Food News

We have a date: Melbourne’s Society set to open this month

There’s been hype, lockdowns and delays. Now all – well, two-thirds of the venue – will be revealed on 22 July, with reservations open now.

Society chef Martin Benn, front-of-house maestro Vicki Wild, and owner Chris Lucas. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Kristoffer Paulsen (main)

From the get-go there’s been much hype around Society. First, the poaching of Sydney star hospitality couple Vicki Wild and Martin Benn across state borders by Melbourne restaurant kingpin Chris Lucas back in 2017. Then the announcement the trio were set to open not one, but two restaurant spaces plus a cocktail bar, at the top end of town.

Open dates – mid-2020, March 2021 – were hampered by lockdowns and a rumoured staff shortage. But now Society, located in Melbourne’s boutique retails-commercial tower 80 Collins, is ready to welcome diners from 22 July.

The first restaurant space, Society Dining Room, and cocktail bar Society Lounge will open on this date. The former is accepting reservations from today; the latter has a walk-in-only policy.

The second restaurant space, Lillian Terrace, is set to open on 13 August.

The interiors of Society Dining Room.

(Photo: Tom Blachford)

At Society Dining Room, chef Martin Benn’s menu is reminiscent of the high-concept, immaculately presented dishes of which he gained renown at Tetsuya’s and Sepia. See the “albacore with shiso & rhubarb” for example, which comprises a bed of goat’s milk yoghurt, diced albacore dressed with white soy, olive oil and lemon zest, and a crown of shiso-rhubarb jellies, finely sliced into circles.

The “maple” dessert, meanwhile, takes inspiration from Japanese autumns and the sound and texture of fallen leaves being crushed underfoot. To wit, a base of apple caramel, fromage blanc cream, gingerbread ice-cream and plum jelly, gingerbread crumble, then delicate crystallised maple leaves fashioned from muscovado, mandarin and raspberry sugar. They form an edible evidence dossier of a chef who’s spent two decades doing his Japanese-flavours-meets-western-fine-dining thing to critical acclaim.

Meanwhile Lillian Terrace, when it opens, will have a more British and European-leaning menu.

Albacore with shiso & rhubarb, on the menu at Society Dining Room.

(Photo: Adrian Lander)

The “maple” dessert.

(Photo: Adrian Lander)

Martinis are the go-to at Society Lounge. There are six varieties on the drinks list, though you should expect The Caviar Martini to pop up in your social media feeds before long. Order it – for a cool $45 – and expect a Martini made with caviar-infused vodka, served with a caviar pretzel and smoked cream cheese.

The interiors by Melbourne architecture firm Russell & George are dark and brooding, with the designers incorporating elements of art deco, mid-century, art nouveau and brutalism; chandeliers, marble and soft furnishings; into the venue’s final, luxurious look.

As for the on-the-ground personnel, Society has formed a crack team of hospitality operatives with a run-sheet of experience at restaurants such as Stokehouse, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Woodland House: area general manager Anna Touhy, general manager Danilo Mancini, head chefs Rhys Connell, Luke Headon and Thomas Wooks, and head pastry chef Jo Ward.

The Society Lounge features a bar made from a single section of marble.

(Photo: Tom Blachford)

In a statement, owner Chris Lucas says Society captures the “energy” of Melbourne.

“[It celebrates] one of the country’s most significant chefs and the many talented Melbournians that have come together and created Society […] It is with great pride that we can finally look at opening our exciting new dining destination and add another dimension to Melbourne’s already incredible restaurant scene, which has been such a big part of my life”.

And as for a city’s restaurant scene that’s battled the worst of COVID-induced lockdowns, it’s a case of better late than never.

Society is located at 80 Collins St, Melbourne, VIC

Society Dining Room and Society Lounge will open on 22 July

Open 5.30pm–late, seven days

Reservations for Society Dining Room are open from 12 July

Lillian Terrace is set to open on 5 August

This story was updated on 14 July, 2021.

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