The interior is similar to how it was for former tenant Chocolateria San Churro, but it feels less cluttered. This tiny space has become B’Stilla Cantina, an informal inexpensive off-shoot of an established southside restaurant. The theme is Moroccan street food. The outdoor tables are a lot more colourful.
B’Stilla Cantina has only been open a couple of weeks and is just getting started. The service was welcoming and the staff were keen to explain the menu. We ordered 3 dishes to share for lunch. The sardine fritters ($8, below) are fresh and delicious and were my favourite dish.
We had the fried cauliflower ($7, below) which had lots of flavour and was surprisingly soft. I was expecting more of a crunch (this is not a criticism). If you’re a vegetarian you’re going to struggle to make a meal of the limited menu. It’s meaty. I hope you like cauliflower.
My lunch companion still worships the memory of the potato salad sandwich that used to be on the menu at Collingwood’s Cibi cafe, so B’Stilla Cantina’s potato sandwich with harissa mayo (Mustafa $8 or Infidel at $9 with bacon as we ordered it) was compulsory. It was considered a satisfying replacement (below).
We ordered both desserts to share – mehalebeya, an orange blossom flavoured custard with a spoonful of amlou (a dense sweet nut paste) and the sweet b’stilla, a tube of brik pastry with a saffron, cinnamon and ginger sauce with honey and nuts. The custard was not set like a creme caramel and it had the texture more of a thick yogurt. I preferred the sweet b’stilla, which had a richness I found much more satisfying.
Because of its small size it has limitations. All the inside seating is on high stools at narrow bars. That’s not going to suit everyone and accessibility, particularly to the toilets, is an issue. There’s a step down from the restaurant space into the corridor where the toilets are located, and when we visited that door was propped open by a box that was itself an obvious trip hazard.
There’s nothing nearby to compare B’Stilla Cantina to. The former United Arab Eatery (in its original Northcote incarnation) may be the closest in terms of style and informality. Bayte (Lebanese inspiration) on Johnston St Collingwood is at a higher level in terms of sophistication. Karavan on Gertrude St briefly tried something different two years ago and it ended before anyone noticed (they then tried an uninspired Americana menu).
In some ways we live in a food Disneyland. If you’re looking for ethnic diversity and authenticity, you may be more likely to find it in the outer suburbs than here. Fitzroy is a testing ground for trends and potential franchises (San Churro, Trampoline). This modest space was the original location for what is now an international empire. Does B’Stilla Cantina aspire to similar success?
Americana is wearing out its welcome but there is much more potential in central and south American food. The Fitzroy / Collingwood area is saturated with Japanese and has new Korean and Vietnamese offerings. As a region Asia may have plenty more to offer in terms of new restaurants, but Africa remains the least explored continent for most Australian diners. I’ve eaten at all the nearby east African restaurants, and am keen for more food with African influence to be available here.
I really like this food and in particular these flavours. I find it much more interesting than the Americana trend. But I don’t know if my tastes are representative. Some of the places that I have thought most innovative and enjoyable that have opened in the past few years in Fitzroy have not survived (I miss Le Cellier in particular, but I also recall Pollen and Juanita’s). I hope B’Stilla Cantina does.