The sun is escalating and the temperature drops rapidly in Melbourne weather. Helen (Grab Your Fork) and I found ourselves pacing down Little Bourke Street, trying to locate a restaurant nearby with the help of the google map on our iphones. The address given has led us to a corner of nothing but skyrises. Everything seems shut and deserted after working hours and I am not surprised that we have come to the wrong address.
Then, I spotted it. A red signage spelled, 'MOVIDA', is brightly lit up in a dark alley between two office buildings, luring us to step forward and follow the sign. In the mean time, a group of ladies just jump off a cab and head straight into the laneway, we soon follow right behind without any hesitations until we reach the bottom of a fleet of concrete steps.
I can already hear the bustle echoing from above before even reaching the top of the stairs. It almost feels like a gateway to heaven, we emerge from the dark laneway below into the bright wide open space where everyone is happy, drinking, laughing and socialising; this is a food lovers' nirvana! There are two new-ish MoVida additions right behind an office building, MoVida Terazza, a casual snack bar with bar stools; and MoVida Aqui, is the third instalment of the MoVida's empire and that's where we are having dinner tonight.
The original MoVida and MoVida next door in Hosier Lane are well known to be the size of a shoebox where reservations need to be made at least three months in advanced. I was a little surprised when I noticed that Tourism Victoria has booked us in for an evening meal at Movida Aqui within such short notice. But all my questions are answered as soon as I step inside the restaurant.
The restaurant is not small, dark wooden tables and chairs with banquettes as dividers filled up most of the space at the front dining area. Then there are outdoor seatings, tall tables and stools along the glass wall, and also a few communal dining tables at the back for the bigger groups. But it is the bar area that steals the show. The counter bar with colourful milk crates as lighting features hanging overhead, takes almost half of the length of the restaurant and adjoining to a small kitchen where all the actions are.
Helen and I are like two big kids in a candy shop, there are so many dishes on the menu we'd love to try with half of them I don't even know what they are, let alone trying to pronounce them in Spanish. Our tactic for this evening - order lots of small tapas dishes to share, along with a few main dishes then finish off with a big finale of paella. Oh, of course there's always room for desserts. (I told you we did order a lot!)
"That's a lot of food, are you sure you'll be able to finish?" Our waiter is worried as we got a little carried away with the ordering. Okay okay... perhaps a little too much food just for the two of us, oh well... things we do for research purposes.
We start off with by having some small tapas dishes. First to arrive is the beautifully presented Anchoa, it is a must-try signature dish at MoVida. A Cantabrian Artisan anchovy is hand filleted, lined on top of a wafer thin crouton with a perfect scoop of smoked tomato sorbet on top.
The soft flesh and the saltiness of the anchovy, the brittle crouton which is still warm to hold, and the refreshing chilled tomato sorbet; everything is well balanced and compliments each other perfectly. The layers of texture and flavour in this decadent morsel are simply breathtaking.
The sardina is a simple affair of imported Spanish Artisan 'Cuca' sardine with tomato on toast. I love sardine when it's done right, as its fishy taste can be a little too strong for some. But these are beautiful, nice firm flesh with rich briney flavour, perfectly balanced with the sweetness of the tomato and olive oil. So simple, so tasty.
It says "sandwich" on the menu, so we decided to just order one and split in half so that we don't fill ourselves up with carbohydrates too soon as we still have more dishes to come. The Bocadillo de Calamares is a calamari sandwich with tender calamari fries sandwiched between a soft warm bun together with spicy hot green basque guindilla chillies and a dollop of mayonnaise. Don't be fooled by the pale looking chilli as it packs quite a heat punch. How I wish I wouldn't have to share and order one each as we take our last bite of the sandwich.
Just a little bit bigger than a golf ball, the bomba is a Catalan Potato mash croquette, filled with chorizo mince then deep fry until nice and golden brown with a crispy exterior. These potato bombs are still piping hot when they arrive at the table, the mash inside is buttery smooth but disappointingly with very little chorizo mince inside.
It is so good, but so naughty. Not for those who are waistline-conscious.
So far so good, and the service is impeccable. Our dishes come out one after another without delay, seems like it has been rehearsed. Because as soon as we finish one dish, the next dish will be presented right in front of us just in time to clear the empty plate away.
The Choco on the menu caught our attention as squid ink is one of Helen's favourites. Another elegantly plated dish, big squares of plancha-grilled cuttlefish are incredibly tender, neatly stacked on a bed of black onion and squid ink sauce which is lemony and zesty, a perfect sauce for seafood but sadly very little squid ink flavour in presence. It doesn't mentioned in the menu what the crispy sheets on top of the cuttlefish are, as we keep nibbling it to work it out. I believe it is deep-fried seaweed, with a very subtle flavour of the sea.
This Higado is truly a work of art, one the best dishes we have had tonight. The chicken liver parfait is simply divine (I don't use this word very often but I can't help it!). The creamy parfait spread on toast beautifully, it is velvety smooth like eating butter, also surprisingly not too rich or overly spiced with a sweet flavour of Pedro Ximenez undertone.
