Cartel is a fun and buzzing South American-inspired cocktail bar and eatery in the space that was once home to A1 Canteen.
The fitout for Cartel is moody, warm and colourful. The walls of the 85-seat venue are covered in a dusty red paint and stamped with electric-blue, Aztec-inspired patterns. The bar is stocked with more than 50 tequilas and 60 mezcals has also been installed. And every Friday and Saturday night a live Latin band performs.
The brains behind the venue are Grant Collins and Arnolfo Raimondi, hospitality veterans who are no strangers to Kensington Street. Collins also runs neighbouring Gin Lane, while Raimondi is the executive chef and owner of Eastside Bar & Grill and Gavroche Chippendale, both located just upstairs.
Cartel experiments with ingredients and cooking methods once used by the Aztecs. Behind the bar, for instance, insects such as sal de gasano (spiced worm salt) and chapulines (grasshoppers) are being used in cocktails.
But if the high-protein ingredients don’t pique your interest, there’s plenty more going on drinks-wise, including mezcal-based cocktails, house specialties and around six different takes on the Margarita (including a coconut number, and one with hibiscus and ginger). If you can’t choose, there’s a tasting paddle with four varieties of Marg; if you’re in a group there’s the Margarita “tree”: a stand that holds up to 10 cocktails.
The snacky food menu pairs well with the drinks list. There are several taco options, including one with pulled pork and guajillo sweet-chilli jam, a refreshing mango ceviche with plantains, and prawn empanadas made with maize milled in-house.