3-5 Hosier Lane
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Remember what I said about being devastated over missing out on many a Melbourne restaurant whilst I was stuck in Sydney due to Covid? Well one of the restaurants that I was most upset about not getting to eat at was Bar Tini, the brainchild of Frank Camorra, aka the father of Spanish food (and tapas in general) in Melbourne. Unfortunately, before I had a chance to get myself to Bar Tini, it had shut down, and that boat has sailed forevermore. But it’s not all bad news; for once it’s not Covid that took down Bar Tini, at least not directly in any case. Being both an amazing chef and a shrewd businessman, Camorra realised that as popular as Movida is, having 3 Spanish restaurants within 20 metres of each other is probably not the best use of what must be the exorbitant rent on Hosier Lane, and in response, decided to open Tres a Cinco where Bar Tini once stood.
As implied by the name, Tres a Cinco is a Mexican restaurant. However if you know the Movida brand, you’ll know that Frank Camorra is rarely content with putting a single label on his ventures. At the front of the restaurant is a standing section with tequila-lined bar lit in a wickedly cool shade of poisonous green, whilst the back section has a retro South American diner feel, and also doubles as a bottle shop. The idea here is to make Tres a Cinco good for any time of the day, whether you’re dropping in for after work drinks, a quick bite with a glass of wine, or a long, leisurely date-night dinner.
It seemed wrong to be at a Mexican bar and not order a drink, so we decided to try the Tequila Sunset ($16). And as promised, this was sweet and tropical, with strong overtones of mango and raspberry.
The Kingfish Aguachile Ceviche ($20) was a great start to the meal, the plump kingfish complemented by a sharp, tangy dressing of lime, coriander, and a hint of jalapeño. It went fabulously with the complimentary serve of salty, crunchy tortilla chips.
For those a little less keen on raw fish, there’s the Crab Tostada ($15, 3pcs). Each bite-sized tortilla chip was heaped with a mound of freshly picked crab meat, the delicate sweetness of the seafood given body by a grating of earthy manchego, and kernels of chargrilled corn.
The Corn Esquite ($8) is something of a deconstructed take on the classic street snack of elote we all know and love. A small dish of corn kernels came topped with a generous crumbling of smooth feta, and a dollop of smoky chipotle mayo. This is simple but utterly delicious, the ingredients running the full spectrum of the flavour palate.
Ah finally, time for tacos. The Taco de Pescado ($7ea), aka the fish taco, is usually my favourite on the menu, and this is a classic done well. A piece of flaky white fish, lightly battered and fried; crunchy purple slaw, creamy sauce with a hint of jalapeños, and most importantly, a soft tortilla, aromatic with ground corn.
The Taco de Coliflor ($6ea) on the other hand was a surprise hit. Instead of flaky fish, the batter held florets of cauliflower that have been cooked just enough to retain a hint of bite. Its texture was a delight against the crispness of the batter, and if you’re worried about the combination being too stodgy, fear not – it was balanced well by a sharp pico de gallo, and the smoothness of avocado crema.
The Taco de Carne ($7ea) may be the most simple option, but it’s not to be underestimated. The chargrilled steak, cooked to a juicy medium rare, had an intoxicating smoky aroma, as well as a satisfyingly robust beefiness. Dressed simply with a grassy salsa verde, this was a strong contender for my favourite taco of the night.
The last taco on the menu (yes, we ordered them all!) was the Taco de Cochinita Pibil ($7ea). The juicy pulled pork, slow-cooked with orange juice and achiote paste, was robust with spices and a hint of fruit. Paired with creamy refried beans and sharp pickled onion, this was once again balanced yet full of flavour.
We hummed and hawed over ordering a couple more tacos, but we ended up getting the Albondigas con Chipotle ($18.5). And as great as the tacos were, ordering these meatballs was the right decision. Made with pork slightly fattier than what you’d find in your usual meatball, this was a remarkably tender and juicy rendition, its richness complemented by the tangy, smoky chipotle sauce. If only I had a serve of sourdough from Movida to mop up the juices! Maybe next time I’ll try asking really really nicely if they’ll pop next door and grab me a slice…
We had originally only ordered one of the Mostachon de Frutos Rojos ($6.5), but our lovely waitron, Maddie, decided to bring us an extra, just so we could have one each instead of having to share! And Maddie clearly knew what she was doing, because splitting one of these would be a chore indeed. This exquisite little dessert had a base of Mexican meringue, which had a crumbly sugar hit of a shell, but a walnut-studded centre with an almost biscuity chew, and an underlying heat from a sneaky addition of chipotle. And although the meringue was amazing as is, the topping of rich, cool sour cream and syrupy summer berries was exactly the garnish it needed to turn it from a sweet treat into a dessert proper.
It’s probably clear by now that I had a great time at Tres a Cinco. Admittedly, the bill ended up being quite a lot heftier than I had initially anticipated, though to be fair, Maddie had warned us of small portions at the start of the meal, and I was frankly just delighted to be having proper Mexican food again. Speaking of Maddie, all the staff at Tres a Cinco were great, but I really bonded with Maddie over our shared love for fresh corn tortillas and guava. She took great care of us the entire night, and I promise I’m not just saying this because she gave us an extra dessert. You’re in for an extra fab night if she’s the one looking after you, though to be fair, you’re bound for a good night regardless, especially if you’re someone who likes a well-crafted drinks list to go with their tacos.
Rating: 15/20 – fresh corn tortillas, at long last!
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.