Husband and wife team Zoë Rubino and Emilio Scalzo have finally opened their first venue after 18 months of development and COVID-19 delays. A reimagined 20th century European bar, Poodle Bar & Bistro was set to launch in Melbourne’s Fitzroy in March, but stage 3 restrictions led Rubino and Scalzo to hit pause.
Instead, the duo ran pop-up sandwich parlour Rocco’s Discoteca Bologna with chef Josh Fry on the pans. The takeaway only joint was a hit, allowing the business to retain staff through the lockdown without compromising the Poodle concept.
“Rocco’s turned out to be a sweet little accident,” says Rubino. “People were really looking for something positive during lock down and this idea seemed to really resonate. It was great for us because we got to test our kitchen out, meet the locals and start building a base for Poodle.”
Poodle’s refined but fun take on classic European fare features a few references to Rocco’s. The signature club sandwich is one that Fry is particularly excited to share.
“I am really pumped about the Club Sandwich. Being able to experiment with a range of sandwiches at Rocco’s really allowed me to see how people reacted to different ideas,” he says. “I think this Club Sandwich is going to be a real winner. We use three layers of bread brushed with chicken fat, then toasted. It’s filled with crispy chicken skin, thinly sliced ham-hock terrine, iceberg lettuce, tomato, and tarragon mayonnaise. Served with tarragon salt and vinegar chips.”
Diners can also expect fresh oysters, a prawn cocktail and steaks to share from the concise menu, which has been designed to showcase local farmers and sustainably sourced produce.
“We make our breads in-house, we are curing meats for our own charcuterie and of course we had to have a banging sandwich on the menu as a little nod to Rocco’s,” says Fry, whose CV includes a long stint with Andrew McConnell’s Trader House Restaurants.
A tight wine list made up of small Australian and European producers is available across the split-level venue, while the upstairs bar focuses on cocktails and large range of aperitifs.
Poodle is split into sections, offering a ‘choose your own adventure’ but cohesive atmosphere. Designed in collaboration with Melbourne studio Bergman & Co, the double fronted venue features an intimate 40-seat dining room, public bar, large courtyard, upstairs cocktail bar and private dining room.
“We wanted to create a place that was inclusive and that people would feel comfortable staying in all day,” says Rubino. “The design of the venue is such that if someone wants dinner they can get cozy in the bistro or if it’s a cocktail there is the bar and lounge upstairs, or if you simply want to have a beer you can pull up a seat at the front bar.”
Wendy Bergman adds: “The brief asked for the classic European diner to be interwoven with hints at the 20th century suburban experience. Our references ranged from the Italian masters and modernists to Nonna’s Franko Cozzo sideboard. We wove this inspiration into a pastiche of Italianesque details and materials with the aim to imbue sophisticated spaces with hints of irony to create a beautiful venue that does not always take itself too seriously.”
Hand-painted wayfinding and signage was created by Weekdays Design Studio, which also helped curate the venue’s art selection.
“Art has always been a big focus for us,” says Scalzo.“It is where we can show our personalities and have a bit of fun too. We have commissioned Australian artists specifically for Poodle and this is something we would like to continue to support and to rotate works through the year.”
Poodle Bar & Bistro is open Tuesday to Thursday 4pm until midnight, Friday & Saturday 11am until midnight and Sunday 11am until 6pm.
Sneak peak set dinners are available from 2 July, with an à la carte menu on offer from 19 July.
Image credit: Derek Swalwell