Chef Ryan Flaherty has just dropped a bomb of smart-casual excellence on Richmond
Ryan Flaherty has been on our radar for a long time. And it’s time he got on yours. He was part of the duo to make Northcote’s Estelle a suburban hero for its technically gymnastic cauliflower sausages and musk stick desserts. Now, he’s struck out on his own, opening an eatery and bar on the good eats deprived stretch of Bridge Road.
Mister Jennings makes it pretty clear that Flaherty not only knows how to cook, but also how to eat. He’s gone with the user-friendly drink-or-dine format we love, where you can start - and end - with drinks and salumi at the bar, or strap in for some of the most innovative dishes being plated in Melbourne now.
Peppery kangaroo carpaccio is served still-frozen, the stiff crimson leaves interlocked over wasabi cream, meaty wine jelly, nashi pear twigs and dehydrated raspberry rubble. That’s some textural mastery right there, with a slow creep of richness and heat that releases as the meat warms.
Flaherty is definitely flexing his guns. A perfectly pan-seared snapper fillet is anchored in a pool of master stock jus and crowned with earthy warrigal greens and beef tendons, puffed to bubbling crisps. But he’s also not afraid to serve you a steak – pink eye fillet, sliced and delivered with fat chips – rather than anxiously pulling out one party trick after another. See also the solo roasted leek, bathed in a béchamel flavoured with extra brown butter and showered with parmesan, dried olives and breadcrumbs. Simple, delicious.
The whole place is Flaherty, from the foundations up. It’s named for his favourite kid’s author Paul Jennings. You’re listening to golden era hip hop tracks from Jazzmatazz Volume 1 (played nice and low), and between the technique-driven plates you’ll find Yo Yos, and a fancified dagwood dog. Get one. It’s battered and deep-fried boudin blanc with chunky ketchup – just as delicious as the original, with none of the burning shame.
The room itself is pretty minimal, with its ash blonde tables and minor slashes of blue: shelves of navy plumbing pipes and painted artist’s mannequins, which cling to the lights. You could call it stark. To us, it’s a neat canvas for food that needs nowhere to hide.
Did we mention the wine? Stokehouse sommelier Lincoln Riley consulted on the concise and well-priced list with plenty of by-the-glass and carafe action. But it’s floor boss Malcolm Singh – last seen at Pei Modern – bringing the expert chat. He’s pretty adept at talking you off the wagon and into a Loire Valley sancerre or Punt Road’s limited release, minimal intervention Chemin pinot noir. It’s really dusty, and a surprisingly good leveller for a whole crisped-up gelatinous pork cheek, painted with sharp lime pickle.
The only caveat is that this is a really small team, with sky-high standards, which can mean gaps between courses when the room fills up. But given Richmond’s waited an eternity for something this good to drop, what's a few extra minutes waiting for your jaggery cake – crunchy and fluffy billows of sponge made with prune sugar, topped off with semi-dried apricots and cream? Not a damn thing.