Where: Ricky & Pinky, 211 Gertrude Street Fitzroy
What: Contemporary Chinese in a hipster heartland
Bloat score: 4 – If I were lying prostrate on my tummy, it would have looked as though I was levitating
Ricky & Pinky was on my radar, but it wasn’t until my in-laws gifted me with a voucher to dine there (shout out to the wonderful O’Deas!) did it supersede all the other places on my list. I decided to go with a friend to celebrate/mourn her last night in Melbourne, because what’s more quintessential to the Melbourne eating scene that an Andrew McConnell restaurant?
If you’ve devoured the lobster roll at Supernormal, shared the lamb shoulder at Cumulus, sampled the degustation menu at Cutler & Co, or guzzled down a glass of wine at Marion, then you’ve been touched by the genius of McConnell. Where Supernormal is firmly Pan Asian, Ricky & Pinky is a return to traditional Chinese dishes – with mainstays such as mapo tofu, drunken chicken and steamed snapper featuring aplenty on the menu.
Unlike the other restaurants, however, Ricky & Pinky doesn’t have a menu online and this distressed me to no end. Zomato yielded only this travesty – who solely takes a picture of the drinks menu at a restaurant? – and the restaurant website itself was decidedly mysterious, so I couldn’t pre-plan my meal days in advance. (A menu has since been uploaded on to the website, because I refuse to think I was incapable of finding it before.)
Ricky & Pinky has all the trappings of a typical Chinese restaurant. What used to be Moon Under Water has been reworked to include a fish tank, exposed gold pipes and plush carpeting, with rolled up starched napkins held together by embossed red rings and ‘ang pao’ packets (which I usually associate with receiving money during Chinese New Year) used to house the bill.
Unlike other McConnell restaurants (I’m looking at you, Supernormal), Ricky & Pinky takes bookings for groups of any sizes, not that that helped us. We were told there were no free tables, so we showed up as soon as it was publicly acceptable for a nana to have dinner – 5.45pm – and much to our delight, got promptly ushered to a table for two.
In what is not an uncommon occurrence, our waiter remarked that we’d ordered too much and advised that we remove one of our bigger dishes. We ignored him and opted out of the small dish of salt and pepper calamari instead – hoping this would free up some much needed stomach space.
First to arrive was a twist on the complimentary nuts you get upon arrival at a Chinese restaurant: pickled wombok and aromatic peanuts. Trust you, McConnell. They were amazing and I wanted a bottomless bowl of them to cascade upon my head because despite it being barely 6pm, I was hungry.
The fried chicken and prawn wontons with sweet and sour sauce arrived next. Deep fried to perfection, the triangular wontons were generously proportioned, with a discernible mix of flavoursome chicken and prawn meat complementing the satisfying crunch of the wonton skin and the tanginess of the accompanying sauce.
Next was a dish that incited a congenial sigh of approval from the waiter when we ordered it, so I knew it was going to be good – the fried rice cakes with homemade Chinese sausage, pork floss and spring onion. This is probably the best thing I’ve had in September, and it’s my birthday month along with seemingly everyone else’s, so I’ve had some good food.
The creamy texture of the rice cakes was enhanced by the caramelised crispy outer layer, which melted in your mouth in a delicious concoction of salty pork floss, dollops of browned ginger and crisp Chinese sausage. We joked about ordering another serve (not really, it wasn’t a joke) but decided to wait and see if our waiter was right about the proportions of what we’d ordered (P.S. Don’t judge the book by its cover i.e. the rice cakes by this dark photo because the restaurant unfortunately decided to dim the lights just as this arrived. Trust me – it is an unmissable dish).
Next came the main dishes – steamed five-spiced salt chicken with fried egg rice; Chinese broccoli, asparagus, pine nuts and sesame paste; and mapo tofu.
The chicken was soft, tender and easily came off the bone; it reminded me of Malaysia’s famous Hainanese chicken rice and this can only be a good thing. My bone-phobic friend (who features in my last blog post on Northern Git) found the chicken slid so easily off the bone that she ate quite a few of the pieces before she reached her bone quota of the day. We were served a paste of finely chopped spring onion, ginger and *gasp* garlic, which screamed of umami, and which I liberally doused over my chicken and rice for the perfect marriage of my favourite savoury flavours.
The egg rice was light and fluffy, and a perfect adjunct to the mild flavours of the chicken. I also used it to mop up the pungent gravy of the mapo tofu.
The wobbly silken tofu absorbed the richness of the ground Szechuan peppercorns, and the dish overall was a decent level of spicy, although I did find the mouth numbing quality of the sheer amount of Szechuan peppercorns used quite overwhelming.
The Chinese broccoli and asparagus was perhaps the most disappointing of them all, and the most unlike a traditional dish. It came with a dash of tahini, which I adored, but there wasn’t much of it and we soon arrived at the stage where we still had a lot of mapo tofu and chicken to get through without any greens to cut through it. I hankered for the unrestrained servings of Chinese broccoli and oyster sauce that I am used to getting whenever I eat dumplings out – where there is a seemingly neverending supply of vegetables to accompany your meal.
As you can probably tell by now, I didn’t follow my intolerances – not one little bit, even when I tried to abstain from the garlicky paste that came with the five-spiced chicken. The only thing I didn’t do was order McConnell’s garlic bread on milk buns with seaweed butter, so I’d forgive you for not marvelling at my self-control.
I will definitely be back, and I won’t follow my intolerances then either, because my immense bloat was rewarded with one of the best meals I’ve had recently. The menu still has many untapped corners – from the pipis and XO sauce with fried Chinese doughnuts to the dry aged duck, hoisin and steamed bread – and there’s no forgetting the fried rice cakes.
I am pleased to say that the waiter was wrong – we finished every morsel of our food, save for a small piece of chicken, and even had the space for a steamed ginger sponge cake with a side of custard after.
P.S. Suggested musical accompaniment to this review: the Ricky Baker birthday song, from the delightful Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which was on constant rotation in my head while I wrote this.
Ricky & Pinky is open from 11am to 11pm Saturday to Sunday and from 12pm to 11pm Monday to Friday.