Croce via di Stasio – the beautiful bar next door

bar-di-stasio-callum-morton

It’s 4.38am. My mouth is dry. My head is sore and I have hangover insomnia (as I call it).

Last night I dropped in for a quick bowl of pasta at the new Bar di Stasio. And that’s where I went wrong.

There has never been any such thing as a quick bowl of pasta at Cafe di Stasio nor will there ever be such as thing at Bar di Stasio, which last week celebrated its 25th year.

I know that about half of you out there are gong to disagree with me here as di Stasio is the kind of place that polarizes people.

Even before I’d met (and I should declare been watered) by Ronnie di Stasio or Mallory Wall (pictured at the bar above) I was a big fan of the restaurant. And for me it just gets better by the visit.

It’s starts off with the set lunch which I remember as far back as $15 for two courses and a glass of wine. It’s now $35 but you will never get out of there without a mugging by the charm of restaurant’s old school Italian waiters complete in their white jackets, black bowties and, sometimes, dyed black hair.

It’s insidious. Perhaps it starts with a glass on impeccably presented Campari ($13). An Aperol Spritz ($15). Or maybe a prosecco ($11). Kerching!

Watch out for the bottled water. And that second glass of wine. The caffè corretto (espresso with a shot of grappa) is mandatory. $35 is now $75. And I’ve started drinking so I have to finish off as much as I can from the bar.

In possible the most aesthetically designed bar I’ve ever been too – a collaboration between Ronnie, architects and artists – and it happened again. And since I started writing this post it has happened again and again. And again.

bar-di-stasio-waiter

I sat at the monolithic marble bar imported in two slabs (from Sicily as is the original bar next door) and sealed together in a near invisible paper thin seam. Behind me over the entrance is a fire engine red Callum Mortan sculpture appearing to give structural integrity to the single fronted space.

The pale rendered walls are finished to a polish with no addition of paint. It’s just expensive detail in a solid brick and plaster wall. It makes for quality and solidity. It gives you the feeling that the place has been here for ever and will remain forever.

The glass panels encasing the distressed walls show the history of the room in the tradition of classical museums.

bar-di-stasio-corridor

To anyone who will listen I’ve raved about the proportions of the room – the two doorways at the end of the long rectangular rooms and the two narrow spaces giving a peek into the main restaurant set of the room.

The corrridor leads to bathrooms that are floor to ceiling marble. Beyond is a hidden nook and a dead end. It’s a clever execution that shows the level of attention detail that has gone into this place.

And what of the food? It’s small bites. Melazane fritte – eggplant fritters – at $11. Tuscan Soldiers at $3 each. Hot goat cheese, tomato + basil salad for $9. You can move on to lasagne and other pasta and pigeon pie as you can see on the menu here.

As I’ve said I love it. I’ve returned. And I will return again. At this almost barren end of Fitzroy Street Croce via di Stasio and Cafe di Stasio are burning bright.

Café Di Stasio on Urbanspoon

Acland St Cantina’s Mexican food in 30 minutes

acland-st-cantina-ceviche

Me: Where’s the rosé come from?
Waiter: Australia.
Me: Where in Australia?
Waiter: Somewhere in the south west I think.

The staff are young, friendly and helpful at the Acland St Cantina, the latest outpost of the Melbourne Pub Group in the basement of what was once the Prince Wine Store and Mink cocktail bar. There’s no complaints there.

Some of them even speak a second language – English – and as noted by @winebybrad on Twitter can even narrow a wine region down to the nearest 2 million sq km.

Pretty much everything has been shifted in the basement. The Prince Wine Store and the front end of Mink have become a diner-style tacoteria, sorry tacqueria, and bar. In the backend two of the famous private booths remain (but without curtains) in a room given a rustic feel and a complete makeover.

For now the group’s kitchen overlord Paul Wilson is assembling the food and it’s good. Very good for casual Mexican. And based on a December visit to its sibling, it is much better than at the Newmarket where standards appear to have slipped.

I dived into the Magarita ($16 each) of the day while my girlfriend

tried a disappointingly sweet and bland summer spritz ($16) of Aperol, watermelon liquor, lemon juice and moscato. The wine list is mainly Spanish and South American with some terrific value (unlike the Newmarket where bottles start at around $70) starting at $35 and mostly costing under $60.

Wines by the glass are either from a generic tap – bianco, rosso, rose, NV sparkling – with two available from the bottle.

acland-st-cantina-dining

Unfortunately my headline is an exaggeration. Our first order was ceviche which arrived promptly and comprised tiny discs of protein. The remainder all arrived at the same time meaning we’d pretty much eaten everything 20 minutes after arriving.

The Baja fried fish tacos (below) with slaw and chipotle mayo we hoovered down, hungry for more. And the authentic Al pastor tacos of spit roasted pork with a pineapple salsa were way more-ish.

acland-st-cantina-fish-taco

The red mole (that’s a thick Mexican sauce made with over 30 ingredients rather than a blind burrowing animal) with the current vogue brand of goat from Tallarook (below) was too heavy for a summers night and is perhaps worth a revisit come winter.

20 minutes in my current ex wife arrived at another table and we advised her to order separately as everything came at once.

Sure enough everything arrived at once for her too.

Quite possibly I’m being a little unfair reviewing the Acland St Cantina just a few weeks after opening but I couldn’t resist it.

Overall it is worth a visit if you live or are passing nearby and are hungry and thirsty.

If you want to try Mexican in St Kilda I’d choose this place or Radio Mexico on Carlisle St.

For now there is plenty of room. Try it before the crowds.

acland-st-cantina-mole Acland St Cantina on Urbanspoon