Society Restaurant may be the undoubted jewel in the Lucas Group crown, but Lillian Brasserie is hardly a shy little sister. Moody, yet warm, her menu takes classic European brasserie favourites and elevates them with superior ingredients, smart cooking – and exemplary service.
Location: 80 Collins St, Melbourne, VIC 3000 Ph: (03) 8618 8900
The Lucas Group has really pulled out all the stops with Society Restaurant.
Palatial, is the word that springs to mind as you exit the elevator of 80 Collins and enter what has to be one of the most opulent drinking and dining playgrounds in town.
Step from the lift and you’re immediately face-to-face with an impressive front desk and immaculate staff. But don’t be put off by the chic uniforms and polished efficiency. These people are friendly, yet respectful, and their sole purpose is to guide you through to whichever luminous eatery you are destined for.
Also within the 80 Collins dining hub, Nick & Nora’s Melbourne is one of our favourite cocktail bars.
Society Restaurant is the fine dinner and, as befits a flagship restaurant, is the first entrance we spy as we’re led to the more humble Lillian Brasserie where our meal is booked. All I can say is that expectations are high, as we glimpse the spangled brilliance of Society’s lozenged chandeliers and clock the discreet buzz of the affluent clientele.
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Our guide whisks us past a truly monumental bar, manned by an army of mixologists, and through a seating area where bright young things are already congregating for cocktails. We skim windows looking out onto an outdoor area and find ourselves in Lillian Brasserie. Slightly dazzled by all that we’ve already absorbed, but no less wowed by what is before us.
Again, nestled within the foodie heaven that is 80 Collins Street, you’ll find the excellent Farmer’s Daughters. Read our review here.
Now when I say that Lillian Brasserie is the more humble of the Society Restaurant duo, please remember that everything is relative.
Suffice to say that Lillian is no ugly duckling. In fact, Lillian Brasserie reeks of understated glamour.
The lighting is moody – perfect for memorable date nights and secret assignations. The high ceiling is dotted with textural fringed pendant lamps, reminiscent of a shimmering Josephine Baker ensemble. It takes real skill to create an illicit ambience but give diners sufficient light to read the menu. Pleasingly, Lillian just about manages it.
Interestingly, many of the tables form the centre of upmarket dining booths. It’s a smart move. The curved banquettes give patrons the feeling that they are in their own private space, when in reality, many are sat virtually within touching distance of one another. That said, the layout is generous. I doubt that anyone eating here would feel crammed in.
To the right of the room there’s also a belter of a bar. Discreet, yet dramatic, it’s also a refuge for dining duos who are happy to graze away from the tables.
Talking of drinking dens, here are some of our Best Cocktail Bars in Melbourne
Again, although Society Restaurant is most definitely the more princely venue, Lillian Brasserie is no working class hero. Relaxed, she may be, but Lillian still maintains lofty standards – with prices to match.
If you wish to trust your culinary fate to the kitchen, there’s a Seasonal Menu of 4 Courses at $135.
On this occasion, we decide to plot our own course and dip into the French and European inflected a la carte.
For European food of a different kind, read our review of Melbourne’s beloved Spanish restaurant, MoVida
We resist, but if you feel so inclined, there are Shucked Oysters – Pacific ($7.5ea) & Rock ($8.5ea) on offer. Alternatively, you can try the Prawns – Barbecued ($18.5ea) or Cocktail ($38.5). And although I may have skipped the Prawn Cocktail on this visit, I’ll definitely be back to try it another time.
From the Hand-Cut Potato Crisps & Smoked Eggplant Dip ($17.5), to the Lobster & Leek Croquette with a Fresh Herb Emulsion ($27.5), all sounds scrumptious.
As it is, we go for the Bread. The basket of Baguette, Sourdough & Grilled Garlic Flatbread shows the skill of the bakers. And the butter would honestly make shoe leather palatable.
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Having declined the retro-pull of the Prawn Cocktail, I’m weak to the allure of the Prawn & Crab ($34.5).
It comes, finely chopped and dressed with Olive Oil, Lemon & Parsley, a pale disc of seafood decorated with Chives. The Crabmeat and Prawn are beautifully fresh and sweet. I’m slightly surprised that there’s no accompanying cracker of some sort for a textural contrast. However, it’s lovely and gone in a flash.
