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Sydney loses more culinary talent to Melbourne as Sepia closes

Written by
Larissa Dubecki
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The bad news for Sydney is that Sepia’s closing. The good news for Melbourne is that Sepia’s Martin Benn and Vicki Wild will be moving south next year to join serial restaurateur Chris Lucas in a new venture.

Speculation has been rife for some time that the acclaimed five-star fine diner at the top of the Sydney dining tree would be moving, and possibly changing its focus, with the lease soon to expire on its Sussex Street home.  

However, Benn and Wild, who opened their restaurant eight years ago, pulled out a wildcard with the Lucas union, which will see them move to Melbourne ahead of the projected opening in the second half of next year of a venture that has yet to find a name, or a home.

“The ball really starts rolling at the end of the year,” says Lucas, founder and owner of The Lucas Group, which operates Melbourne hotspots Chin Chin, Hawker Hall, Baby and Kong and is in the latter stages of opening the ambitious, multi-tiered Japanese restaurant Kisume on Flinders Lane next month. It will also open Chin Chin Sydney in Surry Hills’ 100-year-old Griffiths Teas building in August.

 “We’re busily running around looking for the right site. The CBD at this stage is the obvious choice.”

The new venture will not simply be Sepia Mark II, although it will be the home of adventurous dining. “One of the things that brought us together is that restaurateurs and chefs are very like minded. I want to keep building amazing restaurants, he wants to keep being creative. Martin, like any great chef, wants to keep doing what he wants to do creatively without compromise. It’s not easy these days to control your own outcomes,” says Lucas.

Benn and Wild reportedly turned down an offer to go to New York in favour of Lucas’s offer to open “a pure expression of operating a restaurant”. 

As for the food, it will still be in the realm of fine dining, a term Lucas hates. “We’ll try to maintain or exceed the status Sepia has, but in look and feel it will be way different. We hope to create something that’s cool, youthful and fresh. We want to redefine the norm when it comes to fine dining.”

Sepia closes its doors for the last time on December 31. In a statement, Benn and Wild said: “This announcement gives our staff, who are like family, clarity for the future. Our loyal guests and friends can be assured we will be giving it our all over the remainder of the year at Sepia. We won’t be winding down, we will be dialling it up and going out with a bang.” 

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