Stroll down the unassuming laneway that is Russell Place and before long you will be met with a glowing neon sign. It is of a little man, suspended in mid-air from what appears to be some sort of colourful hot air balloon. He is holding on for dear life the poor soul. The word “neapoli” gleams brightly from his ball in the sky. When you see this sign you know you have arrived, Neapoli wine bar. But don’t let the name fool you. Yes the wine list might be all that and a bag of chips, but this place serves up a feed – and let me tell you, it is seriously good.
Despite residing just off the busy Bourke Street mall, Neapoli feels hidden away from the hustle and bustle. Groups huddle under the bar heater on the funky outdoor terrace sipping bubbly and munching on olive oil chips. At the expansive bar, couples perch on the comfy cushioned stools and pick out cheeses while downing glass after glass of red wine. For larger groups (of three of more), the upstairs tables can be booked for a more private dining experience.
My colleague and I visited for work debrief drinks and food on a rainy Friday night. The dinner dishes are modest and most are designed to share over a bottle of wine or two, or three. We were told by the waiter that the kingfish and yellow fin tuna ceviche is a favourite. Instead, we ordered the duck curry with black rice and the seared calamari to share.
Black rice has recently been touted as a super food due to the antioxidants which give it its black colour (better than blueberries they say). It has a nutty flavour and is denser and a little crunchier than its white and brown rice counterparts. I loved it in this dish. The rice was dense, wholesome and filling. The nuttiness of the rice worked well with the silky curry which had a strong kick of chilli and lots of zingy lemongrass. It was seriously good. The duck was soft, almost falling from the bone and not too fatty as duck can sometimes be. Although perhaps on the small side, the dish was delicious and we devoured it quickly.
Next we were presented with the seared calamari with smokey eggplant and roasted rice. The calamari was fresh and springy, covered with dollops of luxurious eggplant dip, chunks of fried eggplant and rocket. The smoothness of the eggplant dip, almost babaghanoush in flavour, worked well smeared onto the calamari. The rocket was crisp and spruced up with a lemon vinegar dressing. It gave the dish a burst of lemony freshness and great crunch. My colleague was excited, exclaiming she could tell the produce used was fresh. She said it was “rocket the way rocket should taste”. The roasted rice however was a little confusing. There seemed to be tiny crunchy bits of something in the dish but it was difficult to work out what they were. It just wasn’t needed, the dish was great the way it was.
By this time, we were ready for another glass of sparkling cuvee and were keen to sample more of the dishes on offer so ordered the sweet and spicy pork bun and olive oil chips.
The pork bun was not your usual asian steamed variety. It was a mini pillowy bread roll filled with deliciously sweet, melt in your mouth, pulled pork. The pork had a little punch of chilli and was served with a fresh dollop of mustard and a rich chutney of pickles and apple. Incredibly tasty, I loved every mouthful. The olive oil chips however were my colleague’s stand out. They were thick cut chips, super crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. Served in retro brown paper packaging, these chips were truly fantastic to pick at while slurping away at our drinks.
I love nothing more than to meet up with friends and share a night of wine, good conversation and great food. Neapoli is a great place to do just that. It has a really fun, relaxed atmosphere and there is no rush. It’s the sort of place you can linger a while. I have seen a few negative comments around the place about the service at Neapoli. Yes it might be a little bit hipster, but we had no real issues on our visit. It was just a fun night of sparkling wine, jazzy jaunty music and some delicious dishes. That little man with his ball suspended in the sky really knows what he is on about. Give it a go.
Neapoli Wine Bar – 30 Russell Place, Melbourne – 9650 5020