Advice for those entering Reine and La Rue for the first time: neck-limbering exercises are recommended. The latest outing from the Sydney-based Nomad Group (Nomad Sydney and Melbourne, Beau) is an immediate contender for Australia's most beautiful dining space. The magnificence of the vast 1890s neo-gothic Cathedral Room, once home to Melbourne's stock exchange, ensures unavoidable gawking. Then, as if all the glorious period detailing (sandstone, marble, tile, stained glass, soaring vaulted ceilings) have not tested your neck enough, the menu prices could conceivably induce whiplash too.
Let's be realistic though. Nobody coming to dine at an ambitious Collins Street restaurant that looks like this, features a name executive chef (Jacqui Challinor), waiters in white jackets, a dedicated oyster bar, two cocktail bars, a bespoke cheese trolley and pours Krug by the glass is here for a bargain. The unspoken pact when crossing Reine's threshold is that you're willing and able to give your credit card a flogging.
Still, oysters at $8 each, a half-duck for $150, a 180-gram onglet (no sides) for $65 and a tenner for bread and butter, do enter rarefied territory, one where everything, from cooking to service and back again, must nudge perfection. Mostly Reine gets there.
The oysters, four types, served with lemon and a boisterous smoked olive oil and seaweed mignonette, are excellent and as bracing as a gulp of seawater. The steak (the onglet, entry-level on a six-strong menu that tops out at $420 for a one-kilo wagyu ribeye), wood-grilled with textbook skill, is exemplary as are the fries ($12) and a perfectly dressed green salad ($14). The Béarnaise sauce (one of five classics on offer) is flawless.
A bite-sized Comté and horseradish tart capped with a "lid" of celeriac and excellent saucisson teamed with sweet radishes hit all the right receptors. Less impressive was a tuna tartare on a potato galette where the fish, the obvious hero, was mostly drowned out by the potato.
The wine list is impressive, fond of a benchmark and leans French and Victorian, with plenty of good options by the glass. Prices are up there but not shocking in a restaurant of this calibre.
Whether you opt for one of the eight seats in the separate bar (La Rue) or join the throng in Reine's showstopping main room, the experience is impressive. A little more polish and the expense will disappear from the list of things you remember.