Chef Martin Benn and maitre d’ Vicki Wild have departed Society, the much-anticipated Melbourne fine-diner of restaurateur Chris Lucas, which opened for just five days before Melbourne’s latest lockdown following four years of planning and building.
Benn has not given a reason for his departure but said in a statement that the decision was made before this lockdown. The rest of the Society team has been informed of the decision.
Lucas did not respond to a request for comment.
Wild parted ways with Society in early July, before the restaurant’s opening on July 30.
The pair were recruited by Lucas from Sydney in 2018 after running the vaunted fine-diner Sepia for nearly a decade. Securing Benn and Wild was seen as a coup, not just for the Lucas Group but also for Melbourne. But Society hit more than its fair share of road bumps since the project was announced.
Lockdowns disrupted the restaurant’s official opening three times before doors were finally opened on the 100-seat flagship diner of the 80 Collins development in the CBD.
Lucas invested a rumoured $15 million in the restaurant, which features soaring ceilings, bespoke chandeliers, marble walls and an enormous kitchen. Society also advertised about 300 jobs ahead of its opening, which was delayed for a year.
Benn unveiled a 38-item a la carte menu for the much-anticipated venue, showcasing his love of Japanese technique and ingredients alongside his European training and an Australian sensibility and creativity.
Michael Harry, editor of The Age Good Food Guide 2022, visited Society during its brief opening window for the 2022 Guide.
“Everything about the place was and is larger than life, from the chandeliers to the plush circular booths,” he says. “But nothing was larger than Martin Benn’s vision for the food. It was such a relief that the place delivered what was promised – a fine dining restaurant on par with the best in the world.”
Benn’s second in charge, Luke Headon, will lead the kitchen when the restaurant reopens. Headon has worked at Heston Blumenthal’s UK restaurant The Fat Duck, as well as Ezard at Levantine Hill in the Yarra Valley.
A statement from Benn’s publicist on his departure reads:
“Martin is saddened to be leaving the team of loyal and talented chefs, but is confident that they will continue to ensure the ongoing success of the business.
“Martin is proud of what he has achieved in opening Society. For now Martin is hanging up his chef’s jacket and considering some new options, and is looking forward to a well-earned break.”
Good Food restaurant critic Gemima Cody said of her visit: “Benn painstakingly perfected every dish for the project, from a cherry chocolate dessert impeccably modelled on the building’s facade, to wildcard standouts like a dish of rice and sweet peas that was a sit-up-in-your-seat showstopper. The show will go on. And though it’s devastating that Melburnians won’t get to dine under one of our nation’s great hospitality power couples, Society’s world-class brigade has now been schooled by the best. That’s a legacy to echo through Melbourne restaurants for years to come.”