Restaurant reviews, PolePole Melbourne

African beers!

Polepole (pronounced pol-eh pol-eh) is an African-themed bar and eatery upstairs from a bustling shopping strip in the heart of the city. The venue has had a long history of being used as a bar/nightclub. Greedy Girl harks back to the time it was known as the Kitten Club and its claim to fame was a very comfy sofa in the ladies’ restrooms. That proved to be a popular spot to hang out for a chat, but Greedy Girl digresses …

Having heard good things about the food, Greedy Girl, gluttonous husband and Pucci Girl braved a cool night to ascend the worn stone staircase up to the first level and prop at a high table next to the long bar. Later on Saturday nights, a DJ holds forth, but this particular Thursday, there was just a steady stream of after-work revellers in search of drinks and snacks.

According to the venue’s website, Polepole comes from a Swahili expression meaning ‘go slowly’. Greedy Girl supposes you can go as quickly or slowly as you like here; the wait staff are attentive and enthusiastic but there’s certainly no sense their mission is to rush patrons through and turn over tables. It’s not a large place – there’s bar seating, a scattering of high tables at the window end, three or four low tables grouped together and four upholstered booths.

The food menu is heavy on meat, designed to be shared (both perfect for our group), while the drinks menu specialises in a range of African and local beers and ciders. While Pucci Girl contented herself with a lemon, lime and bitters, Greedy Girl took a Windhoek Lager from Namibia, while gluttonous husband chose a Tusker Malt from Kenya. Our delightful server was very knowledgeable about the beer styles. There’s an additional nice touch about the African varieties – sales of them at Polepole support the eatery’s two charities – Women in Africa and YGAP, a poverty-alleviating program running across Australia, Asia and Africa.

With beers going down the hatch, we were in the mood for some food. The snack menu is divided into two categories – ribs and ‘not ribs’. We chose a selection from both and settled in. First to arrive was the house-cured Black Angus biltong. Biltong is southern Africa’s answer to jerky – it’s a dried, cured meat. Here, it arrived liberally dressed with a nice, peppery olive oil but it was very cold – straight from the refrigerator. Being somewhat peckish, we fell upon the plate but a few slices remained and, once they had come closer to room temperature, the flavour did develop somewhat. It was interesting but would we order it again? Possibly not.

Restaurant reviews: Polepole

Black Angus biltong

Next to arrive was the pork cigars. These came two to a serve but we were happy to divide among ourselves. We’d been warned the black lava salt on the end (stuck on with pomegranate molasses) packed a serious wallop. It did. Greedy Girl and Pucci Girl are both salt lovers but Greedy Girl thought there was just too much. Having said that, the pulled pork filling was utterly sensational. Mixed with almond and cinnamon it was soft, fragrant, tasty and the pastry wrapping was crisp and flaky. Yum.

Restaurant reviews Polepole Melbourne

Pulled pork cigars

We’d ordered another ‘starter’ but next up came our first rib dish – chicken with honey and sesame, hummus aioli and smoked dakka (or dukkah – tomayto/tomahto). The ribs (wings) were well cooked and had a beautiful flavour. The hummus/dukkah combination was inspired. Forget KFC – this was finger-lickin’ good.

Restaurant reviews Polepole Melbourne

Sticky chicken ribs

Next was the dish at the top of this post – lamb ribs with harissa, red pepper salsa, tahini yoghurt and mint. Absolutely delicious. The meat came away from the bones cleanly and the fat on the lamb was rendered well and went brilliantly with the accompaniments. It looked and tasted great. By this stage, gluttonous husband had moved on to a St George Amber from Ethiopia, while Greedy Girl took a Phoenix Golden Ale from Mauritius.

Our other ‘starter’ turned up next. Our friendly waitress told us the dish took a while to prepare; it was fried haloumi cheese with honey and sesame. This was probably the least enjoyable dish of the evening. The cheese didn’t have a pleasant texture in the mouth and there wasn’t enough of the honey drizzle on the plate to go round. Haloumi can also be quite salty but this had no salt hit at all (although we may have been desensitised after the pork cigars).

Restaurant reviews Polepole Melbourne

Fried haloumi with honey and sesame

Still hungry, gluttonous husband and Pucci Girl chose one final savoury dish to share – chickpea and corn cakes with okra and kasundi. Kasundi is an Indian-style tomato relish with a bit of heat thanks to a mix of spices, mustard seeds and garlic. It was slathered on top of some very tasty corn cakes. Pucci Girl wondered if they’d been made with chickpea flour (like a pakora) but was delighted to see whole chickpeas in the mix. A very tasty way to finish.

Restaurant reviews Polepole Melbourne

Chickpea and corn cakes

We couldn’t go without a sweet treat; banana and date bread with salted caramel, banana crumble and a cashew parfait. Greedy Girl, not a fan of ice-cream in any form, tried the parfait and pronounced it unremarkable. The others were very happy to hear her say that and proceeded to scoff the remainder. The banana and date bread had a lovely mix of spice and went brilliantly with the salted caramel and banana crumble (which gave the dish additional texture). It was a very nice way to finish.

Restaurant reviews Polepole Melbourne

Banana and date bread

And we were done. Off we went into the dark night.

This was a very pleasant place to while away a couple of hours snacking and drinking. There were certainly other dishes we would try if we went back (particularly a very impressive-looking beef rib) and we were very happy with the service, especially the knowledge and passion for the food.

While Polepole is ‘African themed’ there’s very little in terms of decoration to support that which is nice in its own way. Some reviewers have criticised the low-key decor but Greedy Girl has no desire to eat in a museum or feel like she’s part of ‘dinner theatre’. It was, in her opinion, just right.


267 Little Colllins Street, Melbourne

Polepole Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tagged under: , , ,