My friend wanted to try Nyala African Restaurant for dinner, just down the road, so I suggested Kommune for a drink first. It has come together a lot more now. The interior is much the same as before, with posters pasted on the wall, tall bar tables and moody lighting, but now it also has a few armchairs, pot plants and homey touches - just a few small things that make it seem much more comfortable and sure of itself.
It's got a kind of neat, dark, European vibe: small, dark and gritty, but also clean, modern and warm. The bar staff are friendly and seem to be up for a bit of banter. The few tables outside on the street are great for people-watching, right in the midst of the Brunswick Street shopping and dining hub. We had a pleasant couple of drinks.
Down the road, my friend and I found the subtle doorway that leads up a staircase to Nyala (Level 1, 356 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy). Specialising in Ethiopian food, this place is apparently quite an institution in Fitzroy and used to be at a different site on street level, further down towards Gertrude Street.
I never saw the old site, but I'm not sure the newer one works. It's odd having a restaurant one level up from the street - especially a street as buzzy and vibey as Brunswick Street. I like how the windows look out over the corner of Brunswick and Kerr Streets and let in loads of natural light, but it still feels like you've accidentally walked into someone's private residence, albeit a massive and somewhat bare one. There has been some effort to decorate in a traditional African style: wooden sideboards, ornaments, paintings, rugs, wooden placemats.
But it's a very large space and still manages to feel kinda empty. It could be intentional: aiming to be reflective of the open spaces in Africa, or paying homage to a traditional African style, which I can't say I'm at all familiar with. So... pinch of salt, people. (In any case, we were there to eat, not critique the decor.)
I was tickled by the menu and its quaint, overly-positive, descriptive terms of expression, such as "A beautiful start to your meal" and "only the beginning of rapturous eating" (!):
We tried some African white wine, which was surprisingly nice (who knew?!) - fruity and sweet - and came in a great-shaped bottle:
And then ...the food.
Having not eaten much African cuisine before, we thought it best to order the combination entree and main options, to get a taste of everything. Unbeknownst to us, that meant a BUCKETLOAD of food - far too much for two girls! Fortunately, my friend's boyfriend joined us at the end and polished off most of the remains.
I can't remember what anything was called, but the entree was a mix of meaty stuff, and in the mains there was something garlic-and-spinachy and something chickpea. All very tasty, but not sure I could eat it all the time - a bit too starchy, spiced and meaty for everyday eating. It was all served with AWSBALLZ aerated African bread that looked like pancakes. Oh yeah, and it's encouraged (but not required) to use your HANDS! You kind of roll up the meaty stuff in the bready stuff and pop it in your mouth before it all falls out. Quite the fun.
I do also recall the whole thing being quite reasonably priced.
On the way out, there was a poster teaching you the alphabet in some language (wish I had taken note). The linguistics nerd in me liked it.
In summary: Definitely worth the experience, and great if you're looking for something a bit different.