When Frank Camorra’s MoVida first took Melbourne by storm back in 2002, it was a little bar in a back lane serving Spanish tapas and shared plates.
Fast forward nine years and there are two new instalments to the original joint – MoVida Next Door and MoVida Aqui. Word has gone out the MoVida fever is now spreading to Sydney, purportedly taking over the site at Jared Ingersoll’s Cotton Duck in Surry Hills.
When Mysaucepan tried to make reservations at MoVida a few years ago, the restaurant was booked out for three months. So on our trip this time, she made reservations for lunch way in advance.
Finally, we find ourselves at MoVida Aqui in Bourke street in the heart of Melbourne CBD today.
The alfresco dining is surrounded by olive plants and as good a Melbourne day as it is today, we are choosing a table for two inside the restaurant where we are seated directly opposite the open kitchen where we can feast our eyes on the chefs working their theatrics.
It is an exciting dining room at MoVida Aqui where diners can choose to have their tapas and shared plates at the bar or be seated in a more intimate private area at the rear end of the restaurant.
The warmth of the sun is beautiful on this cool autumn day and our table is bathed with natural light, a dream setting for food bloggers fussy about taking that so-called “perfect” shot of their food.
Mysaucepan orders a sangria to get a refreshing taste of Spain. Here, it’s lighter on the red wine and has an added splash of campari, with just the right amount of kick to give her a happy buzz.
We are greeted with complimentary bread served on a wooden board and this would soon become a prelude to the presentation style of MoVida’s signature tapas.
The bonus of being able to watch the chefs at work and the aromas from the kitchen so close to our table is working up a healthy appetite.
The MoVida menu has struck a chord with the new style of dining, that is lighter, more sociable yet exciting, with its flexibility for sharing. You can graze on tapas all day over a few drinks or just nibble on them as entrees before moving into the more substantial mains. Each course offers the best of Spanish flavours with Frank Commora’s surprising twists and turns.
We order one of the most talked about tapas of MoVida, the Anchoa - a hand-filleted Cantabrian artisan anchovy on a crouton with smoked tomato sorbet, garnished with baby capers, diced parsley and a little extra virgin olive oil.
Who would have thought of pairing the refreshing chill of a smoky tomato sorbet with a salty sliver of anchovy on top of a crispy crouton but it works beautifully. This stroke of genius has obviously made the Anchoa tapas one of MoVida’s seven classics on its menu.
The Abalone arrives thinly sliced. The flavours from the sea are enhanced with specs of yellow caviar and a foamy oyster emulsion. A wafer-thin slice of crispy King Brown mushroom is dehydrated into an interesting crisp.
Gamba Con Sobrasada is a prawn that is smoked, then seared “a la plancha” on a flat grill, with a charred exterior and a slightly rare interior. Within the crispy pastry, we can taste a puree of capsicum, garlic and paprika.
Another signature tapas is the Bomba, which arrives in a crusty golden brown ball filled with creamy mash and minced chorizo. By now, MoVida Aqui is clearly impressive, with elegant and unsuspecting flavours cleverly paired with interesting textures.
Camerones or school prawns seem to be a current craze in many new Sydney restaurants and has become one of my favourites.
The Japanese, Greeks and Thais seem to have their own version of camerones and the magic of the accompanying dip is just as important as deep frying these little prawns to a crisp.
At MoVida, the prawns are dusted in semolina, paprika and then deep fried. The ali oli dip is rich, creamy and generous in complementing the salty crisp of each prawn.
We finish off our meal with the Codorniz con kikos – a grilled quail stuffed with duck liver parfait that is served with a sweet corn puree and topped with a healthy sprinkle of toasted corn kernels. There is a wonderful interplay of tenders between the tender quail against the creamy corn puree and the crunch of the toasted corn.
The Anchoa, Abalone, Bomba and Gamba con sobrasada are four out of seven tapas classics on MoVida’s menu. We have no doubt the other three that we did not sample are equally impressive.
For jamon lovers, the menu offers both the Serrano and Iberico variety with pa amb tomaquet. The Serrano is the ‘Montesano’ artisan mountain ham aged for 24 months at $15.00 for 50 gms. The Paletilla Iberico or black pig variety is a front leg ham aged for 24 months and at $28.50 for 50gms, it is worth noting this price equates to $570.00 per kilogram.
MoVida Aqui is impressive because flavours are surprising and each mouthful packs a gutsy punch, both in taste and textures.
Obviously a lot of thought has gone into creating food with a difference. Service is equally impressive as knowledgeable staff help us navigate a menu that brings out the best in imported and local ingredients paired with innovative cooking.
This restaurant has elevated tapas dining to a new level. The next time we come back, it will be with a larger group of friends to sample a spread of tastes and flavours that has obviously stamped the MoVida brand as cutting-edge and given Melbourne foodies a new-world Spanish.
So dear readers, what is your favourite Spanish tapas?
Level 1, 500 Bourke street
Melbourne (Access via Little Bourke street)
Lunch & Dinner:
Monday - Friday 12 noon till late.
Saturday – 6pm until late.
Sunday – Closed.
Tel: 03 – 9663 3038 for reservations.