I had heard about Polēpolē – a new East African inspired bar and kitchen – opening up in the Melbourne CBD and four of us decided to check it out on a Friday night.
Polēpolē (which translates to “go easy” or “take it easy” in Swahili) is the creation by Dean and Jeanelle Mariani (former co-owner of award-winning café The Petty Officer and Deans brother), who quit their jobs and went travelling. Polēpolē is a result of their love and admiration for the culture, food and people of East Africa and wanting to share their experiences with Melburnians.
I arrived much later than the rest of us on a Friday night and the place was buzzing – it was really loud! N had told me prior to me arriving there that the place was packed and that it would be about 20 minutes to get a table for food (Polēpolē don’t take bookings for dinner). The venue was designed by Votre Monde and has resulted in an earthy and rustic vibe to it. As you ascend the stairs from Little Collins Street you are greeted by a painting of an African woman seated in black and white, against the red of the wall background. To the right is where the kitchen is located as well as booth seating for dinner – which is paired with a wall of zebra stripes. To the right is the bar which takes most of the length of the venue has tones of burnt orange, coupled with untreated woods and funky filament lighting. Next to the bar is a wall with a single golden acacia tree painted on it with high tables and more seating available. The building has a second level, which they expect to open in the coming months.
Food at Polēpolē is based around sharing plates which are broken into three main sections – “Not Ribs”, “Ribs” and “Dessert”. The menu was designed by consulting chef Andy Mac (Axil Coffee). There are 9 dishes to select from in the “Not Ribs” section which include Spiced Chickpeas and Pepitas, House cured Biltong, Lentil and cauliflower fritters with whipped Tahini and Lemon Zest. The “Ribs” section consists of 4 dishes including Braised Beef Short Rib, Sticky Chicken Ribs, Smoked Pork Ribs and Harissa Lamb Ribs. There are only 2 choices for dessert – Rum and Raisin Mousse Cake with Crème Brulee or Banana and Date Bread with Salted Caramel, Banana Crumble and Cashew Parfait.
Drinks include a showcase of brands such as Tusker (Kenya), Dashen (Ethiopia) and Windhoek (Namibia) as well as German and Dutch style lagers. It is also great to note that a proportion of all beer sales go to YGAP who support social entrepreneurs in Africa, as well as Women for Women in Africa who support Kibera (Africa’s largest slum). There are a range of cocktails which have taken inspiration from their travels as well and consist of combinations such as ginger, honey, coconut and banana.
To begin the night I ordered a mocktail – which had minty and lime flavours laced through it and was quite tasty. As the other 3 had already been there for a while before I had gotten there – there were some leftovers from the “Not Ribs” section that they had ordered – Mount Zero Olives marinated in Lemon and Chilli as well as the Spiced Chickpeas and Pepitas. I loved the Spiced Chickpeas and Pepitas – the flavours and the combination of textures from the soft chickpea and the crunch of the pepitas was great.
We decided to order a selection of dishes from the Not Ribs section to share; and then the other 3 ordered a dish each from the Rib section (as their mains). As the meat wasn’t Halal I couldn’t eat any of the dishes under the Rib section.
We ordered the Chickpea and Corn Cakes with Okra and Kusandi (which came in a serving of 4) – with each cake being topped with the okra and kusandi. The chickpea and corn cakes on its own didn’t have much of a flavour to them and really needed the strong and vibrant flavours of the kusandi to liven up the dish. An addition of some spices or even salt to the chickpea and corn cake would have made a difference.
Next up was the House-made Flat Bread and Three Dips – the dips were beetroot, eggplant and hummus. The serving of the house-made flat bread was very generous and I really enjoyed this dish. The bread had been cut into triangles, and had a crunch to them and had a flavouring of wholemeal without tasting overly healthy. I couldn’t pick a favourite out of all the dips – they were all just as good as each other. I loved the vibrancy of the pink that came through with the use of beetroot. The smokiness in the eggplant dip worked well with the flavouring in the bread.
We also ordered the Eggplant Chips with Yoghurt and Zataar. I am usually not a huge fan of eggplant chips but the difference with these was the crumbed coating which made all the difference. The hint of spice and herbs (zataar) worked well with the flavouring of the eggplant and the tangy yoghurt. I also liked the fact that they left the chips the same length as the eggplant itself rather than cutting up the pieces into bite size pieces. My only criticism would be the oiliness of the dish.
The last of the “Not Ribs” dishes we ordered was the Apple, Cabbage, Fennel and Mint Salad. This salad was good but not great – for me it was missing a proper dressing to coat the salad. However I think dish is a great dish to have amongst all the meatiness of the ribs – acts as a palate cleanser.
N ordered the Harissa Lamb Ribs, Red Pepper Salsa, Tahini Yoghurt and Mint – which were simply yet beautifully presented on a rectangular plate with the lamb ribs criss-crossing each other and topped with the red pepper salsa and tahini capped with a mint leaf. The lamb delicately fell off the bone and had smoky barbeque and spicy flavouring to them.
We were all quite full at this stage so decided to skip on having dessert. As it was a Friday night it was getting quite loud in there, and even though we were sitting quite close to one another we were finding ourselves having to yell to hear each other talk.
Polēpolē has a great vibe and feel to it and is clearly a popular choice to have a drink especially with its variety of drink options available. The service is brilliant – with the wait staff going above and beyond what is expected of them. The food is tasty and is set out to work well with drink options. Want to trial a Taste of Africa – then head to Polēpolē.
Rating : 3.5 Pandas
Menu – Refer to picture above
Atmosphere / Ambience: Funky, Rustic and Earthy. Great for a catch-up celebration.
Standout Dish: Spiced Chickpeas and Pepitas
Service: Friendly and Helpful
Online Booking: No
Restaurant Details and Location:
1 / 267 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
Tel No: 9650 2811
Sunday to Thursday: 4:00pm–11:00pm
Friday & Saturday: 4:00pm–1:00am