing Jackalope statue sculpted by Emily Floyd at the entrance. Not one aspect of the hotel has been left unattended with multidisciplinary studios The Carr Design Group and Fabio Ongarato Design providing their two cents on architecture and interiors, handcrafted furniture by Zuster and bathroom amenities by Hunter Lab. From the moment you step through the doors, greeted by a showpiece glass encased wine cellar, you’re instantly aware that you’re in a special, almost surreal place.
The trip to Willow Creek from Tullamarine is a good 1.5-hour slog, and not one I recommend doing after a night of sculling Negronis in the Flaggerdoot Cocktail Lounge. The hotel’s 46 rooms are located through the restaurant on a newly constructed wing that faces out onto the lap pool and vineyards beyond. The mythical theme, revolving around the creature that gives the hotel its name, plays into the mysterious art-filled space, flowing into the moody guest rooms where less is more.
Detailed touches like the luxurious hooded robes, double showers with brass fittings and a tablet containing hotel information presented in a custom leather pouch, remind you Jackalope means business. Had I not been expected at dinner I would have happily spent the entire evening in my den, despite the ridiculously camp man in the room next to me yelling into his phone for the duration of my downtime.
Dinner in Jackalope’s upscale dining restaurant Doot Doot Doot, under 10,000 glowing lamps, was brilliant. Executive Chef Guy Stanaway served up a delicate Amuse-bouche followed by a beautiful pumpkin dish with black garlic and macadamias. The Gippsland Gewurztraminer from The Wine Farm, which followed with the Spanner crab with potato, blew my socks off, as did the 2015 Willow Creek ‘O’Leary Block’ Pinot which paired with the showstopping duck breast main. A Pedro Ximenez inspired dessert rounded off the best dining experience I’ve had since the Michelin awarded Felix in Hong Kong.
Both Rare Hare and Doot Doot Doot are eateries worth making the trip for, but if you can afford to splash out a minimum of $650 for a room for the night, I would recommend you do, because the Jackalope Hotel is an enigmatic concept that is best enjoyed in its entirety.
For more information on Jackalope Hotel or to book head to their website.
*Source: The Australian