963 High Street Armadale, Victoria 3143
|Opening hours||Wed-Sun noon-1am|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9822 0382|
|Free wine for Citibank cardholders here|
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.
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.
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