Walking through the doors of Acland St Cantina is a bit like being slapped in the face. One minute you’re outside in the cold darkness of residential Acland Street, the next you’re hit with a frenetic buzz. It’s all colour, noise and clinking margarita glasses – St Kilda’s answer to a classic cantina minus the mariachi band. With loud groups laughing, drinks spilling and fingers mopping up the last of the guacamole, it’s obvious we’re here for more than just the food. I’m not surprised. Cantinas have traditionally been places for people to drink and relax while enjoying tasty snacks. It was time to bring on the tequila!
Our super friendly waitress was only too happy to offer cocktail recommendations. Thankfully, she was bang on. Skip the long list (it’s too loud and you’ll be having too much fun to bother reading it anyway) and stick with the classic margarita. Fresh, crisp and citrusy, it had us warmed from the inside and settling comfortably into our seats for a fun evening.
The menu is broken up into small snacks, tacos from their ‘Acland St Taqueria’, meats to share and natural dishes like mussels with toasted cornbread or the Peruvian style kingfish ceviche. For $45 you can save yourself the indecision and have the chef choose for you. It’s more food than you can eat but that’s a good thing.
“WALKING THROUGH THE DOORS OF ACLAND ST CANTINA IS A BIT LIKE BEING SLAPPED IN THE FACE. ONE MINUTE YOU’RE OUTSIDE IN THE COLD DARKNESS OF RESIDENTIAL ACLAND STREET, THE NEXT YOU’RE HIT WITH A FRENETIC BUZZ. IT’S ALL COLOUR, NOISE AND CLINKING MARGARITA GLASSES”
The tortilla chips were a solid start. Served with the Cantina guacamole and a Serrano chilli salsa they were super thick and crunchy – a fabulous match with my boozy margarita. Our buffalo milk burrata was a happy surprise and not something I would have ordered. Perched on a salad of heritage tomatoes, plump figs and fresh basil the cheese had a smooth, mild flavour setting off the sweetness of the fruit beautifully.
Baja style fried fish tacos come out dripping with chipotle mayo and topped with jalapeño slaw. The soft, floury tortillas made this dish but I would have preferred a little less mayo. Cheerful arepas are presented in a basket alongside various fillings for ‘do-it yourself’ assembly. We created crunchy arepa sandwiches by pulling the fried flatbread apart, stuffing it with Berkshire pulled pork and finishing it off with sweet and sour pickles. It was a delicious, dripping dish with the punchy pulled pork my highlight of the night.
The BBQ corn dressed with jalapeño sour cream and topped with oregano was sweet and juicy but it was missing the smoky flavour and char grilled texture I was hoping for. We finished off with the fundido – a classic party dish kind of like a Mexican fondue with meat. Eaten with tortillas, both the soft and crunchy variety, this dish is all the rage right now but it was not the stand-out dish of the night for me.
The dessert menu deserves a mention but we were just too full to go there. I’ll be trying the salted caramel ice-cream churros taco on my next visit. I love a relaxed drinking spot with fun dishes and Acland St Cantina fits the bill perfectly. It’s all about messy, dripping, sticky fingers food – best enjoyed with a margarita in hand.