For more than a century the Georges luxury department store on Collins Street was synonymous with Melbourne's Paris-end pretentions. Its basement has been a trickier beast - home to a series of ill-fated brasseries and, for the past decade, the increasingly tired The Long Room bar. But with its $4 million makeover into The George on Collins, Melbourne's swishest address might finally be getting the restaurant it deserves.
That's the aim of owners Greg Kahan and Simon Jones, who, after a decade of pursuing the after-work, late-night crowd at The Long Room, decided it was time for a premium upgrade. The result is a venue Kahan says will spin the upmarket George ethos into a hardworking glamour-puss serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, complete with late-night drinking action and bottomless-prosecco brunches on weekends soundtracked by live DJ sets.
"We see it as a completely clean break. The Long Room was predominantly a late-night bar venue, and we were wasting this amazing 900 square metres of space," says Kahan. "The whole idea is that people want to see and be seen. They want to dress up and enjoy themselves. The brand talks to the venue - hence the decision to rename it George on Collins."
The interiors are the work of local firm Hecker Guthrie.
After closing The Long Room in January and completely gutting the space, they're due to open the transformed George on Collins today (June 23). Local design firm Hecker Guthrie has peeled back the space to the bare bones of its 1880s architecture. Implicitly tackling the problem of luring people into a basement during the day, they've kept the colour scheme pale, with layers of interest in heritage-brick archways, a central granite bar overhung with Davide Groppi pendant lights, and softly lit booths.
"We're really appreciating the history of the address," says Kahan. "We enjoyed stripping it back and exposing the heritage of the building."
British chef Tom Brockbank - formerly head chef at Estelle Bistro - has been given the task of creating menus from breakfast to supper and is keeping the brief simple and European.
Aromatic poached chicken salad bowl.
"There are no surprises behind anything; it's all good, seasonal produce that I don't like to overcomplicate." His kitchen is aiming for minimal waste (look out for plenty of root-to-tip vegetable action) and self-sufficiency (the pastrami for the brunchtime Reuben sandwiches is made in-house in a week-long process of brining, curing and drying). The dinner menu, meanwhile, will go for Melbourne's jugular with dishes such as Milawa chicken with truffled sweetcorn purée, chicken crackling and fermented truffle jus, and 12-hour lamb shoulder with petit-pois.
Befitting a venue that kicks on until late every night and 3am on weekends, the drinks list has been given equal consideration. Sommelier Ainslie Lubbock (Attica, Cutler & Co, Pei Modern) has composed the Oz-centric wine list while cocktails are in the hands of Sebastian Costello, of Fitzroy's Bad Frankie.
The George on Collins, basement, 162-168 Collins St, Melbourne, Vic, **(03) 9663 7226, thegeorgeoncollins.com.au. Mon-Thurs 7.30am-midnight, Fri 7.30am-3am, Sat 8am-3am, Sun 8am-midnight.