Things don’t always go to plan in hospitality, even for seasoned operators. Despite the initial excitement when chef Scott Bridger and former Olympic swimmer Eamon Sullivan opened a branch of May Street Larder in Mount Hawthorn last year, the site never drew the crowds that would flock to the original Fremantle location. The cafe closed in January and has undergone a huge transformation, splitting into two new venues: in-and-out sandwich bar Sammy’s and Middle Eastern eatery Pogo.

“People loved [May Street Larder], but it wasn’t the right fit for us to move forward sustainably,” Bridger tells Broadsheet. “May Street Larder in Fremantle is a lot busier than we were here, and this restaurant has a big footprint. Sometimes you’ve got to learn from your mistakes, and you have to make mistakes to learn.”

Pogo joins a growing number of restaurants in Mount Hawthorn, including favourites such as Spritz Spizzicheria, Ha-Lu, Lupolab and Tsukaya. “There’s a lot of people eating out in Mount Hawthorn, especially on Scarborough Beach Road, so there’s confidence in the air with night-time dining,” says Bridger. “In an area like this, competition is really healthy and ideally it’s going to bring more people to the area.”

The concept comes from Bridger’s years living in the Middle East and reflects his love of the cuisine. He talks passionately about the new venue and its menu of Israeli, Lebanese, Persian and Turkish flavours. “It’s just really tasty food, not heavily spiced with chilli but beautifully balanced,” he says. “The Australian public is really starting to get behind the Middle Eastern theme. [Yotam] Ottolenghi’s books have become very popular and the cuisine suits our climate. It’s healthy with fresh flavours.”

The menu is designed for sharing; entrees and mains are dispensed with and diners are encouraged to order in whatever sequence they wish. Bridger’s food is fun and approachable, with traditional recipes and flavours turned on their head – beef cheek dumplings with burnt butter, chilli, yoghurt and pickles (a play on Turkish manti), say, or the Pogo Taco, slow-cooked lamb in roti bread. Bridger tells us a dish of Warren Grange heirloom tomatoes with burnt cucumber and shanklish (a feta-like cheese made from yoghurt) is so good, it brought one of his chefs to tears.

There are plenty of plant-based dishes too, including hummus with Fremantle king oyster mushrooms, baba ganoush with pomegranate, and roasted cauliflower with pine-nut skordalia (a Greek potato and garlic dip).

“In some of the Middle Eastern countries they don’t have the abundance of proteins and fish that we have in Australia, so they make do with what they have on hand,” says Bridger.

If you have room for dessert, there’s Tunisian donuts, tahini truffles, and lemon tart cones made with kataifi string pastry. As for the drinks, there are local and international wines, Australian and Middle Eastern beers, and cocktails inspired by the food’s flavour profiles.

The pastel-pink fit-out by stylist (and Broadsheet contributor) Clare Ryan is light and inviting. The half-height walls left behind by the Larder have been removed to fully open up the space, and the counter has been remodelled into a bar. There are 70 seats inside and 30 in the courtyard, with bi-fold doors joining the areas seamlessly.

Sammy’s and Pogo are venues number four and five for Bridger and Sullivan, joining Bib & Tucker, Goody Two’s and the original May Street Larder. But Bridger still writes all the menus and remains as hands-on as possible.

“You have to be present in hospitality. You can’t just open a place, set and forget, and hope it does well,” he says. “That’s the beauty about this place – it’s always got big brother looking over it.”

Pogo
The Mezz, 148 Scarborough Beach Road, Mount Hawthorn Mon to Fri 5pm–late
Sat & Sun 12pm–late

pogorestaurant.com.au