In the heart of the inner north, the Polish-Australian White Eagle Club stands proud as a living link to Canberra’s multicultural past, present and future, and with one young couple at the helm of the on-site restaurant, the outlook is bright.
Designed by renowned Italian-born modernist architect Dr Enrico Taglietti, the club was officially opened in 1973 and still retains the 70s charm. The space does not look large from the outside but inside the layout is a rabbit warren of interconnecting rooms leading off from the front foyer. To the left, is the club’s APRA-licensed venue, which hosts an array of acts and the rest is seating for the bar and restaurant. Depending on which room you choose to sit in, you are either surrounded by the books of the ‘library’ or encompassed by a quirky and ever so pleasing homage to Polish communist mod featuring vinyl chairs, a bright orange shag rug hung on the wall with artworks and pot plants throughout.
Born and bred in Canberra, and both graduates of the ANU School of Art, Adam and Fiona Veikkanen started running Polo Restaurant in 2015. “The restaurant runs independently from the club, but our dishes are certainly complimented by the vast range of Polish and local beers and vodkas that are sold by the Club,” said Fiona.
“The food we serve is inspired by Baltic cuisine, our family traditions, and is shaped by what is in season locally. We love supporting local farmers, regularly buying from farmers markets and local farm Brightside Produce.”
Most Polish dishes are a labour of love, requiring many steps and lots of preparation, and Adam who heads up the kitchen along with his team spend hours perfecting the restaurants most popular dish, the Pierogi. The fresh handmade Polish style dumplings come in a range of different fillings. Some days, staff make over a thousand dumplings, that means rolling out over 50 metres of dough, cutting it to size, then filling it, ahead of each one getting hand pressed. Before the dish hits the table, the Pierogi is steamed, then pan-fried with a variety of delicious additions depending on which filling you ordered.
For our family dinner, we approach the order counter and grab a few menus to peruse. It takes a while to decide what to get as there are a lot of tempting options including the Veal Goulash, which Fiona said has a cult following. Also enticing is the Pork Knuckle, but it is only available on a 24-hour pre-order basis. We finally decide upon a half & half portion of dumplings to share, we pick a serve of Pork & Fennel served with apple and fennel slaw and also the Beetroot Ricotta with honey yoghurt poppy seed sauce. They are both exquisite and you can taste the hours of work that have gone into painstakingly preparing these tasty little morsels.
For mains, we choose a dish of pork and beef stuffed cabbage leaves in tomato sauce, pickled mushrooms and mash. It is another labour of love from the kitchen, with the whole dish taking days to transform from simple ingredients into a delicious and nourishing dish. They start by boiling the cabbage, trimming the leaves, mixing the filling and expertly folding the rolls tight, the rolls are then cooked in a handmade stock, and then cooked again with a sauce to serve.
Also as part of our order, we try the Mushrooms in Blintz, a dish of mushrooms folded in a wafer-thin potato pancake served with baby kale, eschallots and sour cream and the Pork Schnitzel with creamed potatoes, pea sauce and bur blanc sage and sauerkraut sauce.
We didn’t leave a scrap of our meal behind, the flavours were too good to stop eating. Even though the dishes were hearty and filling under Adam’s touch there is a lightness to them so you don’t leave feeling heavy.
The restaurant has developed a steady legion of fans with their famous Wednesday night – Pierogi and Pint specials, and a full menu available Thursday – Saturday evenings, and due to popular demand they have started opening on Tuesdays as well.
Fiona shared, “We love the range of people who come along in- not just the Polish community, we have loads of families, Uni students, band groupies, public servants, swing dancers, you name it, and we love it.”
Polo Restaurant is located at the Polish White Eagle Club, 38 David Street Turner and is open Tuesday – Saturday from 6 pm – 9 pm.
*Sophia dined as a guest of the restaurant.