Lona's low-lit modern interior. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Spot quiz. Q1: Pintxos, what are they? Q2: How do you pronounce it? (Hispanophiles, skip ahead to paragraph three.)
A1: Pintxos, a speciality of the Basque Country, is tapas' cousin - they're top mates, partial to a sherry or seven. In Spanish, ''pincho'' means ''spike'', and each mini item is usually speared with a toothpick or bigger skewer. A2: Pronunciation? ''Pint-ex-os'' is incorrect. ''Pin-choss'' is good, with a soft ''ch'' sound.
Dedicated pintxos bars are few in Melbourne. I only know of two (do tell if you know more): Naked for Satan in Fitzroy, a great late-night option with lengthy queues at weekends, and three-month-old Lona, a neat little Armadale watering hole run by brothers Charles and Edward Sedgley.
On the board: Moroccan-style beef meatballs. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
The Sedgleys also own Barca restaurant down the road. Put them together, ''Barca'' and ''Lona'' - and, geddit? Barcelona. Charles lived there for a couple of years and says the idea of starting a pintxos bar ''kept coming back to haunt me''.
At night, modern, split-level Lona is cast in a pink glow from the front-window sign. As all good bars should be, it's low-lit and you might need to shine your phone on the menu to read it.
Drinks? ''Tommy looks after the sherry,'' our switched-on waiter says - service is sharp here. Tommy pops over with three sherries to taste and has good banter about each one.
Pick up at the bar ... Crisp-shelled arancini. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
In the kitchen is Tim Bell, an old hand at this snacky style of cooking, from time at St Kilda tapas bar Pelican, and his menu cuisine-hops from Spanish to Italian to American to Moroccan.
You acquire food three ways: $3 toothpick-spiked bites from the cold-larder at the bar; bigger $5 spikes that circulate hot from the kitchen; or order a board.
The cold larder had a couple of highlights - good jamon, and crisp-shelled arancini, bound by manchego cheese and laced with smoked paprika - but I found the display lacked a bit of that rustic, generous Spanish vibe.
More exciting were the hot $5 spikes: signature pork sliders (pulled shoulder braised for six hours with chilli, garlic, fennel and brown sugar, with crackling crunch and jalapeno heat in a sesame-seed sweetish bun); juicy frankfurter-sized chorizo (watch out, they're squirters); and maybe mini brioche buns stuffed with garlicky, cumin-rubbed braised lamb with fresh mint, pomegranate molasses and sumac.
The boards held gold, too, such as pliant Moroccan-style beef meatballs in a lovely cinnamonny sauce, with smoked almonds and house-made fennel and sumac flatbread.
If you're starving hungry, it's easy to rush headlong into a spike-a-thon, and prices can mount rapidly. If you're after a drink, a graze and a hang out, Lona's the place. Stay tuned for sherry and members nights down the track.
Twitter: @ninarousseau, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Do … Become a Lona member and pay half price for pintxos from noon-4pm.
Don't … Throw away your spikes; they're tallied up at the end for the bill.
Dish … Moroccan meatballs
Vibe … Meet, eat, drink
- Cuisine - Spanish
- Prices - Small spikes, $3; large spikes, $5; boards, $9-$25
- Features - Licensed
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Wed-Sun, noon-late
- Author - Nina Rousseau