The stage is set for a new category in Australian fine dining, with 80 Collins Street unveiled today as the home for the keenly anticipated restaurant collaboration between hospitality mogul Chris Lucas and acclaimed chef Martin Benn, of Sydney's Sepia.
In what's seen as a triumph for Melbourne's culinary scene, restaurant legends Vicki Wild and Martin Benn have relocated to Victoria but said they have kept the venue location secret for more than a year.
"It's been very hard to keep it quiet and you can see why," said restaurant manager Ms Wild. "It's already looking like the most spectacular dining room I've ever seen."
Set to open next year, the 47-storey tower on the corner of Collins and Exhibition streets will house international luxury, beauty and lifestyle brands as well as traditional and modern commercial spaces.
The restaurant, spanning multiple levels and with eight-metre ceilings and outdoor terraces, will sit atop the retail precinct.
"It's going to be a world-class restaurant in the heart of Melbourne," said Mr Benn.
Without releasing finer details about the restaurant's name, menu or design, Ms Wild revealed it will offer a variety of intimate dining experiences, in varying levels of formality.
"It's a new category in fine dining and that doesn't mean we're just appealing to an elite audience," she said.
"We want to offer a return to sophisticated dining but an evolved and contemporary model, rather than the stuffy environment of formalities. We want to offer a sense of occasion, an event, but still keep it fun."
The $800 million tower, surrounded by top hotels and a block from Parliament House, is likely to attract local and global visitors.
"We want to create a restaurant that is quintessentially Australian that the world can look over and see how forward thinking we are," said Mr Benn.
Chris Lucas said he "couldn't resist" being involved this development from real estate company QICGRE.
"We felt it was the only backdrop worthy of Martin and Vicki's new restaurant," said Mr Lucas, whose empire began with Flinders Lane's hip eatery Chin Chin, known for its no-booking policy and queues around the block.
"Martin is an internationally acclaimed chef and his new home needed to be in a globally recognised location."
Mr Lucas noted Melbourne's international reputation was thriving and that now it was time to "up the game".
The husband-and-wife team closed their three-hat Sydney CBD restaurant on December 15 after serving award-winning food for nearly a decade.
The Japanese-inspired restaurant opened in 2009 with a sophisticated New York vibe and a contemporary menu focused on seafood from co-owner George Costi.
The combination of Mr Benn's cooking and Ms Wild's front-of-house service propelled the restaurant to the top of Australia's dining scene and won them international acclaim. It was The Sydney Morning Herald chief restaurant critic Terry Durack's highest-scoring review last year.
A desire for change and the retirement of long-standing business partner Mr Costi contributed to the pair's decision to end the lease and forge a new journey in Melbourne.
Mr Benn said Sepia was like an "apprenticeship" and this new venture will allow him to leave a legacy in Australia's dining scene.
"My life's work is going into this building," he said.
The pair knocked back several offers from overseas before deciding to collaborate with Mr Lucas, whose restaurant empire also includes Korean-Japanese restaurant Kong, Japanese restaurant Kisume, pizzeria Baby and Singaporean street food restaurant Hawker Hall. The new addition will mean the Lucas Group will employ 1400 people, up from 800 today.
"Chris is a visionary in terms of restaurants," said Ms Wild. "He knows how to create theatre, he knows how to create excitement. Everybody loves an exciting restaurant experience and our aim is to create that."
At Thursday's launch, Lord Mayor Sally Capp praised the venture saying it was a "coup" to have lured Mr Benn and Ms Wild from Sydney.
"This project is a vote of confidence in our city. It will be a flagship building for Melbourne, a project that at its heart shows us to be one of the great culinary capitals of the world."