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  • Restaurants
  • Melbourne
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. A sauce being poured over duck breast.
    Photograph: Adrian Lander
  2. Society restaurant
    Photograph: Tom Blachford
  3. Diners seated within the main dining room of Society, fitted out with crystal chandeliers and grey-toned furnishings.
    Photograph: Adrian Lander
  4. A caviar martini served alongside olives.
    Photograph: Adrian Lander
  5. Seafood canapes on a white dish alongside a metal tin of oysters.
    Photograph: Adrian Lander

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Lavish and unapologetically expensive, Society is a paean to the old-fashioned dining virtues

You don’t give your fancy new restaurant a marquee name like Society without raising expectations. Accessorised with a top-end city location at the so-schmancy-it-hurts 80 Collins development, Chris Lucas’ new darling is a bold assertion for the ye olde verities of occasion dining. It’s out for your heart and your wallet. It succeeds mostly on the first count and completely on the second. 

You probably know the somewhat tortured backstory here: of Martin Benn, the ex-Sepia chef attached to the passion project who walked no sooner than the first caviar-infused Martini had sallied forth. Unexpectedly promoted to the top job, his lieutenant Luke Headon (whose CV is littered with names like the Fat Duck and London’s Restaurant Story) has turned what could have been a poisoned chalice into a PB. 

There’s a chance diners of a certain age will be reminded of Rockpool in its heyday. Society’s looks owe a debt to the eternal design Esperanto that could have been plucked from New York, Paris or Milan – the dark, clubbish, testosterone-drenched good taste of it all, with the addition here of enormous satellite-esque chandeliers popping against the muted room. The menu’s à la carte free-for-all might also raise some connections in the hippocampus.

The key dish is the seafood platter, which costs $125 but induces a handy case of amnesia with the arrival of its luxe canapés-for-two arrangement: a crisply buttery two-bite crumpet crowned with uni, taramasalata and caviar; a jewel-like wodge of tea-smoked ocean trout with a tickle of bee pollen; the jellied perfection of a cured king prawn with the subtle tart-tangy kick of tomato ponzu; a salmon roe-topped crab tart that ought to be served in the Birdcage come the racing carnival. Just add Champagne, dahlings.

On that note, it’s easy to spend some serious coin on a list designed by super-sommelier Loic Avril, which travels first class to Burgundy and Bordeaux while also representing the pinnacle of the Australian wine industry (mere mortals will be relieved to hear the Oz foothills also get a showing).

It’s high-end stuff uninterested in chasing revolutionary ideas. Instead, Society focuses on delivering the classical appeal of deboned quail breast in a foamy sea of sauternes-spiked hazelnut butter – all swoony tang and soft-textured harmony. Five of its six mains follow the hero-protein-with-sauce template, which is not a bad thing when the hero protein is a perfect piece of coral trout, plucked from Queensland waters not 12 hours earlier, we’re told. It’s served with the due deference of cauliflower puree and a fruity-sour sea buckthorn sauce, a few Akoya oysters – native to WA, they taste like a cross between an oyster and mussel – playing back-up. 

Society is thoroughly enjoyable, great in places, but the waiters are strangely inert to audience expectations. To wait ten minutes for the first drink order to be taken is a crime demanding two years in the slammer at this end of dining. It’s unreasonable to expect they’ve all been to charm school, but it’s telling when the biggest display of enthusiasm is seen at the bill-paying part of the evening. 

But we’ve bypassed dessert, which is a crime in itself when it involves the Metropolis – a faceted lid of wickedly glistening dark chocolate designed to mimic the building’s exterior. It would all be too clever by half if it weren’t for the sheer deliciousness of it all – the crack of the choc spilling gooey innards of blood orange-spiked white chocolate. 

It’s an early signature: a Benn-created, constantly evolving symbol of what Society is, and what it wishes to be. With a bit of work, it ought to get there. 

After more of Melbourne's finest eateries? Peruse our list of our city's best restaurants.

Written by
Larissa Dubecki


80 Collins St
Opening hours:
Mon-Thu 5.30-11pm; Fri-Sun noon-11.30pm

What’s on

The Society Social

  • Food and drink

Whether you’re yet to grace restaurateur Chris Lucas’ opulent Society with a visit or you’re a die-hard dinnertime loyalist, it’s well worth a look in for a weekend lunch. From Friday to Sunday in the afternoons, the swish restaurant is hosting the Society Social, an extravagant multi-course affair featuring a generous array of savoury dishes and a roving dessert trolley to dazzle you at the end.  The offering was inspired by Lucas’ recent adventures in Paris and New York, cities where palatial dining rooms reign supreme and lunch is a social occasion in and of itself. Expect a fine dining experience but with a casual, unstuffy air and minus the enormous price tag (it costs just $77 per person for your choice of two courses or $99 if you opt for a third). You’ll start with artisanal housemade bread and butter and a rainbow of market-fresh crudité hand-picked daily from local farms. Opt for a crisp disc of radish dunked into taramasalata or a tree-like cauliflower bud smothered with smoked eggplant or crème fraiche. Repeat and relish the lavish assortment of textures and flavours before easing into your meal with one of Society’s signature drinks – or a bottle of Champers to make it a long and lazy one.  If you’ve got your eye on another varietal, just ask for the beverage director Loic Avril and his team of sommeliers, one of which will assist you in selecting the perfect drop from the impressive 10,000-bottle cellar. A selection of Society’s cult favourite snacks follow, fro

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