A Collins Street address is a type of status symbol many Melburnians aspire to, even a boy from the periphery of country Ballarat like Shannon Bennett. Of course, he also happens to be one of Australia’s most renowned chefs, so when it comes to food Bennett is so focused that he is like the mechanic who can fix your clutch – he just listens, looks and feels.
His latest machine-like venture sees him at the helm of Vue de Monde’s transformation of the former observation deck, 55 floors up the Rialto tower. Attached to this new complex is the swish Lui Bar – named after the concreter Luigi Grollo (the Rialto would not exist as it does today if it were not for him) – which offers a romantic 360-degree view over a sparkling Melbourne night as you sip a cocktail.
With Bennett and his $10 million restaurant fit-out inside, the Rialto now represents a new beacon of fine dining. Indeed, Vue de Monde sets the benchmark for a highflying restaurant, with slick black interiors (including kangaroo leather stretched over the tables by the boys at Captains of Industry), low lit dining and lounge areas and an expansive open kitchen. The restaurant and bar takes over the full floor - Bennett at the helm of this large engine - which is also sustainable, carbon neutral and chemical-free, with a full reticulated water system known as eWater. He’s taken a risk and the logistical demands must be huge, but if this system works there's no doubt that other businesses will follow suite.
After a swift elevator ride up to the top, upon entry you are greeted at the door by Maitre d’ Bryan Lloyd and an eye-catching installation by artist Mikala Dwyer, which suspends transparent clouds crafted from industrial plastic above the Lui Bar to the backdrop of the city skyline, looking over Port Phillip Bay. Bennett has also commissioned site-specific works by artists such as Joseph Kosuth and Emily Floyd.
At the spacious Lui Bar, an eclectic array of furniture, such as chaise lounges, sofas and armchairs draped in Sonia Rykiel fabric, are scattered about with astute consideration. The bar menu is printed on paper that you can take home, soak in water and plant to become a lemon scented bottle brush tree – like magic – and it’s made up of cocktails crafted by a busy team of suited bartenders (dressed by Akira and M.J Bale) under the guidance of Sebastian Reaburn (ex 1806). It might include a ‘Velvet Rotor Macadamia Martini’, a ‘Lolar Montex Spider Dance Fizz’ or a ‘Koala Stinger’. These can be sipped with bar food like chicken noodle soup in a steel cup, poured from a billy tea can, ham and cheese ‘Toasties’ and oysters with jack mackerel. It all has a nice Australiana/Ballarat gold fields swing to it.
With final touches still being made to the new Vue, it is with anticipation that we await our next visit, to dine at the restaurant.
Lui Bar at Vue de Monde
Level 55, Rialto Towers
535 Collins Street, Melbourne
(03) 9691 3888
Mon, Sat 6pm-11pm
Tue-Fri 12pm-4pm, 6pm-11pm