Together with his partner Vicki Wild, UK-born chef Martin Benn created one of the country’s most awarded and internationally acclaimed fine dining restaurants, Sepia, in Sydney’s inner city. Delighting critics and diners alike, Sepia raised the bar for modern Australian dining, showcasing Benn’s highly technical and creatively inspired approach to Japanese cuisine.
During his almost 10 years at Sepia, Benn (who previously worked under names such as Tetsuya Wakuda and Marco Pierre White) attained a coveted three chef’s hat rating for eight years running; won Good Food’s ‘Chef of the Year’ in 2011 and ‘Restaurant of the Year’ in 2012, 2014 and 2015; and was selected from hundreds of restaurants around the world to be named ‘One to Watch’ at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in 2015.
“I see Martin as one of the great world chef talents,” says Chris Lucas of his 80 Collins collaborator. “His cuisine is utterly unique. It has its foundations in Japanese tradition but stands apart as uniquely Australian.”
Meanwhile, Benn’s partner and Sepia co-owner Vicki Wild will bring her legendary skill and flair as a restaurateur and host to deliver what the trio consider to be the foundation of a great restaurant experience – a spirit of hospitality.
“Vicki is a wonderfully warm, eloquent and sophisticated host,” Lucas says. “She has developed a very fine sense of hospitality which elevates the restaurant experience to where it should be.”
For Benn, the project is not just an opportunity to evolve as a chef, but to operate from a platform that will attract a much broader international audience. “Melbourne is already recognised as one of the great food cities of the world,” he says, “but with 80 Collins we're focused on creating a destination that is truly international and something for Melbourne to be proud of.”
Although they can’t give too much away just yet, Wild says the concept for the multi-level venue will be grand in both its proportions and ambition. “The restaurant will have a distinctly Australian DNA but will be designed to feel like you could be anywhere in the world,” she says.
“Our aim with 80 Collins is to create a very sophisticated multi-faceted experience that captures the sense of conviviality that is so unique to Melbourne dining,” Wild explains. “I really love the way that people treat restaurants in Melbourne, it’s very social. It’s not just about going out for dinner, restaurants are part of people’s lives here.”
She says that while the concept of a world-class restaurant being housed within with a landmark building is something often seen in great cities around the world, it’s yet to be done here in Australia.
“You have Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée in Paris, Thomas Keller with Per Se at the Time Warner Centre in New York – these are iconic dining destinations,” Wild explains. “With 80 Collins, we've got a building of great significance. Thanks to the building’s incredible scale and grandeur, we know that we can offer an experience of that same calibre – which is really exciting.”
Indeed, Benn says the partnership with Lucas and QIC has given rise to a level of ambition that he could never have entertained on his own. “Collaborating with QIC and Lucas Restaurants on this project means that we’ve been able to think so much bigger than we usually would,” Benn explains. “To do something of this scale on our own would have been impossible. It really is the dream of a lifetime.”