He's made a fortune based on predicting the whims of the crowd, so Chris Lucas's unexpected move to the finer end of the dining spectrum should have the crystal ball gazers looking on with interest.
Chris Lucas, the restaurant impresario behind Melbourne's Chin Chin, Kong, Baby and Hawker Hall - restaurants that seem to float on the tide of pop culture as well as food fashion - has announced plans to open an ambitious three-level Japanese restaurant on Flinders Lane with ex-Sake chef Shaun Presland and sommelier Philip Rich (ex-Prince Wine Store).
"We love what we've done in the casual space but this is quite a step up from what we've rolled out in the last few restaurants," says Lucas. "We're doing a lot of things differently on this one. Everyone's prattling on about fine dining coming to an end, but I think when the crowd is all going one way it's good to go the other."
Fêted architects Wood Marsh have been hired to transform the narrow 1960s office building opposite Andrew McConnell's Supernormal. The yet-to-be-named restaurant, slated to open in March next year, will have a hot kitchen in the basement and sushi restaurant on the ground floor, plus "a very traditional omakase sushi restaurant of a truly international standard" on the top floor with its own dedicated sushi master, sommelier and manager.
"The idea is that it's a restaurant within a restaurant - a bespoke experience where customers make a booking and curate the experience. If they want the best tuna in the world, we can get it," says Lucas, who credits a meal at New York's Masa of white truffle nigiri sushi as opening his eyes to its luxurious possibilities.
Presland is best known as the founding executive chef for the Sake chain of restaurants. He's also worked for Nobu and Merivale's Sydney restaurant Sushi-E, but Lucas promises it won't be the brassy, party Japanese those establishments are best known for.
"Shaun learned his craft at kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto and wants to go back to what he did in the early years. I lived in Japan for three years and want something that reminds me of that time. Basically, it was a meeting of minds and we set ourselves a task to do something really different."
There's plenty more on the Lucas plate, too, including a Sydney version of Chin Chin due to open in Surry Hills later this year, while plans for his recently acquired Smith Street site are to be decided after consultation with the council. But first Lucas and Presland are off to Tokyo in a few weeks to meet their as-yet anonymous sushi master.