Hotel owner Chris Parkin’s quirky sense of humor grabs your attention before you even step into the lobby, with a larger than life sculpture of a hippo yawning from the roof. The interior of the hotel’s fantastical Hippopotamus cocktail bar and restaurant is Versace inspired. There’s nowhere else in Wellington quite like this. In fact, the Museum Art Hotel in New Zealand’s capital city is recognized as one of the 10 best art hotels in the world.
Chris is the city’s best known arts patron, and has been known to dress up as Captain Hook for the annual Rugby Sevens. (I’ve seen him in full regalia. I was dressed in a bright yellow sari at the time. The Rugby Sevens is as much about dress-up entertainment as it is about the game) He wanted to give Wellingtonians and visitors a hotel experience they would never forget, and he’s done exactly that.
The hotel’s chef Laurent Loudeac and his French floor staff have developed one of New Zealand’s best French restaurants, with modern cuisine matched with sommelier Timothee Lepoutre’s extensive wine cellar.
“I held a competition to name the restaurant and although there were 2000 entries, they were all terrible,” Chris told me. “Hippopotamus was my choice. This is a truely French restaurant, and diners love the French accents.”
The autumn menu includes: Crayfish and scampi tortellini with wasabi and royale and oriental style broth $NZ31; Butter poached snapper filet, fricassee of scampi and scallops on a bed of lentils, served with tomato and saffron dressing $NZ38; Caramelised duck breast on wilted Shanghai cabbage, water chestnuts, coriander and chili gnocchi with a Peking duck consommé $NZ44.
Hippopotamus has a degustation menu which is five courses for $NZ120 or $NZ170 with wine pairing. It also serves a spectacular high tea. French born and trained pastry chef, Louis Sergeant, lovingly creates a selection of sweet and savoury amuse-bouches, mini-sandwiches and miniardises. $NZ30 for the high tea, $NZ40 with a glass of bubbly or a hip cocktail. By Australian standards, those are very reasonable prices.
The hotel was initially located on the other side of the road, moving to its present site in 1993. The building made a 120-metre journey down an inner city street on railway tracks. Facing demolition to make way for the new Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa. The five-storey, 3500 tonne structure seemed doomed, until Chris began to investigate the possibility of relocating the entire structure.
His personal art collection adorns the hotel with many pieces in the lobby – an eclectic mix of contemporary art – and there’s even a gleaming red motorbike as an art installation. Visitors are given a guide to the artworks.
The elegant rooms range from standard rooms to self-contained suites with a chaise longue in the window (good spot to admire the view of the harbour) to two-bedroomed apartments. A pillow menu is available. Prices start from $NZ199.
I’ve stayed at the hotel twice over the past couple of years. I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland. It’s so elegantly otherworldly, grand but whimsical. I felt right at home, and can’t wait to go back. www.museumhotel.co.nz
* Pictures: Taste for Travel and courtesy of The Museum Art Hotel.