Melbourne has welcomed a new French restaurant and bar this August in the form of Reine and La Rue, by the same owners of NOMAD in Sydney and Melbourne. Jacqui Challinor serves as Executive Chef, while Brendan Katich takes on Head Chef.
Housed in the original 1890s neo-gothic Melbourne Stock Exchange building, the venue was a collaborative effort with Al and Rebecca Yazbek of NOMAD Group, Heritage Victoria, RBA Heritage Architects and architecture firm Akin Atelier. Together, they transformed the venue into a stunning 150-seat dining experience with three distinct spaces, including an eight-person speakeasy, called La Rue.
“The historic Cathedral Room at the corner of Queen and Collins Street in Melbourne was chosen because of the room,” says Rebecca Yazbek. “I think I would have chosen this room at any location. It’s an incredible piece of history that we are so excited about sharing with our diners.”
Solid limestone walls, vaulted ceilings and grey granite columns feature throughout the interiors, conveying a style of gothic. The room is complimented by custom-made finishings, textures and art from Jardan, Henry Wilson and Lucy Roleff.
“We didn’t want to overcomplicate or try and recreate the history with the space — we wanted a modern restaurant that our guests will feel comfortable and relaxed within,” says Yazbek. “Everything about the design of Reine and La Rue has to be about balance.”
In fact, Yazek says Akin Atelier wasn’t allowed to touch the building “envelope”, so they had to be clever about how they designed the dining room to sit entirely within the existing building. The brief? To create a space that was refined and elegant, but not stuffy.
“We wanted an intimate dining space in a very grand scale room,” says Yazek.
The menu includes snacks “from the sea” and entrées like queen scallop with truffle butter, fruit de mer and roast leeks vinaigrette with hazelnuts. Mains include a hand-picked mud crab brandade, Corner Inlet calamari with café de Paris butter and a mushroom pithivier with soubise and chestnut that Yazek says her favourite dish on the menu.
With the wood-fired hearth as the centre point of the kitchen, the menu is built around a large ‘from the grill’ section. Challinor says she and Katich wanted guests to be able to choose their own dining experience, whether it’s snacks and Champagne at the bar, a cosy booth for a three-course meal or a table full of plates to share.
“As has always been our approach, we source the best ingredients and let them do the talking, cooking over fire enhances this approach in the best way possible,” says Challinor.
Pastry Chef Vencenza Soto worked closely with Challinor and Katich on the dessert menu, creating chocolate, espresso and caramel tart, tarte tatin and another dish Yazek considers among her favourite: Jersey milk soft serve ice cream with Little Pier olive oil and hazelnuts.
The wine list includes a selection of French and American wines, with over 40 wines available by the glass. The cocktail list is inspired by New York classics, including riffs on martinis, Manhattans and Sazeracs.
Connected to the main dining room Reine, via an external courtyard, is La Rue, an eight-seat speakeasy. It features all-black moulded timber, with a separate wine by the glass and cocktail list.
“We want guests to walk away feeling uplifted, satiated and excited to tell their friends,” says Yazbek.