Caviar martinis, duck and Dom Perignon as the power lunch strikes back

Power lunches are returning to Melbourne and Sydney restaurants in full force with a thirst for top-shelf wines, premium steaks and new-found affection for a very long lunch.

Hungry after a three-month break from corporate lunching, professionals across both cities are spending more than ever on imported wines, dry-aged steaks and are staying for four or five courses – and four to five hours – rather than two or three.

LK chief executive Boris Rozenvasser and his banking associates take time out for lunchCredit:Eddie Jim

Gone are the days of quick catch-ups over a meal between meetings. Business lunches since the end of lockdown now carry an air of celebration with professionals ordering dishes and drinks that fit the festive bill. And the bill? That’s also rising with a variety of restaurants reporting the average tab per table up 20-50 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.

“They’re getting on the grog like I’ve never seen in my life … it’s a bit like the Roaring 20s after World War I,” Melbourne restaurateur owner Chris Lucas said.

“Before the pandemic everyone was too busy picking up kids and having to go back to work… it was all quick snacks and ducking back, but all of a sudden, that dynamic has changed.”

Pushing the boat out: Chris Lucas’ caviar martini is $45 and flying out the doorCredit:Society

Lucas has just opened Society, Melbourne’s newest power dining establishment. It boasts a plush, 100-seat art deco dining room with soaring ceilings, banquette seating, and big-city views. The restaurant also includes a terrace named for the legendary Collins Street denizen, Lillian Wightman, as well as a lounge bar and private rooms.

Last week, it sold more than 12 cases of Dom Perignon champagne, charging $500 a bottle and $88 a glass. The Caviar Martini is the venue’s signature cocktail. Made with caviar-infused vodka, it has struck a serious chord with the power lunching set.

Lucas sold more than 2500 of the $45 cocktails across his restaurants last week. Come 5.30pm and the changeover to dinner service, he’s finding it hard to clear the dining room.

The bills are impressive, too, with diners also opting for top-shelf menu items and the average table bill rising by 50 per cent as diners add more sides and courses to the meal.

“We’ve never sold so many lobsters in our lives,” he said of Society’s $330 lobster dish.

A 1.2-kilogram dry-aged Wagyu prime-rib steak priced at $245 is also flying out the door. “We can’t keep up with demand,” Lucas said.

Sydney’s big-ticket restaurants are seeing the same trends, with some owners calling Thursday the new Friday for power-lunching.

Chris Lucas (left) and chef Martin Benn in the Society kitchen.Credit:Kristoffer Paulsen

“The $150-$200 a bottle that we were selling before the pandemic is no longer the norm; we’re consistently selling $400, $500, $600 bottle of wines daily, and $1000 bottle sales are not uncommon,” Rockpool Bar and Grill chef Corey Costelloe said.

“Basically, it’s all about big steaks and big Aussie red wines; guests are flush and feeling like a treat.”

Other restaurateurs with posts outside the CBD say they have been bowled over by professionals looking for power eateries closer to home.

At Neil Perry’s new bistro Margaret in Sydney’s Double Bay, packed lunch services are popular and demand for tables at lunch on Thursdays is 20 per cent above expectations. Lucas’ Sydney outpost, Chin Chin in Surry Hills, has had the same experience.

In Melbourne, LK property developer Larry Kestelman’s Omnia in South Yarra can’t make enough space for professionals on Thursday and Fridays. Steaks are popular, but the restaurant’s signature dry-aged honey roast duck ($110 for two) is the most popular dish.

On a crowded Friday, LK Group chief executive Boris Rozenvasser was spotted enjoying lunch with Queens Lane Capital managing director Nicholas Tsoumanis and a few associates.

The business lunch is now more important than ever, Rozenvasser said.

“Taking the time to reconnect with clients and business associates over lunch meetings has been an important step in the process of coming out of the especially challenging last few years,” he said.

Meanwhile, hospitality director Nikola Milivojevic noted the restaurant was attracting more suits than ever.

“Many [professionals] are working from home, which is both convenient and isolating, so lunch breaks the day for them,” he said. “Lunch is a time to talk, whether it be about business or catching up with family and friends. There is a lot of catching up to do.”

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