You’ve got to love those big dinners where you get all your loved ones around a table. Birthdays, holidays and other special events are usually the catalyst for getting all the people you know and love all together in one place. This time, the gathering was bitter sweet as it was to farewell our good friend Karen who’s leaving us poor Sydney-siders for the smog and bustle of Hong Kong.
The place of choice – Cantina Bar + Grill in Darlinghurst for a night of Mediterranean tapas and drinks. It’s located in the space just between the last of the large pubs and bars of Surry Hills that dominate the lower end of Oxford Street and the long strip of shops along the Street in Darlinghurst known for their variety of boutique stores.
We were quietly secluded away from the buzz of the downstairs bar and dining area to a nice little spot upstairs. But boy was it a squeeze between the two long tables. Moving around required a lot of maneuvering around people and chairs, and I eventually settled myself with a drink on the long bench seating wrapped around our little alcove.
Being a large group, we went with the $50pp banquet menu*. It’s basically a standard tapas menu ($40pp) plus a few yummy extras. :)
The Cocktail of the Week was a concoction of crushed apples and cloves with Hendricks gin (which also happens to be my favourite gin with tonic even if it usually means paying a premium for my drink at most bars). The combination of the tart apple juice and the smooth Hendricks gin made for one refreshing drink.
We start off with the Dip Plate – generous dollops of dips including white bean, chickpea, beetroot, pumpkin and eggplant served with crisp slices of grilled olive sourdough.
Baby Spinach Salad
Look how generous they are with the pumpkin! I’m a fiend for the goat’s cheese and beetroot combination, so I couldn’t help but resist stealing some of the leftover beetroot dip (the bread was long gone by then!) as an addition to the roasted pumpkin, goats cheese, pinenuts and grilled peppers that formed this salad.
Garlic Tiger Prawns
A tapas classic. Unlike other places which drown their prawns in olive oil, these were merely left with a coating of olive oil. The addition of the fresh chopped spring onions helped cut through the oiliness nicely.
Essentially it’s a simple dish potatoes with a spicy chilli tomato sauce, and yet, no tapas meal is complete without a serving of Patatas Bravas. To me it’s the combination of the crisp outside of the potato cubes contrasted with the fluffy interior that does it for me. It’s like having ‘chips’ without the associated guilt.
Grilled Spanish Chorizo
Another classic with a twist with the addition of romesco sauce. The extra texture and nuttiness from the blended pine nuts along with the red pepper based sauce were a really nice contrast to the smokiness of the chorizo.
Pan Fried Haloumi
I love this squeaky cheese pan fried and drizzled with lemon juice. It seems that grilled peppers are a favourite of Cantina and each piece of haloumi was topped with a generous slice.
Pan Fried Mushrooms
A bit hard to photograph black mushrooms in a black cast iron plate but I managed (hello candle!) Not much to see apart from a overwhelmingly ‘black’ dish when we were served the dish as it was getting quite dark in the restaurant at this point. However check out the clean plates all around – a true testament to how delicious all the dishes were.
Twice Cooked Crispy Chicken Wings
One of the ‘extra’ dishes we got and was one of the favourites from the night. The wings by themselves were just fried wings in every right, but it was when combined with the spicy creamy chipotle sauce and a generous squeeze of lemon that won my vote.
Lamb & Pork Baked Meatballs
The arrival of this dish was punctuated with an exclamation of “I love meatballs” by one of our immediate group, perhaps a bit too loud as it resulted in the larger group turning around wondering about the cause of the commotion. Let’s just say they were the almost the size of tennis balls. I skipped on this as I’m not a fan of lamb, but alas the overwhelming reaction from those around me was that they were unfortunately quite dry on the inside.
These were lightly dusted with a flour coating and deep-fried rather than battered. Served with a zingy chilli and lime mayonnaise, the lightness of the calamari was quite welcome at this point (particularly post-gigantic-meatball).
Char Grilled Angus Beef
Number two of our extra dishes and I can’t say I enjoyed this. Perhaps it was a bit of food fatigue at this point but the chimichurri sauce didn’t quite have the right balance for me and I missed the sweetness that was promised in the dish description of the beef being marinated in Pedro Ximénez sherry.
Grilled Spicy Baby Pork Back Ribs
From a previous low point to the high point of the night. They say that the best way to make sure a customer leaves on a positive light is to end on a high note. I guess the same theory goes for ending a meal and Cantina sure did deliver on this point. Fatigued palates, tiredness or not, all eyes couldn’t help but light up on the arrival of these delectable skewers – the last of our extra morsels. The first mouthful had all of us swooning over the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the meat contrasting with the slightly crisp grilled edges. Definitely a must-have.
We’ll all miss you dearly! All the best in Hong Kong and we’ll be visiting soon!
* Editor’s Note: Looks like this links to an older version of the Cantina Menu – the current menu includes Patatas Bravas as part of the $40pp Banquet Menu
|Cantina Bar + Grill
245 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, Australia
P: 612 9357 3033 F: 612 9357 3022