The first thing that hits you as you enter the pulsating space inhabited by Tonka off ACDC Lane, is the softly scented smell of cooking rice. Then, as you acclimatise to the low-lit interior and make your way past the open kitchen and into the dining room beyond you, your eyes are instantly drawn to a whimsical cloud-like formation seemingly floating from the ceiling – an installation from Melbourne artist, Naomi Troski.
Then, as you continue to walk through the long, narrow space to your designated table, something else begins to happen – three reoccurring colours start to radiate subtly through the restaurant.
Representing the three coloured cities of India: Jodhpur (blue), Jaipur (pink) and Udaipur (white), hues of each colour are referenced throughout the space – in the custom powder-coated bar stools, the menu, even the ceiling draws reference from the sacred White City.
Designed by architects, Techne, in collaboration with the restaurant’s owners and using Naomi Troski’s floating customised artwork to set the tone for the rest of the interiors, Tonka is a feast for the eyes as well as the belly.
Everything in this bustling space has been custom made. From the large, steel-framed glass door at the entrance, to the crockery and even the colour pigments in the furniture.
The building is probably most renowned for its lineage to a certain nightclub which used to reside upstairs. Tonka itself was born from the ashes of the long-abandoned ground floor, which was once a corporate office and before that, rumoured to be some sort of fabric factory or fashion house.
For part owner, Kate Bartholomew, uncovering the building’s history throughout the design process was all part of the appeal. “When we first took over the space we discovered these original red brick walls behind all the partitions and plaster. They were an unexpected surprise so we have white-washed them and incorporated them into the end design.”
At the rear of the building, a series of huge glass panels reveal a surprisingly unexpected view of Flinders Street and the MCG. “I love to stand at the windows and watch how Melbourne changes and evolves throughout the seasons. It’s like you are witnessing the lifecycle of the city,” Kate says.
Tonka emulates everything that is quintessentially Melbourne – good food and wine, a love of laneways and a respect for the past while looking toward the future. And judging by the hordes of crowds vying for a table every night, Tonka has quickly become an integral part of her.