203 St Georges Rd Fitzroy North, VIC 3068
|Features||Degustation, Licensed, Accepts bookings, Bar, Events|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9482 3002|
Here it is, the latest comeback tour from a headline star of Melbourne dining circa the '90s. Not that Donovan Cooke has been off-radar for the past seven years. But Ryne, his 60-seater in Fitzroy North where he's throwing down the hits from a career spanning decades, Michelin stars, and the much-missed Est Est Est, is a return to intimate gigging following stadium shows at the casino's Atlantic.
The pitch? "Real cooking, like we used to do," according to Cooke. Which, yes, smacks of every generation in history dissing what the kids are listening to these days. And true to his word, Cooke is kicking it old school. Here are sauces with formal names, dinner with a two, three or seven-course buy-in (happily though, a bar menu has arrived to bridge the gap) and the kind of military, self-flagellating prep that's never done anymore and is really very nice.
When was the last time someone loved you enough to debone your chicken wing? Better: the crisp-skinned wingettes come with electrifying bois boudran, the tarragon, parsley, worcestershire and vinegary dressing favoured by the Rothschilds at picnics.
Since opening, the feedback has been mixed. Hands have been wrung over whether it's suicide or smart to go so against the wood-fired grain of modern dining?
If your heart only starts for the frenetic flow of the Emblas and Supernormal Canteens of this world or you preference is sitting on a binas long as you're at the heart of the action, Ryne's measured elegance, its order-among-chaos energy, its unabashedly dated use of sun-dried tomatoes and a water bath mightn't bring it for you. But it is unquestionably technically excellent. If your dining priorities include space between tables and body-embracing chairs, if you've pined for classical sauce work where you can taste the blood, sweat and tears, then Ryne is one of the highlights of this year.
The setting is a space of raftered ceilings reminiscent of a parish church I can't remember noticing when it was Coco and Thyme, or before that, Jorg. A central, dark stone bar helps focus the eye from the expanse. Earmark this space if you want to dip the toe in before committing. There's good bait to get you on the hook. A "blood and sand" spritz (more a screwdriver spritz, given it's vodka, not scotch in the base) is a tight kick-off. The likes of the calamari salad might also be one of Ryne's greatest hits.
Amplifying the squid, which is seared just to the point between tension and stickiness and tangled with a julienne of cos hearts, witlof and dehydrated tomatoes, is a sauce a la, a long-steeped dressing of a million fragrant herbs and garlic, tomatoes and olive oil. More fish fireworks: sweet, tanned john dory fillets piled over Cooke's antiboise – basil and coriander, shallots and olives and sweet tomatoes.
Cooke's handle on seafood remains unimpeachable. And saucing is king. From the main menu another dory dish comes with an almond skordalia with the gentle clovey charms of bread sauce, a scattering of toasted almonds and more of that perfectly cooked squid.
More notes from the diary of nitpicky prep that benefits you: pigeon, jointed, cooked sous-vide and pan finished so the meat is left liverish and skin caramel-crisp, is luxely glossed with a sticky muscat-sweet sauce silked with chicken liver parfait and peppered with hand-peeled grapes.
Service since opening has come together to be professional if still a little nervy. The commanding style of having the wine list removed and glasses chosen for you when you ask for the sommelier recommendation can irk, especially without prices being flagged. But the wine list is strong, Old World-leaning, usefully tooled up with a Coravin so you can investigate as deep as your pockets stretch, and usefully communicated by sommelier Krystelle Cooke, whose pour of crunchy Rias albarino de fefinanes, and later of a surprisingly bright Barossa shiraz, is on the money.
So there'll be no mauling of a central hunk of meat. No muntries. Nothing in a bun. Yes, you can nitpick over the time stamp of such constructed dishes – and also a menu that still offers just one vegetarian entree and main. A special of marron featuring perfectly intact pincers poking from the arrangement of sweet body meat, nashi twigs and an unusual creamy, vanilla-flecked shellfish panna cotta (it grows on you) is dressed with dehydrated tomatoes and flowers. But it's mostly a blast from the past packing firepower.
Besides, if few are doing a textbook chocolate souffle these days, particularly with a raspberry sorbet to boot, Cooke's got himself a niche. Genius after all.
Drinks: Old World leaning wine list with a Coravin to get experimental. Sharp cocktails on craft spirits.
Vegetarian: One entree (beetroot and goat's curd), one main, but adjustments are offered on request.
Pro Tip: A beautiful bright back room with courtyard is available for private dinners and wine functions.
Go-to Dish: Pigeon glossed with a muscat sauce.