10 April 2023

Aubergine's Ben Willis will open new restaurant in DOMA’s Realm Precinct

| Lucy Ridge
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Ben Willis stands in front of Buvette

The new restaurant will take over the site previously held by Buvette. Photo: Ashley St George, Pew Pew Studio.

The DOMA hotel group is revamping its food and beverage offerings in their Barton Realm hotel precinct.

In the last year, there have been renovations at Ostani, updates to the menu at Lilotang, the introduction of rooftop cocktail bar Leyla, and now a brand new restaurant in the space previously held by Buvette.

Ben Willis – former owner and chef at two-hatted Aubergine – will head up this new offering. Director of DOMA Hotels Patrick Lonergan approached Mr Willis after hearing that Aubergine was closing in October 2022.

“I’d never met [Mr Willis] but I knew he had a great reputation so I reached out by email … It was just an off-the-cuff opportunity,” Mr Lonergan told Region.

“One thing led to another and now we’re working together. He’s a good guy and I think he fits in well with our culture. He’s got some brilliant experience.”

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Mr Lonergan explained that the DOMA group wanted to reinvigorate their food and beverage offerings in Barton to coincide with some office developments across the road which will bring 4000 workers into the area.

Mr Willis is taking on the role of Culinary Director for the DOMA group, overseeing food and beverage offerings in the Realm precinct and, once the new venue is comfortably up and running, at DOMA hotels interstate. After 14 years of running Aubergine, he said he was looking for a change.

“I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t know what ‘different’ was,” Mr Willis said.

After meeting with DOMA, he realised that this role would allow him to focus entirely on food rather than the many-faceted pressures of running a small business.

The name of the new restaurant is yet to be revealed, but it’s been described as an “ambitious venture” with a focus on fine dining in the classical style with a sophisticated cocktail bar.

bar at night

Leyla Bar is one of DOMA’s other food and beverage venues in the Realm precinct. Photo: Supplied.

The menu will focus on high-quality ingredients from the network of producers and artisans that Mr Willis has curated over his many years of experience in the hospitality industry. It’s broadly described as European in style with an emphasis on Provencal cuisine, but Mr Willis is quick to say that the menu is still evolving.

“I don’t want to pigeonhole it as a French restaurant just yet!”

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He explained that the menu will focus on recognisable, classic dishes.

“I want to analyse what makes [those dishes] great, asking, ‘What makes that a classic? And what’s the best way to represent that?'”

The new restaurant has been fitted out by Rachel Luchetti of award-winning Sydney-based architecture and interior design firm Luchetti Krelle. Mr Lonergan says they’re in the process of putting together an “awesome” front-of-house team to complement the high-calibre team Mr Willis is assembling for the kitchen.

The restaurant is due to open in June 2023.

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