Food and fashion share a lot in common. Top chefs at the best restaurants disseminate eating trends in the same way that couture show highlights inevitably end up in ready-to-wear collections. Queues for cult croissants can rival – and even surpass – the lines that snake out of a Prada or an Hermes on any given day. And if a famous restaurant can sell wearable merch, why can't a fashion label open a restaurant?
That's what Rodd & Gunn, the New Zealand menswear label, has been doing for a few years now. Opening restaurants. And the Lodge Bar & Dining, which opened in Brisbane earlier this month, is the biggest installment for the brand's foray into hospitality yet. It's also one of the most ambitious Brisbane restaurant openings of the year so far.
Let's start with the building and the location. The Lodge is situated across the road from Fortitude Valley's Calile Hotel. You're less than a two minute walk from – among others – restaurants like Essa, Gerard's Bistro, Hellenika, Same Same, and Bianca. Aside from maybe Flinders Lane in Melbourne, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more highly concentrated and intimidating set of competitors anywhere in Australia. Opening a restaurant smack in the middle of this area is a statement of intent. Then there's the building itself – a glorious white Queenslander with a wraparound balcony and an art deco-influenced first floor. It's one of the best-known buildings in Fortitude Valley, on the busiest and most prominent corner of its main street. Again, statement of intent.
But the food and drink offering at the Lodge is the most pronounced expression of Rodd and Gunn's far-reaching hospitality ambitions. Executive chef Matt Lambert has been one of New Zealand's most lauded chefs, ever since opening The Musket Room in New York City in 2012, which earned a Michelin star within four months of opening (this was maintained every year until Lambert relocated to New Zealand in 2020). Group beverage director Cameron Douglas, meanwhile, is New Zealand's first (and currently only) Master Sommelier – a qualification held only by 261 people, all of whom have passed a notoriously difficult test that's often informally called "the toughest exam in the world."
Lambert's relationship with the brand started in 2012, when he asked Rodd & Gunn to design the uniforms for his soon-to-open restaurant.
"I sent a very poorly worded email across to Rodd & Gunn – I remember writing it on my phone, sitting on my doorstep – saying 'hey, I'm a dude from New Zealand who's opening a New Zealand restaurant in New York, I grew up wearing your clothing, it would be really cool if you could do the uniforms,'" Lambert says. "Luckily it went to the right people, and they were keen."
"And little did we know, in four months we'd get the Michelin star – so you truly respect the people that believed in you before anyone else did."
So Lambert was approached to help open the Lodge Bar, in Queenstown, in 2016. When that was a hit, he was tapped to open The Lodge Bar & Dining in Auckland, in 2020 – both venues have scored excellent reviews across the ditch. For the Brisbane restaurant, he's designed a menu that hews closely to the schematics of the other two.
"My cooking, since I found my voice culinarily, is just about keeping things simple and honest: amplifying the flavours of things as they are as opposed to hiding them or tricking people," says Lambert. "Simple isn't easy though, because there's less to hide behind – you need to make sure everything's as it should be and your techniques are solid."
The menu is straightforward: entrées range from chunky terrine, to sea trout tartare, to light pea salad; and there's a "shells" menu that takes in a selection of oysters, a range of shellfish and an "eggs" section, involving a caviar tart, devilled eggs and a trout roe tart with egg yolk.
For mains, there are a handful of steaks; coal-roasted sunchoke gnocchi; hand-cut fettucine with blue crab; a beautiful duck breast dish; and an obligatory – and very excellent – lamb loin option, with mint sauce and lamb jus. It's confident, delicious cooking, and it's beautifully executed by Lambert and head chef James Evangelinos.
It also feels thoroughly Kiwi. It's not a type of restaurant that you see often in Australia, let alone Brisbane, despite our high numbers of New Zealand expats. The Lodge genuinely seems like it's filling a gap.
"Rodd and Gunn is a New Zealand story," says Cameron Douglas. "New Zealand is part of the title of that company, and when it came to writing a wine program, New Zealand had to be a part of the story."
The breakdown of the 260-bottle wine list, assembled by Douglas (he's also responsible for all other drinks, from beer, to spirits to sakes) is one third New Zealand wines, one third Australian wines, with the last third consisting of international drops. It's a wide-ranging, crowd-pleasing and thoughtfully constructed list.
"When I'm building a wine list it's based on multiple layers of experiences with wine, not just what I like," Douglas says. "Understanding Matt's philosophy of food, the ingredients that he works with, the kinds of flavour profiles he delivers, in many ways drives the wine decisions."
"I want the drinking public to be excited about the entire drinks program."
It's strange to write about a restaurant with a clothes shop attached to it as a dining destination, but the Lodge has all of the elements – the talent, the business nous, and enough funding to ride out the peaks and troughs – to be a Brisbane fixture.
Ralph Lauren has restaurants in Paris and Chicago, and bars in Milan and New York. Gucci has restaurants in Korea, Italy, Japan and the US designed by chef Massimo Bottura. Even Duolingo, the language-learning app with a green owl that shames you for skipping classes, opened a taco shop in Pittsburgh the other week. Brands of all stripes open hospitality concepts all the time.
When those concepts are as good as The Lodge, they're well worth paying attention to.