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Old world meets new at Reine and La Rue

Old world meets new at Reine and La Rue


Hospitality heavyweights NOMAD Group have transformed Melbourne’s historic Stock Exchange into a fine dining destination with French-inspired restaurant and bar, Reine and La Rue.

The highly anticipated restaurant has been open for just under a month, yet it has already created buzz around Melbourne both for its design concept and hospitality offerings. 

Working closely with Heritage Victoria, RBA Heritage Architects and Akin Atelier, Al and Rebecca Yazbek of NOMAD have transformed the original 1890s neo-gothic Melbourne Stock Exchange into a 150-seat dining experience, across three distinct spaces.

Speaking about the origin of the projects with Australian Design Review, NOMAD company director Rebecca Yazbek says they “fell in love with the space”.

“We first looked at it five years ago, before it was restored by GPT in relation to Heritage Victoria. We then signed the lease 2.5 years ago and the process to open our doors took that long, again working with Akin Atelier, Heritage Victoria and our heritage architects, RBA Architects.”

Yazbek says NOMAD wanted to create a world-class restaurant that respected and celebrated the history of the site while forging a “new lease of life”. 

“The space has not been enjoyed for over 20 years. We are now giving Melbournians the chance to enjoy the elegance and beauty.”

To be part of the historical Melbourne Stock Exchange building on Collins Street took a lot of work, combining both the new and old world of the building.

“The challenges have been immense but we hope we have met them head on and now we have a beautiful restaurant to run in a beautiful space. We weren’t able to touch the existing space – the fabric of the heritage-listed finishes – so there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with engineers and craftsmen to get a functioning restaurant in the Cathedral Room,” she says.

Akin Atelier founding director, Kelvin Ho, says the role of his practice was to design an intimate bar and restaurant housed within a grand and cavernous heritage site. 

“This process saw us develop a material palette with Bec and Al that aligned with the existing space, and also one that added warmth and softness to the look, feel and sound of the space,” he says.

According to Ho, Akin Atelier wanted an elegant and modern insertion that didn’t compete with but complemented the historical aspects of the room.

“Heritage Victoria wanted to expose as much of the original architecture as possible and we had to consider all of the functioning aspects of a restaurant. So our layer of acoustic attenuation, lighting, music, water and waste to the oyster bar and cocktail bar – these were the real challenges. Hopefully when our guests enter they are just transported and this all becomes part of the fabric of the restaurant. We are hoping people don’t see the intricacies in how we attended to these aspects of the design.”

Executive chef Jacqui Challinor and head chef Brendan Katich have created a menu inspired by French classics and designed to allow guests to choose the way they want to dine.

“We are the current custodians of this space. As such, we are aiming for what all NOMAD Group restaurants aim for – fun dining,” explains Yazbek.

“We want people to have fun. We want elegance and grandeur but we don’t want stuffy or fine dining.” 

To execute this vision, Yazbek says NOMAD worked with furniture designers including Grazia and Co, Jardan, Cult and joiner, Beclau.

“We were after a ‘quiet’ opulence. We prefer understated to in-your-face. We hope this is how people experience our dining room – relaxed, special and elegant,” says Yazbek.

The original heritage space features a highly decorative, gothic interior consisting of solid limestone walls and vaulted ceilings, marble dado, encaustic floor tiling and prismatic glass floor tiles with solid grey granite columns. The room is complimented by custom made finishings, textures and art from Jardan, Henry Wilson and Lucy Roleff.

“We looked to the heritage elements of this incredible Queens and Collins site to draw connections with the new design. The lip of the marble columns appears as a joinery detail in the banquette seating and also as an edge detail on the bar. The raised timber flooring – which underpins the private dining is laid in the same way you would lay tiles, echoing the heritage tiled flooring,” says Ho.

“Lines and profiles highlight original architraves and panelling, and the colour palette, particularly the warm upholstery, looks to tones in the marble wall trims.”

“We didn’t want to overcomplicate or try and recreate the history with the space, we wanted a modern restaurant that our guests will feel comfortable and relaxed within,” adds Yazbek. 

“Everything about the design of Reine and La Rue has to be about balance.”

Connected to the main dining room La Rue, the eight-seat speakeasy can be entered via an external courtyard and features all black moulded timber, with a separate wine by-the-glass and cocktail list, as well as the full food menu. 

“We want guests to experience the warmth and intimacy of Reine and La Rue while also allowing the grandeur of the building to be felt – this was a really exciting balance to achieve,” concludes Ho.

Part of the hospitality experience from NOMAD was to include ‘La Rue’ as part of the concept, which is an additional wine cellar.

“It’s our favourite little space!” says Yazbek.

“This is the antithesis to the main room. We didn’t want to compete with The Cathedral Room [so] our dark, sexy little bar with eight seats has its own little cocktail list, separate wines by-the-glass and its own distinct identity that is the ‘La Rue” part of ‘Reine and La Rue’.”

There is no doubt that La Rue is Melbourne’s worst-kept best secret. Patrons can order a pre-dinner drink or post-dinner drink, surrounded by the very best of Melborune’s old and new world. 

Images supplied by NOMAD group. 

Check out Studio Tate-designed Riverlee workplace showcasing company hospitality.


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