On his way to work at Mr. Lawrence, Ashley Richey would pass the decrepit shell of the R Bar. Once a jewel of the beachside strip, the run-down restaurant had fallen on hard days. “It was in a terrible state,” says the chef. “The previous tenants had come in with big plans and gutted the place, and left streamers of electrical wires hanging from the roof.”
But when the lease came up for grabs, the partners, who found success rejuvenating the London, decided to continue on their mission in Port Melbourne. “Like Mr. Lawrence, it’s one of those iconic sites. It’s had its ups and downs. But I think the bones of it are great,” says Richey. “So we thought why not keep invigorating this strip in Port Melbourne?”
They renamed it Tenpin (after a giant bowling pin scavenged from the Mentone Bowls that has since taken up residence), and partner Matt Thurley stripped the two-storey venue. He restored the pitched roof, improved the polished-oak flooring and added plush gold banquettes, square dividers and a giant marble table.
While North African cuisine worked so well at Mr. Lawrence, the ex-Chin Chin chef has returned to his first love: South-East Asian. “Thai cookery has been my love throughout my career. I’ve travelled quite extensively through South East Asia and it was the first food that really turned me on,” says Richey. “I love the hero flavours, hot, sour, spicy, sweet. I love the fact it plates naturally.”
On the menu you’ll find crisp-skinned pork belly with apple and wombok, served with cashew nuts and nahm jim. There are Port Arlington mussels wok fried with chilli jam and basil. A duck larb is served with chilli, mint, lime, roast rice, cucumber and lettuce, and a skirt steak comes with hand-cut rice noodles, roast chilli and gai lan. “I don’t want to dumb down the flavours so it loses its punchiness – I want the heat element to be there,” says Richey.
The wine list tends to natural and European, while the cocktails have an Asian beach-side vibe – which is fitting, given the view out over the Southern Ocean.