Siffredi’s might be a spaghetti bar, but it isn’t Italian. It’s a distinction its three owners were careful to make when opening the eatery late last year, freeing themselves up to serve dishes that might get them thrown out of a more traditional trattoria or ristorante.
Now comes a second venue from two of Siffredi’s owners – Aleks Balodis and chef Ollie Hansford – and ex-Blackbird bar manager Daniel Pennefather. They are taking a similar approach to Rita’s, a taco and tequila bar that’ll open next door to Siffredi’s in early November.
“We’re not planning on opening a Mexican restaurant, none of us have even been to Mexico,” Hansford says. “The only thing that is Mexican is the tequila and the tortillas.”
The corn tortillas will be brought in from Victoria-based wholesaler La Tortilleria, though, and paired with non-traditional fillings like sticky braised kangaroo tail with fermented chilli and apple slaw, or crispy soft shell Moreton Bay bug with XO mole and pickled radish. The menu, which will be wallet-friendly and geared towards snacking, might also include oysters with mezcal and lime granita, grilled octopus skewers with spiced sweet and sour glaze, or empanadas filled with chorizo, burnt corn and smoked cheese.
The trio are in the process of fitting out the space – formerly Claret House wine bar – themselves. The bar is still intact, but they’re going with a darker, moodier colour palette, retaining some exposed brick and adding lots of greenery. There are also plans to line the back bar with bottles of tequila and mezcal and hang empty bottles from the ceiling. Bar and lounge seating will feature inside, but most of the capacity will be outside at large communal tables.
For drinks, Pennefather aims to keep it affordable and approachable. There will be around eight different Margaritas – such as Tommy’s Reposado Margarita with tromba reposado, agave and lime citrus – a number of cocktails using tequila or mezcal as their base, and a few Mexican beers, such as tins of Tacate and Dos Equis on tap. While there will be a minimal wine offering, Balodis says he’s happy to grab a bottle from the more extensive list next door.
“During the day it’s about good vibes and quick in-and-out drinks … you can have a cheap tinnie or Margarita and we’ll have a happy hour,” Pennefather says. “Then as it transitions to late night you can sit at the bar, and I’ll give out tequila and mezcal samples to taste.”
“There’s no cocktail bars around here, you have to head to the Valley [to find one],” Balodis adds. “We don’t do cocktails at Siffredi’s and we keep on getting asked for them, so we thought we’d [open] a bar next door.”
Rita’s Bar is expected to open at 5/36 Vernon Terrace in early November.