Lona Pintxos Bar

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By Mantis Kane – www.zantidote.com

The pink neon lighting of Lona serves as a vetting system: those fabulous fun loving creatures may enter – stiff diners, keep on moving. And let’s face it, we’re in St Kilda – Melbourne’s epicentre of eccentricity and eclecticism – if you can’t stomach the bright lights and glamour, then grow a beard and move northward.

crab sliders

crab sliders

Based on the Spanish pintxos style eating (small dishes), Lona has grown over the past two years from humble beginnings to a hub of great food, drinking and live music. Yes, live music. A roll-call of local musicians perform every night of the week, and now very much part of Lona’s tapestry. Owner Charles Sedgley elaborates, “Artists have always gravitated toward St Kilda with her theatres, galleries and music venues. At Lona we had the space to accommodate a music element, and thought it only apt to get involved and showcase local talent”.

But, as with all good restaurants, the foundations are in the kitchen. Although Lona beams unabashedly with a loud facade, it’s far from a style-over-substance establishment. The menu cleverly tinkers with traditional tapas, adding a distinctly Melburnian slant. There’s a policy of no cutlery – street tapas style – just roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.

The soft shell crab in a charcoal brioche bun exemplifies the vibe. Slightly intimidating at first (the bun has a post apocalyptic black sheen), but surpasses all doubts once tasted; exquisitely balancing the mouth bursting crab, crusty bun and zingy mayo.

In typical pintxos style, there’s much to choose from, so I ordered the items that often wrong-foot restaurants.

Calamari Fritos. Seems like a simple dish, be invariably a tough little bugger. Lona nailed it on all counts. Crispy, but not oily, and served with a great aioli.

lamb cutlets

lamb cutlets

The Pork Belly taco. Make or break – if the pork is chewy, it’s curtains. Result: Another perfectly executed dish – worth the trip alone. Busy with flavour, the pork belly is fried to attain the seemingly impossible alchemy of crunchiness whilst still being delicate and tender.

Lamb Cutlets. Telling whether a cutlet will be tender is a dark art. Visually you can’t tell, they all look the same. Much like testing the water in a swimming pool, you’re best diving in, rather than toeing the water; or fingering your cutlet. Once again the meat was tender and succulent, jazzed up with chermoula spices and honey yogurt. Turns out Charles is a butcher by trade, and obviously holds that mystical secret.

If great food and live events aren’t enough, Lola has just opened an enormous garden out the back. Once furnished with a music licence this is potentially a real hotspot for summer.

Watch this space.

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