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Review: Ovolo Nishi Provides a Boutique Canberra Hotel Experience Like No Other


Canberra’s Ovolo Nishi is on a mission to create a hotel experience uniquely its own. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll find this boutique stay offers a familiarly luxurious and comfortable place to rest and relax, while simultaneously making the ideal home base from which to explore our nation’s capital. However, it’s the subtle differences that set Ovolo Nishi apart. While said differences may not be immediately apparent when you first arrive, it won’t be long before you find yourself picking up on a small detail here and a personal touch there, all of which give the hotel a feeling all its own. And as these small differences add up over the course of your stay, don’t be surprised if you find them slowly working their magic on you.

With an aesthetic that’s an offbeat mix of Brutalism, shabby-chic furnishings, and a smattering of intriguing curiosities, Ovolo Nishi’s look stands apart. It comes across as if the designers wanted to create a sense of the carefree, but applied a great deal of thought, skill, and effort in getting there. From fluffy chairs juxtaposed with exposed concrete; to walls decorated with all manner of strange objects, materials, and original artworks, every space offers the utmost comfort, while rewarding those with a keen eye for detail and the inclination to look a little closer. 

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Creative Sun Room. | Image: Rob Edwards / Man of Many

Check-In and Room

Upon our arrival, we entered reception via the Parkes Way entrance—as opposed to the striking staircase on Edinburgh Avenue—passing jars of confectionery from which guests are invited to snag a sugar hit should they feel the need. After checking in with the help of the delightful staff (a theme to which we’ll return), we navigated across the hotel’s luxurious and laidback lounge and bar area, making our way to the lifts that provide access to Ovolo Nishi’s range of guest rooms. 

Exiting onto our floor and heading down the hall, we were struck by the strange sound of indoor birdsong – a peculiar but not unwelcome touch. Opening our door, we stepped into a meticulously appointed Creative Sun Room, boasting enormous windows and a leafy outlook, beyond which we could see Canberra’s iconic Lake Burley Griffin. The room featured a very comfortable king-sized bed, a separate sitting area from which we would later enjoy a bottle of champagne, and a concrete bathroom with a stylish walk-in shower. Rooms also feature a mini-bar and snacks, which come at no additional charge. These are replenished daily and—I must confess—most certainly needed to be. 

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Image: Rob Edwards / Man of Many

An Ideal Location

As we soon discovered, Ovolo Nishi’s location is well suited to those looking to explore everything Canberra has to offer. Right on the hotel’s doorstep is an impressive range of bars and restaurants, while the various museums, galleries, and institutions that Australia’s capital is known for are a short car ride or slightly longer (but extremely picturesque) walk away. 

After a day of exploring the National Gallery of Australia, stopping by Parliament House to give the side-eye to some of our nation’s leaders, and enjoying a generous dose of nostalgia at Questacon, I couldn’t think of a better way to unwind than to stop in for a few drinks at a local standout. Two-time winner of ACT Cocktail Bar of the Year at the Australian Bar Awards, High Jinks, certainly fit the bill at a mere two-minute stroll from the hotel. Alternatively, Molly has atmosphere to spare and some great live music on offer as well. Or perhaps you’d prefer to step back in time, in which case 88mph is the bar for you. To quote Futurama, it offers ”the sleek, dazzling veneer of the 1980s”, along with karaoke and a delicious pizza menu. I’m just scratching the surface here; Ovolo Nishi’s location leaves you spoilt for choice. 

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Monster Kitchen and Bar. Image: Rob Edwards / Man of Many

Monster Kitchen and Bar

Of course, you don’t actually need to step foot outside to get a tasty cocktail or a memorable meal. The hotel’s own Monster Kitchen and Bar serves up a tantalising range of options, with the aforementioned lounge area acting as a perfect place to kick back and enjoy a drink or two with other guests prior to your booking. 

Now, I have to confess that as a devoted carnivore I’m rarely on the lookout for the best in vegetarian dining, but Monster Kitchen has me rethinking that. With a focus on using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, the menu is fresh and delicious. We splurged on a broad range of items and there was not a dud amongst them. However, I have to give a particular shout out to the Butternut Squash Katsu, Tomato and Pumpkin Rotolo, and the Monster Smash Burger — in my experience non-meat burgers are best given a wide berth, but in this particular case I was pleasantly surprised. 

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Image: Rob Edwards / Man of Many

I also feel compelled to give a shout out to the waitstaff here. I struggle to recall a time when I’ve received better service. I’m not talking about the kind of over-attentive, smothering approach that’s typically viewed as tip-worthy—particularly in places like the US—but rather a balance of being there precisely when you need them; keeping drinks topped up; offering helpful, friendly insights into the menu; providing spot-on recommendations; and then allowing us to enjoy ourselves uninterrupted the rest of the time. There’s an art to it. 

What’s more, Monster Kitchen and Bar has recently been recognised as one of the Canberra’s key dining experiences, having received a Chef’s Hat from the Australian Good Food Guide. It’s the only in-hotel dining establishment in Canberra to receive such an accolade this year, and well-deserved in my opinion. 

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Image: Rob Edwards / Man of Many

A Caring Approach

The focus on sustainability found in the Monster menu is something that runs throughout Ovolo Nishi’s DNA. With a focus on reducing energy, water, and carbon emissions, and even a tree planted for every direct booking. There’s a sense that the management and staff here really give a damn, whether that’s about the sustainability of the hotel, the experiences they offer, or—most importantly—their guests. 

Speaking with Nick Wright, the hotel’s general manager, he says of his team, “They actually care.” From what I’ve seen this is key to the hotel’s approach, whether it comes to helping with a laundry emergency, arranging a special meal, or something as straightforward (but increasingly rare) as making you feel like a genuinely valued human being, rather than a name on a booking form.

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Image: Rob Edwards / Man of Many

“We do those little things that a lot of other hotels don’t. Because Ovolo doesn’t have a loyalty program, but it recognises people,” Wright reveals, before lamenting the loss of the personal touch within much of hospitality. In this context, he’s eager to outline why Ovolo Nishi has chosen a different approach. 

“Loyalty these days is where you just show a card and you get something,” he explains. “But what we do, for instance, is we’ll know someone likes their fruit platters, so we’ll have a fruit platter waiting in the room for them. It’s all about the little details. We’ll actually ask guests what they like and they might say, ‘I’ve got a sweet tooth’, and we’ll create something sweet for them. It’s those little details.”

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Image: Rob Edwards / Man of Many

Verdict

Ovolo Nishi absolutely succeeds in offering a hotel experience entirely its own. In fact, it has recently been added to Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH)—an organisation that describes itself as “anti-chain and anti-same”—and it’s Canberra’s only hotel to enjoy this honour. With an outstanding location, wonderful staff, and a singular approach to interior design, I hope to return the next time I’m Canberra-bound.

Finally, if you’re looking for a bite to eat, Monster Kitchen and Bar is more than worthy of your consideration, whether you’re a guest at the hotel or not. As Wright points out, “Sixty per cent of the people we have coming into the venue are actually Canberra locals. In an Australian hotel restaurant and bar, that’s unheard of.” If I happened to be a local, I’d probably do the same.

DisclaimerThe author of this post, Rob Edwards, was invited to stay as a guest of Ovolo Nishi for the purposes of this review.