Collins Place is among Melbourne’s most iconic buildings, designed by master architect IM Pei (who’s also responsible for the Louvre’s striking glass-and-steel pyramid). Some 40 years have passed since it opened, but new eatery Dame is harking back to its early days.

Despite Covid’s ravaging of CBD cafe trade, “We feel like there’s this excitement in the city,” says Dame co-owner Jackie Middleton. “It’s a buoyant time again – like the ’80s were. The idea was to play on the ’80s and ’90s in a nostalgic sort of way.”

She and partner Simon O’Regan also own sandwich shop Earl Canteen, which has seven stores around Melbourne, including one in Collins Place.

Carrying on the group’s regal motif, Dame takes its name from the British honorific traditionally given to women with high societal status. “Dame is a granted title, it’s not handed down,” says Middleton. “It was fitting for this idea of a 1980s power woman.”

Middleton commissioned Grampians-based artist Stacey Rees to paint her own interpretation of the Dame, which hangs on the wall behind the curvaceous pale pink marble bar. Her energy is undeniably luxurious – as is the space that surrounds her.

Designed by Bergman & Co (Poodle Bar & Bistro, Chancery Lane), it’s awash with pastels and deep reds, giving it a truly grandiose feel. But the gauzy curtains shrouding many of the floor-to-ceiling windows add a sense of intimacy to the spacious venue.

Unlike Earl, which caters to a grab-and-go corporate crowd, Dame is the kind of place you’ll want to linger. It’s open until 7pm, serving a selection of bar snacks like baked camembert with grapes and melba toast, and “cloud” pikelets with stracciatella and salmon roe.

By day, find everything from twice-baked fruit-and-almond croissants to all-inclusive breakfast sets made up of avocado toast with Bloody Mary-spiced tomato; yoghurt panna cotta; a soft boiled egg with seaweed salt; and coffee or tea.

You’ll also find a muffuletta packed with ham, mortadella, sopressa salami, provolone and house pickles (the cross section is pretty impressive), and a spin on the classic caesar. “My mind’s been blown by how many caesar salads we’re doing,” says Middleton. “You usually think of a bad suburban cafe when you think of a caesar, but we’re doing a really fresh version.” There’s the rudimentary cos and soft boiled eggs, but it’s souped up with crispy fried mortadella, and croutons made from the restaurant’s house-baked Gruyere scones.

In addition to Industry Beans coffee, Dame serves mimosas and a few cocktails, including spicy Bloody Marys and verjuice spritzes. There’s also a few mostly Victorian beers and wines available from the arvo.

Dame
35 Collins Street, Melbourne
(03) 8596 0919

Hours:
Mon to Fri 7am–7pm

dame.melbourne