When I first moved to Melbourne, I lived in Port Melbourne for a couple of years, so I have developed a natural fondness for the bayside suburb. It’s amazing to see how much the area has grown over the years. Today it’s quite the foodie hub – packed full of cafes, restaurants, “high end” takeaway joints and a lot of gyms. I remember spending many balmy summer evenings enjoying a drink or two at the former R Bar on Beach Road, not so much for the food, but for the gorgeous views over the ocean – a perfect way to wind up a stressful working week.
R Bar may be closed but Tenpin Kitchen, a South-East Asian-inspired restaurant, has taken up residence, opening in mid-December last year. In case you’re thinking it doubles as a bowling alley, regretfully it does not. The name is inspired by the giant bowling pin, scavenged from Mentone Bowls, that now takes residence in the upstairs bar.
Tenpin Kitchen is the brain child of hospitality dream team Nick Savage, Lyndal Barnes and Matt Thurley, who have teamed up with Executive Chef, Ashley Richey, (Mr Lawrence, Chin Chin, Mecca Bah) to convert this rundown two storey space into a contemporary eatery with an Asian twist.
With Richey in the kitchen you can expect dishes full of palate-popping, punchy flavours. He believes in honest, tasty food and prides himself in sourcing local and sustainable ingredients in his cooking. With hints of Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian and perhaps a touch of Japanese, Richey has cleverly crafted a menu driven by technique and spice. Designed to share, the plates are best enjoyed with a group of family and friends, so you can enjoy as many as possible! Think Harvey Bay half-shell scallops with smoked trout lemongrass, pork and kimchi dumplings and duck larb paired with chilli, mince, lime and roasted rice. There are also plenty of options for people who are vegan or gluten-free.
As far as the interior goes, it’s fairly unrecognisable from its former R Bar days. The dining room downstairs is light and airy, boasting a soaring ceiling and stripped-back concrete walls. It has kept a semi industrial feel, with subtle design cues for Asian pop cult classics on the menu to provide a touch of brightness. A long marble communal table takes centre stage, surrounded by a wrap around mustard coloured velvet banquette and classroom-style blonde timber tables and chairs.
The service was a little frustrating on our first visit and it was really difficult to get the waitress’s attention to order or just track down a wine. But I guess this could be down to some initial teething problems. The restaurant manager was very friendly, knowledgeable and eager to please.
We started with a comforting bowl of buttermilk fried chicken ribs ($12.50), which are definitely worth getting your hands dirty for (trust me!). Crispy, golden and buttery in all the right places, the batter is exceptional and finished with a generous sprinkling of five spice salt to give it a bit of punch. The chicken itself is warm, moist and beautifully cooked with a nice side of kewpie mayonnaise.
A plate of pork belly was packed full of zest, flavour and texture. A salad of wombok slaw was nicely dressed with nahm jim and studded with cashew nuts. The belly itself was fleshy and tender but just needed a little bit more crispiness on the top layer.
Corn and coriander fritters were nice little golden morsels, crisp on the exterior and pillowy within. Served with lettuce cups, they are perfect for wrapping and eating with your hands, with a generous dollop of roast tomato sambal.
My personal favourite was the tea-smoked salmon salad which burst with freshness and summery flavour. Slithers of fresh mango were paired with lemongrass to give the dish great depth in flavour and a hint of chilli for a bit of heat. The trout was cooked beautifully, with a subtle smokey flavour.
Cocktails are a focus on the menu, with a mouth-watering ensemble of long, short, stemmed options. Expect twists on classics like the “Hidden Mule”, a refreshing concoction of lemongrass-infused vodka, vanilla, citrus and ginger, and the “Cha Cha” – a spiced tea accompanied by spiced pear syrup and vanilla vodka. My pick was the “Bottanica”, a fluorescent green cocktail infused with botanically rich gin, freshly squeezed lime-juice and elderflower liquor. Highly recommended.
There’s also a good range of small-parcel wines sourced both internationally and locally, craft beers and spirits.