It's been three years since restaurateur Chris Lucas poached Sepia's Vicki Wild and Martin Benn from Sydney, and brought them across the border to Melbourne for a top-secret joint restaurant project. Now the restaurant has a name. It has an opening date (ish). And Lucas is ready for a drink.
Society is set to open in late March 2021 at 80 Collins Street in the Melbourne CBD, complete with a dining room for 100, a terrace that seats just as many, a lounge bar, and a clutch of private rooms. It's the sort choose-your-own adventure, dinner-drinks-or-both freewheeling format that's growing in popularity across Sydney and Melbourne (see: Andrew McConnell's Gimlet, or Restaurant Hubert).
"It's going to have so many different elements," says Lucas, whose venues Chin Chin, Kisumé and Baby gather under the eponymous Lucas restaurant group. "People might want to have a cocktail, a quick snack, a business lunch. But they might want to have an amazing meal too."
And for a restaurant that's landed on the upper level of a boutique retail and commercial centre in Melbourne's "Paris End" – a Mulberry store is set to open in the near future – you'd best expect glamour too.
"I have a great love of mid-century architecture," says Lucas, name-checking New York institution The Grill as one of his sources of inspiration. "It's a timeless restaurant 60 years on... We're trying to draw on that and overlay it with beautiful clean contemporary lines.'
There's soaring ceilings, banquette seating, and big-city views, the sum of its parts conjuring a sense of old-world sophistication with "a modern, casual luxury," says Lucas.
They've also installed Benn's "dream kitchen", where the executive chef has been conducting research and development for the menu. "It's probably one of the most imposing kitchens I've seen in the world," says Lucas. Wild, too, will head up the front-of-house. "Vicki's probably the best exponent of hospitality in Australia."
Society has been a long time coming. From concept to construction, it's been a complex project, says Lucas, coupled, of course, with a certain pandemic. "We weren't counting on a 12-month delay due to COVID," he says. "It took three years but I think the end result will justify it."
And when it finally does open, you'll likely find him at the bar. "I think I'll need a drink after all of this."
Society is set to open in late March 2021 at 80 Collins St, Melbourne, Vic.