Covid was a catalyst for many people to step back and reevaluate. For the Pearce family, who have previously brought us Espana, Franc’s Wine Bar & Deli and Lupo, the more they thought, the more attracted they were to the concept of a micro-restaurant – less staff, fewer overheads, a smaller menu and a more intimate experience for diners. Rather than reopen Lupo, the restaurant we all knew and loved, the decision was made to carve the space into two smaller restaurants, each with its own identity and culinary personality. Brad and Thea Pearce took the helm of one side and their son, Harry Pearce, and his partner Missy took the lead on the other. Earlier this year, we were given our first taste of Lupo’s pint-sized successor Piatto (you can read all about the quaint 16-seater here) and now, the time has come to say hola to Cantina, a new neighbourhood tapas bar slinging Spanish-style bar bites and cocktails.
With seating for 30 in total, including 12 at the bar, Cantina is slightly larger than its Italian-inspired sibling Piatto, but only just. There’s an enchanting kind of conviviality to the neighbourhood newcomer. Perhaps it’s because there are no bookings to speak of, or the fact that the kitchen is literally right there in front of you tearing down the divide that has traditionally separated diner and chef. The open style, Harry says, was born out of necessity and the logistics of the space, but the end result is interactive and instantly disarming. Pull up a seat at the bar and peruse the menu, which features a scattering of light bites such as vinegar beans and Ritz and manchego cheese and quince alongside more substantial plates including prawn croquettas and a delightfully decadent fried mortadella sando. There’s also a handful of blackboard specials that will change regularly and feature dishes such as spiced pork shoulder. When it comes to the drinkables, Cantina is proof the selection needn’t be overly complex and span multiple pages. On the contrary, Cantina features a concise selection of predominantly Spanish wines alongside three different cocktails – a negroni, martini and margarita. Piatto and Cantina are not here to compete for your custom. Rather, they are complementary spaces that lend themselves to different occasions. For those occasions where you want the dependability of a booking, Piatto is for you. For the other times, when you fancy a drink and a bite, there’s Cantina.