304-306 St Kilda Rd St Kilda, VIC 3182
|Opening hours||Wed-Sun noon-late|
|Features||Bar, Licensed, Outdoor seating, Gluten-free options|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9120 3306|
Is it time to put away our pub preconceptions? High Road Cantina says "si". This reimagining of St Kilda's Post Office Hotel goes big on Latin flavours while retaining pub features like steak night (Wednesday), footy on TV and tap beer. There's not a parma or burger in sight.
The 1871 pub has a colourful history. In the 1960s, bookmakers hustled in the rear lane, the barman coat-checked regulars' guns, and beer was sold over the back fence on Sundays.
The bookies are long gone but the sure bet these days is tasty Latin American food; the only thing spilling over the fence is laughter.
You could easily drop by for margaritas and snacks (braised brisket empanadas, crab tacos) or settle in for a shared feast of adobo chicken, asado short ribs and pisco sours all round.
Owners Ben Avramides, Nick Allardice and Romaric Senelas call themselves Bon Vivant Group and they've already left their mark on Port Melbourne's The Cricketers, The Villager in Mount Buller and Ringwood's The Firehouse.
Chilean-Australian chef Johnny Silva has a history with the group and for this latest project he's showcasing his heritage, plus cuisine gleaned while living and travelling in South America.
His fire-cooking obsession was sparked during a childhood busy with Chilean-style backyard grills, and honed at Argentinian steakhouse San Telmo and low-n-slow barbecuers Bluebonnet.
Silva works with Colombian sous chef Manuel Concha to put a fun Melbourne spin on Latin American flavours.
Crowd-pleasing tacos include a juicy, spicy version that takes the fruit from al pastor (spit-grilled pork with pineapple) and combines it with cochinita pibil, slow-braised pork with achiote paste.
A bespoke parilla grill burns both charcoal and red gum. Its clean heat and fragrant smoke threads through dishes like the carrots, a simple side that's all about charred sweetness, and the flank steak, a compulsory South American cut that puts flavour ahead of tenderness.
If the question is, 'What else could a pub be?' then High Road is a bold and compelling answer.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five).