Larissa Dubecki
The Szechuan calamari is a highlight.
The Szechuan calamari is a highlight. Photo: Eddie Jim

24 Hodgson Street Ocean Grove, Victoria 3226

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Opening hours Sun-Mon 8am-4pm; Tues-Sat 8am-11pm
Features Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Licensed, BYO, Breakfast-brunch, Outdoor seating, Accepts bookings, Wheelchair access, Bar, Business lunch, Family friendly
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Seats 60
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 5256 3153

Where and what

Surf's up. The name Napona, as the website will tell you, ''is derived from the language of the Charomu people who inhabit the Mariana Islands in the Pacific … and translates as 'his wave'''. Very well, then. In its Ocean Grove iteration, Napona is a centrally sited day-night eatery opened by young chef Will Swinton (ex-Kelp in Point Lonsdale) and partner Kristy Swinton (who is front-of-house manager) in 2011. It's an attractive and breezy place that doesn't set the parameters too tightly lest any of the broad church of diners be disenfranchised - a bet-each-way approach that suits the easy-going nature of the place.

Where to sit

The broad deck hugging Napona on two sides, strategically cut to accommodate mature trees, has tables and chairs aplenty for the warmer weather, but for now stay inside the freshly painted weatherboard with its beachy feel. Glossy, honey-coloured timber; a semi-open kitchen; sturdy wooden chairs and a communal table for stretching out with the newspapers and a coffee (Mahalia beans, from Robe in South Australia) contribute to the fresh and appealing vibe.


A decent wine list takes its cues from Victoria but adds some interest from Italy and France. There's also a nicely rounded selection by the glass. BYO wine only (corkage is $15 a bottle).

Napona caters to a broad demographic.
Napona caters to a broad demographic. Photo: Eddie Jim


The highlight is the calamari rings, lightly fried in a thin tempura batter with a generous hand on the Szechuan pepper, slices of radish and plenty of hot red chilli (as well as the inedible dried red ones for a touch of regional Chinese authenticity) and spring onions. Nix the bed of pea shoots and you've got a cracking dish. Portarlington mussels get the time-honoured treatment of a tomato-and-white wine broth with the addition of chorizo; pumpkin fritters go the Middle Eastern route with a cracked-wheat salad of slivered almonds and currants, parsley and finely sliced red onion, a thick yoghurt doing for condiment.

Braised lamb shoulder could have done with an extra hour or so to really nail that tenderness, but the chocolate fondant doesn't disappoint with its molten innards; value-adding comes via honeycomb, hazelnuts and vanilla ice-cream, and the subtle addition of coffee for a little rev.

Who's there

There's no pigeonholing Napona: Sunday afternoon bustles with folk of all ages.

Why bother?

Broad church, happy congregation.