492-494 Mt Alexander Road
Ascot Vale, VIC 3032
Carino means love or affection, and when it comes to my own relationship with Spanish food, I have to say the name Carino Tapas Bar is rather apt.
Decorated in a Flamenco style with music to match, the interior of Carino is unimaginative but also quite lovely. We were the only ones around at 6:15pm on a Friday night, but as it turns out we just eat extremely early. This place actually appears to be a favourite with the locals – some are just here for a Friday family dinner, while others were keen to pop the champagne (giving the rest of the diners a bit of a fright!).
Our meal didn’t come with complimentary bread, which is the first strike against them. Instead, we started our meal with the Crispy Spiced Calamari with Lemon Aioli ($15). The squid itself was tender and well-cooked, but the batter was salty rather than spiced, and the aioli on the side could’ve done with more lemon. This was just ok.
On the other hand, the Jamon Serrano Gran Reserva on Pan Catalan ($14) was surprisingly delicious. The crusty slices of grilled bread were topped with silky folds of salty jamon, and garnished with a smoky mixture of crushed sundried tomatoes and spices. I especially enjoyed the specks of candied orange peel, which added depth of flavour to each bite.
What I had really been holding out for however was the Paella a la Escorza ($28pp). After a wait of 45 minutes or so, out came a pan of saffron-coloured rice, piled high with shellfish, crustaceans, and even an entire slipper lobster. This paella was absolutely stuffed with goodies, from mussels to prawns, to all the good things beginning with C – clams, chicken, calamari, and chorizo. Unfortunately, despite the good quality ingredients, the flavour itself was only average, and the addition of beef was just plain odd. It hit the spot, but that was about it.
The Granada Salad ($13), with its fruity flavours, strong manchego cheese, and nutty pepitas reminded me a lot of a pear and blue cheese salad. The flavours in this salad were quite good, so it was double the shame that it was over-dressed, and I ended up not being able to eat a whole lot of it.
In an area of town where the gastronomical scene is still budding, Carino is exotic and refined. But having had some of the best Spanish food Melbourne has to offer, Carino feels derivative and clumsy, and definitely not worth the $100 we shelled out. To put it succinctly: I would go somewhere else.
Rating: 11/20 – falta de carino.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.