Set on the fringes of the city, the suburb of Spring Hill is an odd collection of wealthy private schools, budget boarding houses, heritage-listed properties, contemporary townhouses, hospitals, pools, parks and drab government office buildings. After extensive refurbishments, one of those drab government office buildings (the former Main Roads Department premises) reopened last year as a luxury boutique hotel, The Johnson.
Part of the Art Series group, which draws its inspiration from renowned Australian artists including Adam Cullen and John Olsen, The Johnson celebrates the work of abstract artist Michael Johnson. The hotel's adjoining Tumbling Stone restaurant pays further homage to his Tumbling Stone oil on linen painting, with a print of this namesake taking pride of place on the far wall of the bar and lounge area.
Hotel restaurants can be hit and miss, but Tumbling Stone is right on target, with a space, style and identity all its own. From the outside, it resembles a giant shipping container. Once inside, though, this airy 160-seater is a combination of dark wood and lush greenery. There is a range of seating to suit all preferences, from intimate booths to open tables, and a banging menu that runs from breakfast through to dinner.
A spot to wine, dine and contemplate. Author image.
For lunch, I ordered house made ricotta dumplings, served with wild mushroom ragout and charred broccolini, all tangled in a rocket and parmesan salad. It was delicious, with the abundance of greenery allowing me to feel both nourished and virtuous. My companion chose the Bangalow pork and fennel meat balls, with napolitana sauce, parmesan and ciabatta that had seen the side of the grill a few seconds too long. Other lunch and dinner options include Cape Grim sirloin, rosemary crusted lamb rump, and pan roasted barramundi. There is a good selection of vegetarian and gluten-free options, and a wine and beer selection to suit all tastes.
Desserts are pretty as a picture, lovingly crafted, sensibly sized and scattered with edible flowers. I chose the creme brulee, which had a perfectly crisp sugary crust, with a moreish layer of custard beneath. Poached rhubarb and house made ginger snaps complemented the sweetness of this dish. Meanwhile, my companion enjoyed the luscious cheesecake, with a chocolate biscuit base, and pistachio praline.
One day I'll get up early enough to enjoy breakfast here. Just think of it: sour cherry French toast, served with berry compote, whipped coconut cream, and toasted pistachios; or grilled haloumi with beetroot hummus, caramelised broccoli mole, poached eggs, quinoa and soya bean toast; or gruyere cheese and wild mushroom tart, with chorizo, sautéed spinach, and poached eggs. With a strong coffee, or one of the rich hot chocolates here, there's no better way to start the day.