As one of Melbourne’s first proponents of natural wine (a label even many of its biggest champions treat with disdain), Clever Polly’s has always done things differently.
Now the tiny West Melbourne bar and bottle-o is changing things up again, offering a Japanese-inspired omakase menu with its library of artisanal booze.
Owner Louisa Chalmers says a set menu is the logical extension of Clever Polly’s philosophy: “We just want people to come in and enjoy the experience. We’ve always done that with our wine – there aren’t that many customers that come in and choose, they tend to come in and ask us to choose for them,” she says. “We thought why not take them on that same journey with food?”
Chefs Kayne Mordini (formerly of Proud Mary) and Sam Stafford (most recently of The Town Mouse and Momofuku Seiobo) have come up with a four- or six-course mini-deg that highlights local producers with a pared-back aesthetic. Former owners of the now-closed Commoner, Jo Corrigan and Matt Donnelly, provide wild mushrooms. A stallholder at the nearby Vic Markets sources the best veg. “The plan, in the long term, is to get as many people as possible to grow things for us,” explains Chalmers. “Eventually we’d like to have more of a hands-on approach – the goal being to have a farm.”
Dishes might include a Coffin Bay oyster piled with trout roe and rice vinegar, followed by a scallop dressed in pomelo, ponzu and horseradish. A blackened endive could be filled with black garlic and laver (seaweed). A delicate bream fillet might be paired with arame (kelp) and carrot. “The menu is Japanese-inspired in terms of the techniques, the flavours and the structure of the plates, but the emphasis is really about using fresh produce from local producers,” says Chalmers.
There’s always a 24-month old Comté (unpasteurized cow's-milk cheese from the Franche-Comté region of eastern France) on the go (“I’m a big sucker for Comté,” admits Chalmers), and a small a-la-carte menu for folks just after a snack. “There’s always some space saved at the bar, and we’re more than happy for people to just come in and have a drink,” she says.