The rise of another Mexican cantina in Melbourne some may find boring or perhaps just feel that the market for this regional food is nearing saturation point however considering the offerings in the south, I think it is a welcome and exciting addition to the St Kilda edgy dining scene and compliments the other Melbourne Pub Group offering of seemingly Yucatan-Mexican inspired (read: suckling goat tacos) at the Cellar Bar at the Newmarket Hotel.
After being led through the catacombs under the Prince once you present yourself you could be confused and believe that you are actually in Mexico, just without the ethnic Mexicans, graft and cheesy gimmicks. Paul Wilson must have been inspired fully in his latest tour around Mexico and it shows in the design and the menu. Not only will you find the usual staple Mexican foodstuffs available everywhere and anywhere these days, a fair amount of space is devoted on the menu to those wanting vegetarian options which coincides with the demographic in and around St Kilda. Clever. The unintrusive Mole (no, not game on Moll!) - an ancient Mayan dish that features chillis, chocolate and sometimes complex flavours if prepared properly also stands out on the menu as a speciality where the punter can taste three Moles (with goat, pork and duck) for $30.
Although I was tempted to try the stuffed cactus relleno ($12) I really wanted to see if the foundations were intact so went for the cantina guacamole with chia and serrano chili salsa ($12) and lo and behold, it was perfect. Blasphemy was exclaimed out of happiness and more margaritas ($16/each) were ordered however in retrospect I should have ordered jugs ($32/each) which would have been better value for money, which I learned to do by default at Touche Hombre last month.
I have always been critical of Tacos Al Pastor, which the menu was advertising as "authentic" so it was with great fanfare and expectation that a few were ordered next ($7/each, minimum 2 p/p) and I was very impressed. Tender spit roasted pork merged with a pineapple salsa that was impressive as anything that I had at previously at Senoritas or Mamasita. Browsing the tequila menu, you are spoiled for choice. Besides the standard "Blanco" offerings, they have a few Reposado, Aneljo and my personal favourite, Mezcal in their vast inventory of alcohol however the bulk of it resides in their wine cellar.
Being critical and judgemental are fundamentally different things. Although I act like a pretentious wannabe food critic when it comes to Tacos Al Pastor, primarily because I just like them so much; besides the quality and construction of the fish taco ($7/each, minimum 2 p/p) my eyes always judge the way a restaurant prepares and presents carne asada as a benchmark for determining a success. Paul Wilson mixes up the status quo by making this main dish a user-assembled experience much like you would find if you ordered fajitas elsewhere; you construct your Oaxacan market style mixed grill of skirt steak, chorizo, assorted vegetables in a parcel of tortillas that are provided on the side. If Ed Sheeran was going to build a lego house, he would love making this one. It was a interesting way to present the dish which encourages more social eating however the volume of meat and vegetables are not proportional to the amount of tortillas that you are provided so we ended up needing to order more ($5) however it dragged out an enjoyable experience and enticed us just to order more maragaritas and enjoy the ambiance.
The service remained very cheerful and overtly helpful and when combined with the buzz associated with this place, both inside the cantina and out in the media, both St Kilda and the Melbourne Pub Group has another place to be proud of.
2 Acland Street, St Kilda VIC 3182(03) 9536 1122
no web site yet
My Rating: 14.25/20
Value For Money: 3.75/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
At the time of this post, 85% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Acland St. Cantina.