After a few busy years of interstate openings, fire damage and relocation (and back again), and new bakery-and-bar concepts, the Nomad Group shows no signs of slowing. Earlier this year, the group announced it is opening a French restaurant and bar in Melbourne's CBD - and it's arguably the group's most ambitious project yet. Now, we have an opening date - and it's opening as early as next month.
Slated to open on Tuesday 1 August, the new venture will take over the historic Melbourne Stock Exchange building on Collins Street. Built in the late 1800s, the neo-Gothic building is resplendent with limestone walls, stained-glass windows, marble dado, stately granite columns, and high vaulted ceilings.
It's taken over two years to come to (near) fruition, with Nomad owners Al and Rebecca Yazbek working closely with Heritage Victoria, RBA Heritage Architects, and Akin Atelier to transform the former bank into an elegant, cathedral-esque dining room.
The building has remained closed off from the bustling Melbourne metropolis for almost 20 years, so this will be the public's first peek inside the landmark site which reopens as part of the multimillion-dollar GPT Property Group redevelopment, Queen & Collins.
Brendan Katich of Nomad Melbourne has been appointed as head chef of Reine and La Rue; he'll work alongside the group's executive chef Jacqui Challinor and pastry chef Vencenza Soto to create a menu inspired by French classics - think steak frites, handpicked crab brandade, confit duck, mushroom Pithivier and, for dessert, tarte Tatin and cheese trolleys.
"Given the abundance [of produce] on our doorstep, there isn't much need to look further," says Challinor. "Expect to see dishes such as Lakes Entrance calamari, cooked over charcoal and finished with café de Paris butter, or a dry-aged O'Connor rib eye with bordelaise and a side of frites."
The cavernous, 150-seat building will be split into three distinct areas: Reine's main dining room with caramel leather banquettes and cosy booths, and a 10-metre-long marble bar; the external 40-seat courtyard; and La Rue - the intimate, eight-seater speakeasy.
La Rue will sit in stark contrast to Reine's light-filled grandeur, with the former fitted out with black stained timber, black terrazzo flooring, and moody works by local artist Lucy Roleff. La Rue will boast a premium wine vault and offer the same menu as Reine, but it will be walk-in only.
"The design is purposefully a modern "cocoon" insertion to provide a counterpoint to the gravity of the existing architectural details," says Rebecca Yazbek. "Whether it's walking in for snacks and Champagne at the bar; a cosy booth for a three-course meal; or a table full of plates to share; we would like our guests to create an experience that suits the way they want to eat," adds Challinor.
As for drinks, Nomad Group's wine director has bucked the current trend of going local and instead has pulled together a beverage program that leans French and American - with the "largest and most exclusive American wine list in the country." Good news for lovers of a Californian Zinfandel. Plus, the cocktails will be classic, too - Manhattans, Martinis and Old Fashioneds.
Reservations are now open, too, which you can book via the Reine and La Rue website.