Nagesh Seethiah’s Mauritian wine bar Manze was one-of-a-kind when it first opened in North Melbourne in 2021 – and there’s still nothing quite like it in Melbourne. Manze is distinct not only because it’s one of the city’s few dedicated Mauritian restaurants and because it dared to disrupt the Euro-dominated wine bar space, but also because it’s fostered a sense of community from the start.

Seethiah started Manze with a minimal budget and lots of enthusiasm. The restaurant was built on the back of a string of pop-ups at independent, like-minded spots like Westwood in West Melbourne and now-closed Theodore’s in Brunswick.

So, when Manze first opened it began hosting pop-up dining experiences on quiet nights and days off. Concepts included a nine-course Indian set menu by the pop-up group Saadi and a Mesopotamian-inspired banquet with pop-up group Gruel and Frankie Hadid (Gray and Gray).

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Occasional one-off events eventually evolved into Chez Manze Tuesdays, which feature a different set menu led by a different chef or cook, and will be held monthly this year.

“It was always my intention not to only do chefs,” says Seethiah. “We’ve had a few artists come in, a few journalists, musicians. It’s a bit more work for us but they’ve also been the best ones because you get even more of an intersection of community coming in.”

Tuesday guests have included Bar Liberty chef Zackary Furst; Shop Bao Ngoc chef and owner Ngoc Tran; indie wine mag Veraison founder Moira Tirtha; investigative reporter Mahmood Fazal; Pipis Kiosk head chef Ben Parkinson; and chef Raph Rashid.

And word has, unsurprisingly, caught on. At last week’s pop-up with Chae chef Jung Eun Chae, lines were three shopfronts long.

Seethiah is the first to admit that the time and financial commitment of implementing a new menu, and briefing staff accordingly, is large. Like anyone who’s done a pop-up can attest, he’s not in it for the money. He says accessibility is essential to his pop-up offering, and each Chez Manze menu starts at $40 with optional add-ons and drinks available for an additional charge.

“Part of doing the Tuesdays was me trying to come to terms with our menu costing $75 and that being a barrier to entry for a lot of community,” he says. “Someone could come to Manze on a Tuesday night and spend, at minimum, $40 and be well fed, and still be offered everything we do on a regular basis.”

In short, that’s “good ingredients, a lot of care in the cooking and the same style of service that we usually offer on a regular night”.

Each takeover begins with a brief statement from the contributor about their connection to the restaurant, what they’re serving and the significance it has to them. Seethiah says that in an industry that can sometimes feel transactional, that moment of connection with guests is critical.

Chez Manze will continue throughout the year with one monthly event plus a few extras sprinkled in between. It’s a slightly lower frequency than last year to ensure sufficient planning and attention is given to each event, but Seethiah has no plans to stop.

“We don’t want to lose the culture that we’ve built around it,” he says.

For more updates on Chez Manze and other Manze events, keep an eye on the restaurant’s Instagram.

Manze
Shop 2/1/5 Errol Street, North Melbourne