Donovan Cooke opens new restaurant Ryne in Melbourne

Author: Emma Breheny
Photography: Lisa Brooke

Classic technique in a comfortable local that rewards regular visits.

Donovan Cooke, the man who brought Melbourne some of its finest European dining at Est Est Est in the 1990s, is returning to his roots with the opening of Ryne, a 60-seater in Fitzroy North. Like his most recent restaurant, the seafood-focused The Atlantic, Cooke's new venture shows off the British chef's classical training under Michel Roux and Marco Pierre White. Unlike The Atlantic, however, Ryne isn't a glam, imposing restaurant backed by a casino. Instead, Cooke wants it to be an approachable local diner where a fortnightly shake-up of half the menu, plus daily specials, keep regulars coming back for more.

"I want it to be visited once a month or once a fortnight, not once a year," the chef says, and the prices reflect this. Guests can choose to do a two- or three-course prix-fixe ($65 and $80, respectively), or a seven-course tasting menu for $150.

Ryne chef and co-owner Donovan Cooke

The name, which Cooke says is an old Anglo-Saxon word for the "course of life constantly moving onwards", was chosen for its reference to history and memory.

"The things I did at Est back in '99 are similar to what I'm doing now," he says.

Joining him in the kitchen is Alex Law, who's switched gears from The Atlantic for the more modest scale of six entrées and mains, three or four desserts and a selection of cheeses. Things from the sea make up a third of the menu, but there's also plenty of meaty stuff. Wagyu sirloin and cheek are accompanied by tongue that's poached, pressed and grilled, before being thinly sliced. Cooke's black pudding, meanwhile, makes an appearance alongside Berkshire pork belly.

Ryne dining room

Flavours hew traditional for the most part: lamb with mint, say, or beetroot and goat's curd. "These are classics, they've been around forever but it's just a new take on them," Cooke says.

In many dishes, several variations of one ingredient appear on the plate. It keeps things interesting for diners, but it also stems from Cooke's commitment to using as much of the produce as he can. "If you buy a salmon it's got a head, bones, fins. Rather than binning those, I think, let's turn them into something," he says. "It means we're constantly turning over produce and remaining fresh of mind."

In a ruby grapefruit dessert, for example, the grapefruit's juice is used for a curd, some of the skin gets the confit treatment, and the rest is used to make a marmalade.

Grapefruit curd, whiskey, meringue and basil

For his signature olive oil confit salmon, Cooke stays seasonal, with the current version including blood orange gel, zest and whole segments alongside asparagus and an artichoke essence. He says the fish will be on the menu in some form year-round. "I've been trying to perfect it for 25 years."

Those with fond memories of Est Est Est will be pleased to know the classics will be rolled out as daily specials, with the roast pigeon having already made an appearance in previews. Cooke also says that requests for the pig trotters are coming thick and fast from long-time regulars.

Confit salmon with blood orange three ways

The room, with large windows looking onto Fitzroy North's sleepy St Georges Road, is designed to maximise comfort rather than cram people in, with deliberate care given to the spacing of tables, the size of the bar stools, and the comfort of the leather seat cushions. Co-owner Vicente Montalban, an interior designer, came up with a design that favours light and natural materials like brick and timber.

Rounding out the team are Brad Vandewater (formerly of Nobu) on the floor, and Krystelle Cooke (Donovan's daughter), a sommelier who's done time at Vue de Monde, Longrain and The Atlantic.

Dad's brief for the wine? "Don't get crazy. We have a small wine list: you turn it into money, rather than one that's gathering dust," Cooke laughs. But he's quick to point out that Ryne caters for all budgets, whether that means Margaux vintages rarely seen in Australian restaurants or more affordable local drops.

Lamb saddle

Accessible wine lists, a kitchen that's focused on minimising waste, dishes focused on classic flavour pairings. It all sounds very warm and democratic. But isn't that how a local should be?

Ryne, 203 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North, Vic, (03) 9482 3002, ryne.com.au. Tues-Sat, 6pm-late.







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