Anyone who ever visited late night city bar Honky Tonks will remember the walk down the dark curving alleyway of Duckboard Place and a grimy entryway that opened into a cave of fun and dancing into the wee hours. But after its closure a couple of years ago – to the dismay of many – the space has been a vacant shell, full of opportunity. Until now.

Husband and wife team Mykal and Kate Bartholomew – not to mention chef Adam D’Sylva – from Coda have transformed what used to be Honky Tonks into Tonka, an elegant space that caters for diners, drinkers and in-betweeners.

In a nod to his father’s heritage, executive chef D’Sylva (along with head chef Michael Smith) have created a modern Indian-inspired menu, matched with a selection of wines from head sommelier Travis Howe.

Tonka’s interior is a stark contrast to the grit outside. The space is divided into three sections, with the entrance doubling as the bar, where punters can sit at high tables for a drink and a bar snack or two. Think soft shell crab pakora, an Indian-inspired tuna tatare and panu puri.

Those with more of an appetite, but no booking, can walk past the open kitchen and its jars of spices into the restaurant bar. Here the entire menu is available to order and punters can enjoy the view of Flinders Street through those huge windows that line the back of the space.

The third space is the restaurant itself, which has banquette seating running under the windows and tables scattered throughout. Those who enjoy a sure thing can book tables in advance and choose from bigger dishes like goan fish curry, corn-fed chicken from the tandoor and hiramasa kingfish.

“We like that Tonka offers two Melbourne perspectives. From the grungy laneway, you then enter a space that has incredible views of the MCG, the arts precinct and the Yarra River,” says Kate.

Although the space has been split, each section flows into the next. Distressed walls feature throughout and colour is hinted at via the red and blue legs of the stools and bright spices in jars. An art installation by Naomi Troski is featured on the ceiling, its twists of white wire mesh bringing to mind the soft folds of a ballerina’s tutu and giving the space a dramatic flourish.

“We’re excited, as it opens up a whole new world for us,” says Kate. “What we can’t do at Coda we can do at Tonka and vice versa. We hope they can complement each other.”

Tonka
20 Duckboard Place (off Flinders Lane), Melbourne
(03) 9650 3155

Hours
Mon to Sat for dinner

In a few weeks, Tonka will be open for lunch as well and in about six weeks, it will be open all week for lunch and dinner.

tonkarestaurant.com.au