34 Inkerman Street, St Kilda (map)
It wasn't so long ago that the Newmarket Hotel was a dive pub specialising in Schnitz and Tits and Spag and Drag nights. Times have changed! It has been taken over, resurrected and revamped by the Middle Park Hotel/Albert Park Hotel mob, with Paul Wilson creating its Californian-inspired Hispanic grill menu.
The second you step behind that red brick facade, the design of the place practically screams Six Degrees. The outside seating areas look like the lovechild of Royal Saxon and Public House, the light fittings in the front room are pure Auction Rooms, and the the circular holes in wooden slats are very Pelican.
The dramatic concrete arches down the eastern wall of the venue are enlivened by the vivid blue ceiling and clever use of skylights.
Down the back near the kitchen is a 16 seater chef's table. I like the way in which the brightly coloured tiles are used sparingly below the benchtop.
A few days into the new year I tottered down to St Kilda to check it out, accompanied by M and E. We ordered a cocktail pitcher ($35, possibly the tequila-based Jalisco Falls but my memory may be deceitful) and pored over the huge menu.
The menu veers all over the place: seafood starters, Hispanic cured meats, Latin street food, pastas, big salads, ancient grains, cocoas (Catalan pizzas), wood oven rotisseria and low, slow cooked wood BBQ meats. I managed to cajole my dining companions into ordering just about everything from the Latin street food section of the menu.
The guacamole with native lime salsa fresca, plantain, jicama and tortilla chips ($14) was excellent, but I was disappointed by the surprisingly lacklustre BBQ corn on the cob with chilli and queso fresco ($4 each). Not a patch on Mamasita's elotes callejeros, I'm afraid.
However all was forgiven when the soft tacos showed up. Our favourites were the ones with baby gem lettuce, spicy pineapple salsa, pork carnitas and hot adobo sauce ($14 for two). A brilliant combination of flavours.
We didn't order the tacos with wood roasted bone marrow, chimichurri and ranchero style brisket (next time, my pretties!), but we did get two with prawns, green mango and jicama ($15, thanks for the tip Ben) and two with spicy calamari, guacamole and tomatillo salsa ($14).
After that we shared several more dishes: triple cooked patatas bravas ($7, pictured below), a very good thin crust pizzetta with the slightly oddball combo of spiced lamb, grapes, purple basil and pomegranate molasses ($20), St Louis cut pork ribs for $35 with apple slaw and Mr Wilson's BBQ sauce (which E found to be rather sour for her tastes), a miniature coffee and tequila Mexican flan ($14) and a sensational peach, raspberry and amaretti pie ($14). Sorry that I don't have decent photos of the latter dishes (insufficient light, dammit), but the pizza and pie can be seen on Cherrie's blog.
I'm looking forward to heading back for a repeat visit: I enjoyed almost all of the SoCal dishes and the cocktails were bloody good, particularly the cachaça-based Brazilnut. A welcome addition to the bayside!