Burrata is a dish that suddenly seems to be everywhere. And as someone who’s enjoyed a few wonderful versions recently – hello NOMAD Melbourne – that’s OK by me.
At Lillian Brasserie, when sliced below it’s dimpled topknot, the Burrata ($33.5) oozes a thick, creamy centre. There’s something incredibly decadent about such a simple dish – it’s like breaking into a Chocolate Fondant to find a perfectly molten centre. Again, the single Sourdough Coute is barely sufficient and the Bread Basket comes to our rescue once more.
As someone counts reading menus and imagining what dishes look and taste like as a hobby, I disappoint myself with my choice of Main. And the emphasis is on myself, not the kitchen at Lillian Brasserie.
I almost order the John Dory ($48.5) with Fennel & Sauce Vierge. Instead, I sway at the last moment and decide on the Chicken Cotoletta ($44.5) with Soft Herb Salad.
Now the Cotoletta at Lillian Brasserie is without doubt one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. But at the end of the day, whether it’s been treated to a Shiatsu massage daily or hand-fed organic apples and berries, it’s still a posh schnitzel.
Why or why am I so easily seduced by a Chicken Cotoletta? Never again, I swear. Especially as, on the table adjoining ours, the John Dory looks fabulous.
Anyway, happily, my aristocratic chicken schnitty is particularly regal. Packed with intense chicken flavour and oozing juices when cut, it’s a beauty.
In contrast, my dining companion is quite rightfully smug.
He makes the inspired choice of the Spanner Crab Linguine with Lobster Oil & Tarragon ($49.5). It’s exceptional. The scent of sea-kissed Crab and aniseed-forward Tarragon wafting from the plate is absolutely mouth-watering. The Linguine is silky and wonderfully slippery with Lobster Oil and more.
It’s one of the most flavoursome dishes either of us have eaten in a long while.
If pasta gets you salivating, see our guide to the Best Italian Restaurants in Melbourne
After the triumph of the Linguine, our Sides are a hit and a miss.
Grills come in so many shapes and forms. There’s the Japanese Hibachi, the Indoor/Outdoor Barbeque and the simple Grill Plate. For all of these pieces of kit and more, see here
The Wood Roasted Greens, Olive Oil & Pine Nuts ($18.5) and utterly addictive. Crunchy, bright, glistening veg, bursting with vitality. However, the Potato Fries with Thyme Salt ($17.5) are really average. Dry and at little more than room temperature, they bear all the hallmarks of having sat too long out of the fryer.
Wood Fire Grill
For those with more of an appetite than us, the ‘Grill has some serious proteins on offer.
The Margra Lamb Cutlets with Salsa Verde & Horseradish (3pc 44.5/6pc 82.5) would get our vote. And if you really want to go big, the Aged Fillet of Beef 500g with Mustard & Thyme Jus ($155) sounds like a majestic plateful.
Given the sumptuous surrounds, we just had to open with a Cocktail.
The Lillian is a pretty, breezy blend of Strawberry Eucalyptus, Gin, Rose, Saint Felix Bitter Citrus Aperitivo & Lemon ($25). It arrives, all elegance, in a champagne flute with a glorious frosting of Strawberry Sorbet down one side of the glass. It is all kinds of fun and refreshing and I could easily quaff 3 or 4 of them.
Meanwhile, my co-diner continued on his mission to sample every variation of a Negroni in town.
At Lillian Brasserie, this means a Davidson Plum Negroni ($26). Here the usual Gin, Campari & Sweet Vermouth get a native kick from Davidson Plum and Quandong. The sharpness of the fruits working well to cut the usual sweetness of the drink.
From there on in, it was gin for me and a rather good glass of Chardonnay for my friend.
For experimental concoctions in a sleek, serene setting, see our review of Bouvardia Cocktail Bar.
Dinner at Society Restaurant – Lillian Brasserie is definitely something to get dressed up for.
Whether you eat at Society itself or Lillian, the setting is ravishing and that, combined with the truly superb service makes dinners feel special. And isn’t that what so many of us want?
But Lillian Brasserie isn’t just a pretty face. The European soul of the food shines through on the plate and the quality of both the produce and the skills of the kitchen are evident.
This is an ‘occasion restaurant’ in every sense.