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Reine and La Rue

  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. The street view of the arched entrance to the old Melbourne Stock Exchange building.
    Photograph: Samantha Schultz
  2. A plate of Great Ocean duck, sugarloaf cabbage and jus on a wooden table with cutlery, a lamp and a glass of red wine.
    Photograph: The Cru Media
  3. Vaulted ceilings of Reine and La Rue.
    Photograph: Supplied
  4. A dessert incorporating ruby grapefruit, bayleaf and elderflower.
    Photograph: The Cru Media
  5. A plate of celeriac boulangere with cutlery and a glass of red wine on a wooden table.
    Photograph: The Cru Media
  6. A bartender in motion at La Rue, an eight-seater speakeasy bar.
    Photograph: Samantha Schultz

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Reine and La Rue’s reign over Melbourne begins with a jaw-dropping dining room – but it’s the food that’s most worth kneeling for

Anyone with even the slightest interest in Melbourne’s food and hospitality scene has been talking about Reine and La Rue as of late. The highly ambitious project from Nomad Group has transformed Melbourne’s hallowed old Stock Exchange building into a European-inspired restaurant as ritzy as it is regal, with a speakeasy bar (the Rue part) accessible through an adjoining courtyard. It’s the first time the space has been open to the public in more than 20 years and the obsession is real. But big talk doesn’t always lead to a big walk, and so I was determined to discover if the new dining venture is as good as others say. Spoiler alert: it’s even better.

The neo-gothic structure on Collins Street isn’t difficult to imagine gilded in Nomad’s brand of splendour, and even prior to its metamorphosis the late 1800s space was a vision to behold. Picture high vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows and limestone walls. The restoration of the main dining area, known as the 'Cathedral Room', now sees new marble bar tops, brass detailing and caramel leather banquets installed in the space, all thanks to a highly adept team of designers and ateliers. It’s nothing short of majestic.

On a Friday afternoon, cruisy tunes that sound like they came straight from a So Frenchy So Chic playlist float up towards the cavernous arches and I take my place by the oyster bar. The service staff, while suitably presented in swish fine dining uniforms, are the definition of organised chaos. One takes my coat, another nearly bumps into his colleague, and a third slaps a menu down in front of me with a smile I can only imagine conceals a bit of stress. But this is all part of the fun. It’s got the buzzy feeling of a new opening, and the enthusiasm is contagious.

It’s high stakes stuff, after all – it’s still the first month of the new restaurant’s operations, and every first impression counts. In any case, my mood is fancy-free and forgiving. There’s a beautiful menu in front of me, and I’m sitting in the middle of the most beautiful restaurant in Melbourne right now, so I certainly can’t complain. The group’s executive chef Jacqui Challinor and head chef Brendan Katich (from Nomad Melbourne) have collaborated closely with Victorian producers to curate a menu that pays homage to the French classics with fresh Aussie flair. At a glance, I eye Lakes Entrance calamari charcoal-grilled with café de Paris butter, a retro lobster cocktail, fruits de mer platter and a Great Ocean duck with red wine jus and sugarloaf cabbage. Some dishes are small while others are large enough to share. It’s just little ol’ me, so I proceed with caution. 

I start with a glass of altesse – a rare-to-come-by white wine varietal from the Savoy region in France. It’s rich and honeyed, with a crisp lemon curd tang that goes down superbly with a fat and minerally Merimbula rock oyster that’s just been shucked behind the bar. It arrives bathing in a zippy smoked olive oil and seaweed mignonette. Call me old-fashioned, but oysters this good never get old. Snack number two is a plate of the wood-roasted leeks and hazelnuts. Under a snowy dusting of grated cheese, they’re remarkably velvety in their subtle smoky sweetness; the humble vegetable never dazzled so bright. 

When you’re dining solo at the oyster bar, there’s a chance you’ll get to talking with whoever’s sitting next to you. My neighbour and I exchange a few pleasantries and so she politely offers me a taste of her celeriac boulangère (onion-based casserole) which has her gobsmacked, and rightfully so. I wish I’d ordered it. It’s just a side, but the glimmering browned root is rich, silky and dotted with thyme leaves, and once again I’m in awe of how elevated simple ingredients can taste when prepared well.

Yes, there are eye-wateringly expensive cuts of steak on the menu, but I want to know what else Challinor has up her sleeve. I ask the waiter her thoughts on the best red to go with the coral trout, and she hardly skips a beat: “the gamay, it’s my favourite.” She’s not wrong. The drop from Beaujolais hums with fresh cherry and herbs, perfectly balancing out the rich moat of beurre blanc that has my trout surrounded. It’s a lustrously glossy sauce that pales only in comparison to the fish itself: an achingly tender bite that trumps every flake in town. It’s perched atop a hill of mussels and greens, its appetising caramelised char glinting in the shower of Reine’s stained glass-filtered sun. Well, I’ll be damned.

By this stage, it’s crystal clear that Reine isn’t just a flashy and expensive experiment. The kitchen is committed to serving up some of Victoria’s finest possible produce in the finest possible way, and the formula unsurprisingly works. There are no molecular tricks or shocking surprises with the food; it’s all great oil, butter, vinegar and quality goods. But that’s all you need when everything is so fresh and melodious on its own, something Challinor and her team understand. 

While there’s no shortage of lavish desserts to choose from (a bowl of Jersey milk soft serve with hazelnut and extra virgin olive oil is every bit the temptress), something petite and easy to demolish in just a few bites will do the trick for me. I opt for a honey choux and it’s faultless, a crisp golden sphere of sweetness wearing a lemony hat of piped icing. Feeling extra, I end the meal with a white rose Sazerac whisky cocktail. Of course, the bartender nails it.

If anyone else had taken the wheel behind a project like Reine and La Rue, I’d have half-expected a disappointment. Though the space is astoundingly gorgeous, aesthetics only count for so much and people won’t go back if the food doesn’t match the hype. But the team at Nomad Group are historically fastidious in their attention to detail, especially in regards to both ingredients and preparation. It’s arguably one of the most exciting hospitality groups in Australia right now, and the crew haven’t messed this one up. I pray the successful run continues, for I’d happily dine here on the weekly if they’d have me, and besides – I need to go back for that popular olive oil-drizzled ice cream.

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Lauren Dinse
Written by
Lauren Dinse


380 Collins St
Opening hours:
Lunch Tues-Sat 12-2.30pm; Dinner Tues-Sat from 5.30pm
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