After years of false promises, Andrew McConnell has finally gone the full Chinese
The opening of an Andrew McConnell restaurant is a bona fide event in Melbourne. The pressing question is not whether it will be good, because to date they uniformly have been, but what kind of food he will wheel out of his multicultural culinary grab-bag. The announcement of Ricky and Pinky came with a certain melancholy after he ruthlessly offed Moon Under Water for its prime Gertrude Street real estate, but its joyous celebration of Cantonese and Sichuan food means the mourning period has been short-lived. Apologies, MUW. RIP.
It’s still the Builders Arms Hotel, with a burgers-and-beers front bar to prove it, but the rest of the space has been bedazzled by the wand of 1970s Chinese restaurant style. It’s a gaudy take on the Box Hill Canto barns of the 1970s – crazy gold piping twining above the doorway (surely there’s some sort of auspicious feng shui thing going on there); green carpet that also acts as a good sound-squelcher; and silver-coated skylights to really nail that more-is-more aesthetic.
McConnell worked in Shanghai and Hong Kong for five years – Ricky and Pinky was the name of the tattoo parlour where he got his first ink – and while he’s done Chinese elements before he’s never gone the full family banquet. The red pleather wine list – happy home of a whole host of spice-friendly aromatic whites – might make you anticipate a similarly encyclopedic menu, but he’s kept the offering tight.
It’s really a lot like a Chinese version of Supernormal, with around 30 dishes divided into similar subheadings. Snacks including a Pacific oyster (from Tassie’s Hidden Cove) that doubles down on the brine with bonito vinaigrette, and a trick-free, straight-up salt-and-pepper squid. Some of the small dishes dabble with the Chinese love of cold starters: tight-fleshed Wagyu shin in a delicious slick of sesame oil gets its texture quotient via diced radish and slippery-crunchy cloud ear fungus. As in many of the dishes there’s an ice-and-fire flutter of Sichuan pepper that tickles rather than tackles the palate.
Fried puffs of silken tofu are another winner – they disappear into the ether trailing garlic chips and spring onion oil in their wake. Ma po tofu is the age-old dish in new-age clothes, with precision-placed tofu spheres vigorously dusted in Sichuan pepper. The mouthfeel is pure buzz. The so-called spicy prawns “Dainty style” are the only bum note – supposedly a tribute to Melbourne Sichuan masters Dainty Sichuan, they’re bland and unexciting.
The winning thing about Ricky and Pinky is that despite its slightly tongue-in-cheek approach it really feels like a Chinese restaurant, complete with kids and family groups twirling the soy sauce to each other over the lazy Susan. And look no further than the cocktails list, which includes a Dragon Mary – that’s a Bloody Mary blended with fish sauce – and the triumphant return of Midori in a Japanese Slipper. So welcome, Ricky and Pinky. The augurs are good. The gods are pleased.
|Venue name:||[Closed] Ricky and Pinky|
211 Gertrude St
|Opening hours:||Daily noon-late|