01 Mar Pablo Honey, St Kilda
In a great location on the corner of Acland and Carlisle St right opposite Lunar Park, is St Kilda’s newest Latin restaurant and bar. A group of long-time friends, self-named The Cartel, are seasoned hospitality vetereans with a love of tequila, innovative cocktails and tapas, this time trying their hand at a new venture of their own as a team. The Cartel includes Russell McKenzie, Brad Jones, Mat Carpenter, and Azza Mondo. Executive chef Lachy Cashman, also a member of the cartel, oversees the kitchen which pumps out a seasonal Latin menu. Cashman’s background is in Modern Australian, but has also explored Spanish, Southeast Asian flavors and dry aged meats. These extra interests are evident in the menu, which features Southeast Asian twists hidden within.
Many of the furnishings, such as the honeycomb woodwork and chairs have been built by their own hands. The walls are adorned with skull artwork by Jess Carpenter, wife of Mat and artist behind Killer Diller Designs, and wall paintings created by another member of staff, Isabella Iskaf of Bella Illustrates.
So where does the name come from? I always feel so out of the loop when I come across eateries named after a song or album, though my initial confusion after Googling the name also serves as a form of education. Pablo Honey is yet another one of these. Jess’ artworks are named after albums, and the name of Radiohead’s debut album matched perfectly with the Latin cuisine they wanted to bring to the table. They’ve really taken their name to heart too, with their hexagon installations scattered throughout the venue to align themselves with the ‘honey’ part of their label.
First, some drinks. I try the Tequila Southside, a mix of Anejo Tequila, mint and raspberries. Sweet, sour and rather strong. It’s a refreshing awakening.
The menu consists of both small share plates and larger ones. We start with the Grass Fed Beef Tartare. Made from roast biff, the beef mince is mixed with capers, finger lime and coriander. Lavosh embedded with cumin seeds is used as a vehicle to shovel the tartare into our mouths. Dobs of salted egg yolk and smoked chilli sauce don’t just make the plate pretty, they also add extra complexity to an already fabulous dish.
Tomato Escabeche arrives next. We don’t often order vegetarian dishes, so it’s a relief to find this dish surprisingly good. Heirloom tomatoes and charred spring onions rest on a puddle of intensely flavoured and addictive coriander and garlic pebre, all with a delicate quail egg nestled on top. The seasoning is just right – peppery, savoury and well balanced. It’s wonderfully fresh, and the different varieties of heirloom tomatoes have their own unique flavours.
The Green Tree Ant Cured Salmon is my favourite of the night and is accompanied by salt and vinegar taro chips and pico de gallo on the side. There’s light eucalyptus notes from green tree ants, which have been harvested from eucalyptus trees, and subtle pops of flavour from the roe to complement the smooth sashimi-like salmon. Though at times I wonder if the vinegar in the taro chips is a bit too overpowering for the salmon, it is a still stunning dish.
When the Coffee BBQ Suckling Pig lands on the table there’s such a tantalising fragrance wafting up from the pork that I get impatient with myself while taking photos. The coffee imparts a slight bitterness, and the salsa fresca adds some zing. It’s something different and I’m glad we ordered it.
Our final small dish is the Smoked Chicken Wingettes with pico de gallo and habanero pebre sauce. Smokey they are, and thankfully we’re given permission to use our hands with the provision of a finger dipping bowl. These are spicy, absolutely succulent and quickly demolished.
Slow Roasted Pork Hock is prepared with a tequila, lime and roasted chilli glaze, and served with corn and roasted pepper salsa and soft tortillas. This giant pork hock is encased by crackling and is done well, but not quite as memorable as the preceding small plates.
Our meal concludes with the Dulce de Leche Mousse. A custom skull mould is used to form the sugary shell, and with a crack of the spoon we’re allowed access to the smooth dulce de leche underneath. The berries scattered around the perimeter of the skull are an extra foil against sugary overload. I forget reading about the bitter chocolate popping on the menu, so the sour pops dancing on my tongue come as a surprise. A great dessert for excitement and spectacle.
The team at Pablo Honey is passionate and friendly and the vibe is relaxed and casual. We were mightily impressed by the food and it would be a pleasure to return.
Disclaimer: I was invited to Pablo Honey as a guest, however, opinions expressed here are purely my own, and are based on my experience at the time.
68 Acland St
St Kilda, VIC, 3182
(03) 9534 3246