Published on 17 March 2022
No restaurant opening has made headlines around the country like Society for a great many years. Ambitious and glamorous, it’s a gleaming temple to hedonism and next-level production values split into two restaurants and a connecting bar – Society Dining Room: a three-word synonym for opulence where timber and velvet meet under a ceiling of hand-cut crystals; Lillian: a European-style brasserie that runs a click more casual; and The Lounge Bar: Melbourne's home of the Caviar Martini.
An alumnus of The Fat Duck and London’s Restaurant Story executive chef Luke Headon isn’t one to shy away from big technique and A-list ingredients, but the breadth of offering at Society means the casual crowd is just as welcome and well-served as the five-course crew. Here’s how you can do either, or something in between, according to the man behind the menus.
How about a drink?
The Caviar Martini must be a city icon by now; everyone loves it, and while the liquid in the glass is exceptional, it still involves a little something from the kitchen. The drink is served with a bite-sized cream cheese pretzel with a significant serve of caviar on top. My drink of choice at the moment is actually a wine I am really enjoying the odd glass of: the Seville Estate Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley. Loic, our somm, says it's a 2019 vintage and barrel-fermented.
I’m here for a good time, not a long time.
For a snack, I would head to The Lounge for a list of tasty bites. The crab toast is my go-to; we use hand-picked Queensland spanner crab, which is dressed, seasoned, and served in toasted brioche. The sweetness in the pastry highlights the flavour in the crab, and the whole thing is a sweet, salty, buttery, crunchy mouthful that is perfect when drinking – my choice would be with an ice-cold super-dry gin Martini. Lillian’s pre-theatre menu is ideal if you're after something more substantial. The burrata and heirloom tomato salad on that menu is at peak right now: warm tomatoes are lightly seasoned with lemon and basil, and the rich burrata just falls over the layers. The dish really tastes and smells like summer.
Got anything light and fresh?
My cooking is quite complex. I like layering flavour, making dishes that are playful to eat. The tuna dish is a great example. While I use relatively rich ingredients, the dish retains a light and fresh balance. I source the best tuna I can get my hands on daily and use the loin from the top of the fish; it’s a tender cut and high in fat, which is where all the flavour lives. The tuna is touched by a lightly spiced egg yolk emulsion and served on a jamón Ibérico cream with a touch of truffle. The acidity is added through the finger limes, and the dish delivers a light freshness that is still big on flavour.
What if I like tasty food but don’t eat animals?
Tomato and Jerusalem artichoke tartare – I use very ripe Roma tomatoes and semi-dry them slowly with pickled shallots and garlic for a few hours. This brings out the meatiness of the tomatoes. We add pickled and creamed Jerusalem artichokes and serve them chopped in a traditional style with a fermented artichoke tuille for the crunch.
Name the dish that captures the Society vibe right now.
The Society Seafood is a great way to introduce the menu to the guests. Right now, we serve a crystal snow-crab tartlet, a scallop crumpet with elderflower and nasturtium, bonito with bergamot and Earl Grey tea, and king prawns with tomato ponzu glaze and fresh ginger. The idea is to share a Society Seafood with a glass of Champagne while you settle in and consider the experience you want to create for yourself. Again it's about the complexity of flavours in individual bite-sized moments. The purpose is to whet the appetite and bring a smile, to create that feeling of anticipation, and to capture the beauty of the ingredients we're using with simple, clean, eye-catching presentation. Each bite has its own identity.
Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for me?
If you want to go full experience, I'd add a mid-course dish. With these, it’s all about showcasing the ingredients as simply as possible. Crystal snow crab, rock lobster, pearl meat – there are lots of choices. We serve the crystal snow crab from southeastern Tasmania as either 75 grams or 150 grams. The crabs arrive live and are super fresh. We steam and hand-pick the crab meat and then poach it in clarified butter – this is served with a subtle citrus and tomato dressing, rich and buttery, which brings out the best in this premium ingredient.
And to close?
Order The Apple - a dessert with sheep's milk yoghurt and dill. I’m a bit of a fan of herbaceous notes in desserts that play against sweetness. The Apple is a mixture of caramelised sweet apple and fresh green apple cream covered in a light dill snow; the textures are great fun to eat. But dinner at Society doesn't finish with dessert. After dinner, head to the terrace for after-dinner drinks and cigars. I’m not currently a cigar guy, but the temptation is strong; I do love the trolley with the Cognacs and vintage cocktails though.
Society, open noon-11pm Mon-Thu, noon-11.30pm Fri-Sun, 80 Collins St, Melbourne, 03 8618 8900, societyrestaurant.com, @societyrestaurant.
Sound delicious? Book your ticket to High Steaks at Society here.
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