Mikkayla reviews: Ronnie’s — ‘sure to become an icon’
Rialto Plaza, 495 Collins Street, Melbourne
What do you get when you cross the quintessential New York diner with a traditional Italian restaurant within one of Melbourne’s most iconic buildings? The answer is the most interesting amalgamation of classic and trendy, mixing old-world charm and new-school service, packaged up neatly with amazing quality food and an impressively-curated drinks menu. It’s Ronnie’s.
Nestled within the Rialto Plaza on Collins Street, the venue has only been open for a couple of months. Amazingly, the idea for the place had been developing in culinary visionary and restaurateur Matthew Butcher’s head for the better part of a decade before it took a pandemic to bring it to life! It goes without saying that they have not been the easiest months for a new restaurant, but the usual hiccups that generally go hand-in-hand with the opening of a new venue are nowhere to be seen. The kitchen operates like clockwork, churning out high quality dishes with perfect timing; the service doesn’t skip a beat; and the atmosphere is all perfectly balanced.
Inspired by watching his dad, Ronnie, cook in their family takeaway shop in Lockington, Butcher’s country life upbringing is evident in the homely, warming food and unpretentious environment, all designed over the philosophy of bringing people together over good food and a few beers! The menu is designed for sharing with a fantastic balance of wholesome yet high-class. It’s casual enough to pop in for a quick lunch, yet substantial enough to bring a group together for a special occasion to spend hours making your way through the menu, whilst also being the perfect setting for Happy Hour, social drinks or just-because.
Ronnie Butcher’s influence is evident from the wide array of cicchetti (small Venetian snacks) to get started, to the flavours of the old-school pizzas he used to spin that have been brought to life here in pasta form, including his famous vodka red sauce. Order a couple of serves of the warm, crusty rye focaccia and then take your pick of the various accoutrements – from creamy yet zesty Ricotta with lemon myrtle to the salty, garlicky whipped cod spread. Add some slippery, soft, grilled bullhorn peppers and smoked leeks with tangy pesto on top, and finish with your choice of thinly sliced sopressa, bresaola or prosciutto.
Next, cast your eye down the list of hot starters and don’t let the wait staff leave without ordering the potato waffle. The savoury golden pancake is pressed to crispy, waffled perfection and covered generously with cacio e pepe – finely grated cheese and pepper. Cut into it and watch with delight as hot, golden cheese oozes out. One per person is a must, as are the chilli sardines on toast. The meaty, oiled fillets tossed with garlic and lemon zest, then piled atop fingers of toasted yet pillowy bread are succulent and delightful.
Heading to the heftier section of the menu, the waitress explains that the portions are still perfectly designed for sharing, so we order a pasta, a pork and some sides. Small pieces of rigatini are tossed in a golden sauce with chunks of swimmer crab and finished with a generous spoon of briny roe and chopped chives. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the crunchy pan-fried pork Milanese that comes with a delightfully salty olive gremolata. A squeeze of lemon over the crumbed meat helps cut through the rich creaminess of the pasta – as does the soft polenta hiding under a cloud of grated parmesan. Blanched green beans dunked into an ice bath and topped with smoky Avruga Caviar, and steamed broccolini finished in a pan with chilli and anchovy fillets finish this spectacular meal.
The drinks list is encompassing and the wines by the glass have been selected generously – a vibrant, fresh Albino Rocca Langhe Nebbiolo Rosso di Rocca will set you back $20 a pour as will the fruity but earthy Graci Etna Bianco. Ask about their weekly wine spotlights for amazing drops at decent prices, or get venue manager Ben Fergus to put his former skills from his time at Bar Americano to good use and whip you up a specialised cocktail.
They market themselves as a casual eatery but when it comes to quality, service and price, Ronnie’s is anything but. What is sure to become an icon within an icon of Melbourne’s dining scene, my hot tip is to get there sooner rather than later with an empty stomach, and no time limit. Buono!
Ronnie’s is open Monday & Tuesday 12pm – 6pm; Wednesday to Friday 12pm – late and Saturday 5pm to 11pm… and Happy Hour is weekdays 4pm – 6pm!