The fleshy bellies of live abalone pressed against glass, and floating, fat, silver fish are common sights in restaurants in Chinatown. They are less so in Fitzroy. Until Andrew McConnell opened a Chinese restaurant inside the Builders Arms Hotel and installed live-seafood tanks.

“Whenever I have fish in a Chinese restaurant it’s always so delicious because it’s always so fresh,” says McConnell. “In a couple of weeks we’ll have live pippies in there. In a few months, the tanks will be full of crayfish.”

The tanks are just one change brought by Ricky & Pinky, which opened this week in place of fine-diner Moon Under Water. “We wanted to make some updates to the Builders Arms,” says McConnell, “but rather than just tweak what we were doing, we decided to change the building, the business and the whole direction.”

It’s bizarre walking into the refurbished pub for the first time. The front bar is untouched, but the bistro has been opened right up to create one space. What was previously a modest fit-out has been redone by Sibling Architects in vibrant shades of blue, green and grey. The entire room, packed with banquettes and lazy Susans, is framed by curvy blue and gold pipes (a clever reference to gateways common in Chinese architecture). Studio Round did the re-brand (check out the luxe red-and-gold business cards). The origami-swan installations on the walls are by Tin and Ed.

“I really like the contrast of walking through the old bar at the front and then walking into this crazy Chinese restaurant at the back,” says McConnell. “It’s fun.”

The kitchen is headed up by Archan Chan, who worked for McConnell at Cutler & Co., Supernormal and Golden Fields (since closed). The menu is inspired by her upbringing in Hong Kong, McConnell's own time spent living there, and greater-regional Chinese cuisine. It’ll change regularly, but dishes such as raw kingfish; drunken chicken; pippies in XO sauce with fried Chinese doughnuts; and dry-aged duck breast with burnt-orange sauce and steamed bread will likely become permanent.

As for drinks, wine buyer Mark Williamson has put together the 35-page list, leaving room for beers and “tongue-in-cheek” cocktails such as the Midori-based Japanese Slipper.

The restaurant drinks list can be ordered across the entire pub, but Williamson says they’ll soon introduce a shorter list for the front bar. “We really want to preserve the integrity of the front bar, and keep it feeling like a pub,” he says. Pub food – including the whipped cod roe and burger – will be available at the front bar, too.

Ricky & Pinky
211 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9417 7700

Hours:
Mon to Fri 12pm–11pm
Sat & Sun 11am–11pm

buildersarmshotel.com.au