It started as a joke. Shannon Bennett, owner of the triple chef-hatted Vue de Monde, had closed up the 55th-floor Melbourne restaurant for the night when he ran into some guests in the ground-floor foyer eager to carry on their festivities over a bottle of Dom Pérignon.
"I just have to organise that vending machine," Bennett recalls joking, before ducking back upstairs to get them a bottle.
The thing was, Bennett decided to look into it. When he found there wasn't one anywhere in the world – partly due to the risk of bottles exploding at the drop – he sought out a Sydney-based robotics engineer to design him one.
The Dom Pérignon Illuminator, built at a cost north of $100,000, now sits in the restaurant's new street-level entrance.
Bennett hands me a weighty brass token in the shape of the Dom shield, I slot it in, and a bottle of chilled 2006 materialises without a whisper.
Naturally, this all came with Dom Pérignon's blessing. When Bennett proposed the idea of the vending machine, as he loves to call it, chef de cave Richard Geoffroy simply said, "Let's do it."
But the Illuminator was only part of bigger plans. Last November, Bennett and Geoffroy began talking about designing a new exclusive experience based around the champagne house's more prestigious second cuvée Plénitude, abbreviated as P2.
Dom Pérignon ages this champagne in its Épernay cellars for 12 to 15 years – regular vintages are aged for a minimum of seven – during which time the quality takes a measurable jump. (For the third Plénitude, or P3, the champagne spends at least 20 years maturing on the lees.)
"It's less about fruits and flavours and more the tension and harmony," says Dom Pérignon senior brand manager Bruce Nancarrow.
The ultimate indulgence
That collaboration between Dom Pérignon and – called the P2 Ultimate Experience – opened late last week, starting at $900 a head. "The experience is for people who have never tried P2 and may never again," says Bennett.
Bennett and executive chef Justin James have designed a tasting menu to match several Dom drops, including the P2-1998, first released in 2014. The number of courses is flexible, going up to 12, and is discussed with each guest.
On opening night, the 10-course menu teamed up the P2-1998 with tender David Blackmore wagyu with truffle shavings and fermented spud, as well as salmon roe-topped kohlrabi rösti in swirls of smoked macadamia milk, lemon verbena oil and finger lime. Marron tail with macadamia was paired with Dom's 2005 drop, and a fruity 2004 rosé washed down a beetroot sorbet with sorrel granita and hay-infused yoghurt.
"A few of the dishes tonight are very brave," said James. "We're using wild garlic, for example, with champagne."
Bubbles in the sky
While the P2 has starred at many special dinners worldwide, is only the second restaurant to offer the P2 Ultimate Experience. The other is chef Alain Ducasse's restaurant, at the .
A vital component of the dining experience is the involvement of Japanese-Australian installation and performance artist , whom Bennett commissioned to create a ceiling installation for the Dom Pérignon room, an Elenberg Fraser-designed private dining space first opened at Vue about five years ago.
"I wanted to make [the installation] feel light, like champagne bubbles rising into the sky," she says.
In January, Hiromi installed an initial blue layer, crafted from leftovers of the aged wallaby leather used to wrap Vue's dining tables, and "bubbles" of Japanese silk. In April, she added a second green layer, with tendrils of neon. On launch night, she attached strands of Tango chirimen, a traditional Japanese silk.
The installation floats above the 16-seat table, the length of the room.
But back to the foyer. For Bennett, there was no true P2 Ultimate Experience without an entry befitting the Dom Pérignon label.
Whetting the appetite
"I wanted to whet guests' appetites even before they took the elevator up," explains the chef, who believed the ground-level entry had become too austere and corporate for the restaurant, the Lui Bar and event space on the 55th floor.
The new $250,000 ground-level entry, created by Melbourne-based Mim Design, is dark, shiny and subtly lit. Bronze elements hint at the city's gold rush past, and there are plans for tree-like poles wrapped in kangaroo leather and a ribbed feature wall mimicking marshy reeds, in a nod to the city's pre-settlement origins.
The Dom Pérignon Illuminator is expected to dispense perhaps half a dozen bottles of the vintage cuvée a week (the current 2006 will sell for $290), but it isn't the only vending machine Bennett has in mind for the foyer.
From January, another will dispense limited-edition men and women's sneakers supplied by Harrolds, and retailing for $500 to $700.
"We get so many Dunlop Volleys coming out for the big occasion," says Bennett, estimating the Lui Bar turns away 150 visitors a weekend, of which half are inappropriately dressed. "We want to protect guests who make an effort from those who don't."
P2 Ultimate Experience from $900 a head. Bookings are for eight to 12 guests. The host of a party will receive a token for the Dom Pérignon Illuminator, or they can be purchased for $290 per token thereafter.
originally appeared in .