Melbourne restaurant Poodle fosters fun and flair in fine dining %

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Poodle Bar & Bistro located in Fitzroy, Melbourne | Photo courtesy of Poodle Bar & Bistro

The brainchild of Zoë Rubino and Emilio Scalzo, Poodle Bar & Bistro embodies everything there is to love about Fitzroy



In Fitzroy, arguably one of Melbourne’s coolest inner suburbs, you’ll find no shortage of swanky venues to dine in. 

Ask anyone and they’d probably hand you a list that could go for a mile long. And rightfully so as it’s Melbourne’s capital of cool, after all. And if you think its reputation precedes it, then I’m here to tell you that you’re probably right.

Despite the suburb’s highly populated gastronomic landscape, one place notably stands out: Poodle, a European-style bar and bistro located just along Gertrude Street that exudes an effortless cool amid a typically uptight fine dining scene. 

The brainchild of Zoë Rubino and Emilio Scalzo, Poodle Bar & Bistro embodies everything there is to love about Fitzroy. From the caramel leather seats to the Australian artwork collection populating its walls, the place brims with patrons dressed to the nines having the time of their lives. 

Prior to opening Poodle, Rubino and Scalzo launched Rocco’s Bologna Discoteca. What started as a pop-up takeaway spot inspired by Italian trattorias and visits to Nonna’s house quickly became a neighborhood staple, thanks to a cult following among Fitzroy locals.

In this exclusive interview, LIFESTYLE.INQ speaks to Poodle Bar & Bistro founder Zoë Rubino to discuss the growth of Poodle, how it’s captured the hearts of so many Melbournians, and who they would want to host—living or dead.

Start white brick walls contrast the leather seating in Poodle’s second level

Could you share a little bit about your and Emilio’s background? How do your personalities manifest through Poodle?

Emilio and I come from quite different professional backgrounds but have found that our experiences complement each other perfectly. We met 13 years ago when I was managing a pub (near Poodle) while studying and Emilio’s band was playing in the band room. We fell in love with restaurants (and each other) and dining out has always been a big part of our relationship. After that, Emilio had his own creative agency specializing in design and marketing for hospitality businesses. After university, I continued in hospitality managing some of Melbourne’s most popular venues. 

We are both very detail-oriented. However, I focus my attention on our staff and service whereas Emilio focuses on the creative side of the business.

Before opening Poodle, you had Rocco’s Bologna Discoteca. Did opening Poodle feel like a natural progression?

This is a tricky one. Poodle was actually our first project and we spent the best part of three years growing the concept, designing, and building the restaurant. We were set to open in March 2020 but were unable to due to the extensive Melbourne lockdowns. We didn’t want to do takeaway for Poodle as we were protective of people’s first impression of the brand. However, we had a full team ready to go and wanted to somehow keep them employed. We got creative and conceived Rocco’s as an Italian sandwich takeaway shop out of the existing Poodle kitchen. When Poodle was finally able to open, Rocco’s had a strong cult following so we then looked to open Rocco’s as its own brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Poodle is known for its beautiful visuals. How would you both define the relationship between food and design? 

The relationship between food and design is so important in a restaurant; it’s as much about the collective sensory experience that has been curated as it is the food you order. For us, art was such an important part of complementing our food. Since Emilio and I have been together, we have loved investing in art and interiors whenever we had an opportunity to do so. We were excited to bring two of our passions together here, and naturally, when we were designing Poodle with Bergman and Co. we also wanted art and design to be a major focus.

There are so many talented designers and artists we have fostered relationships with as part of designing Poodle. We have a photograph work by Jason Phu in our private dining room, Oscar Perry and Rhys Lee artworks in our upstairs bar, and commissioned sculptures by Mechelle Bounpraseuth. Downstairs, we commissioned works by local artists Harry Rothel, Nathan Markham, Shannon Rush, and Nell Ferguson.

The ground floor of Poodle Bar & Bistro | Photo courtesy of Poodle Bar & Bistro

Melbourne is such an incredible food city. There are an infinite amount of dining experiences locals can choose from. What do you think sets Poodle apart?

We’re so lucky here in Melbourne to live in a city that puts such a high value on culture, arts, and hospitality. It’s also no secret that Melburnians are restaurant-obsessed. There are so many incredible restaurants to choose from and I am always humbled that people choose to spend their time and money in our venues. I like to think that at Poodle, we have created a multifaceted space that welcomes all. You can have a martini at the bar on one day, have a tap beer in the sunny courtyard on another, a romantic dinner in our bistro the next day or be part of a celebratory event upstairs. We built Poodle so that guests can have a different experience depending on what they are looking for.

Photo courtesy of Poodle Bar & Bistro

If you guys could host anyone special at Poodle, living or dead, who would it be?

Anthony Bourdain. His shows and books have really inspired us and his attitude towards food and culinary culture really resonates. His death had a really profound impact on us, too. Also, is there anyone cooler than him?

Is there one particular dish on the menu that perfectly portrays Poodle’s personality? 

The flaming chocolate and olive oil Bombe Alaska. It’s decadent, it’s fun, it’s theatrical, it’s a bit kitsch, and it’s delicious. It’s very Poodle.


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A post shared by POODLE BAR & BISTRO (@poodlefitzroy)


How do you see Poodle’s evolution? Is there anything exciting Melburnians can look forward to anytime soon?

We are looking to evolve and grow our little restaurant group in the near future. We also have some exciting collaborations with other restaurants both interstate and overseas.


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