The frutos secos that goes with the parfait is an eclectic mix of raisins, pinenuts, spanish red onions, figs and capers; a combination of ingredients that I'd have never imagined to go together but "Oh. Emm. Gee!" It is absolutely amazing!
Our eyes suddenly lit up when we spotted the word "cicharrones" on the menu. The sound of crunchy pork crackling is too hard to resist and that's the only reason why we order the Consome. But our little consomme seems to take a long time to arrive, as we are already getting closer for the last two remaining dishes. A quick double check with our waiter, only find out that he actually didn't write it down in our order. "Do you still want the consomme?" He asks. "Ohhh yeaahhhhh....!", Helen didn't even think twice with the answer.
The hot consomme arrives in shot glasses on a wooden block with a puffy cicharrones on the side. It is almost too hot to touch, I am a little worried that the shot glass will shattered because of such high temperature as there are already two smashing incidents in the restaurant this evening as we believe is the act of a spirit entity who is hungry.
The Iberico Jamon consomme is very salty and I probably enjoy to eat the jamon on its own rather than being used in a soup. The consomme is probably a great appetizer at the beginning of our meal, but it just gets a little too salty after a few sips. But nothing can beat a nice piece of cicharron, it is so light and earth-shattering crunchy, nicely seasoned with sea salt and a smidgen of paprika for the kick, only wish I have a full plate of it.
A couple of dishes we ordered are unfortunately not available this evening. The Lengua is a last minute decision and is a damn fine one too. The twice cooked ox tongue is braised in fino, carrot and peppercorn sauce. I am a little apprehensive when I still can see the little bumpy tastebuds on the ox tongue! Don't think, just eat and I shall be rewarded with one of the most amazing ox tongue dishes I've ever tasted.
I always believe that ox tongue is little firmer and chewy in texture because the lack of meat but muscles, how wrong was I! The ox tongue is like nothing I've had before, tasted like a big chunk of fatty beef brisket with fibre-ish texture and almost fall-apart tender. Then the paelle arrives just in time, perfect rice dish to go with the ox tongue.
There are three different Paella to choose from and they all sounds delicious. But we are recommended the duck paella by the not-so-shy-foodie at the World's Longest Lunch event earlier on the same day. I am taken aback at the generous portion of the Arroz Al Horno paella when it arrives, it is so big that we have to shift a few plates and glasses so that it fits on the table.
There are two big pieces of duck meat in the middle, surrounded by Catalan butiffara sausage, then baked with bomba rice and chickpeas. The duck has been cooked for a long time as it simply falls apart, but it is the butiffara sausage that I adore. Almost like chorizo, it has a nice firm texture but it is the heat from the piquillo peppers that they used in the sausage had me asking for more. The paella is baked in the oven and not the traditional way, hence it is lacking of the burnt crispy rice at the bottom. I would like to think it is not a flaw but that's the way it should be for this version of paella.
Unfortunately we can only manage a quarter of the dish with so much left untouched while still saving space for desserts. Helen is seriously thinking about doggy-bagging it back to Sydney if she must. I am glad that she takes my advice and leaves the paella in peace or else we won't be very popular on the plane when the smell of leftover whiffing through the aisle on an aeroplane.
Decision, decision. Despite there are only 4 or 5 desserts to choose, we are still struggling to pick two to share. We even asked the waiter for recommendation but he is just as indecisive as us. Tossing between a trifle and a flan, we eventually settling down for the latter.
When the flan is done good, it is a piece of heaven and the creme caramel at MoVida Aqui is the best piece of it. The creme caramel is a sweet sensation with silky smooth texture, every spoonful of the creamy flan with caramel sauce is a bliss. It is served with pestinos, which are more like biscuits than fritters, with specks of cumin seeds embedded inside. It is Helen's favourite, but the next dessert is more my cup of tea.
"What is olive oil jam?" Helen asks the waiter as we are dying to find out how is that even possible. He wont reveal the secret but highly recommends us to order it and give it a try. And so we did.
Chocolate, what a simple name. But it is definitely a lot more sophisticated than it may sound on the menu. A stump of Valrhona rich chocolate mousse is filled with cherries and salted caramel atop with a buttery sable biscuit, served with a trail of olive oil jam and sugar coated pistachios. The chocolate mousse is bittery rich, with the occasional chewy salted caramel in every spoonful. The cherries add a sweet relief to the flavour and then there is the olive oil jam, a sweet curd-like jam that taste just like olive oil, without leaving any greasiness in the mouth. After finishing the dessert, we are still intrigued how the olive oil jam is made.
Believe the hype, MoVida is seriously good. You don't need micro leaves, foam and molecules to claim a two chef's hat status; but simple, flavoursome, delicious food and Movida did just that. Not to mention the price is surprisingly reasonable with most of the dishes below $20 and only $4.50 a pop for the tapas, you will struggle to find a price like that in Sydney.
MoVida Aqui has to be one of the highlights of our trip in Melbourne. It is a memorable experience and I don't want it to end.
[A Table For Two dined at MoVida Aqui as a guest of Tourism Victoria and MoVida]
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MoVida Aqui Level 1, 500 Bourke St,
Melbourne. (Access via Lt Bourke St)
P: (03) 9663 3038
Lunch & Dinner.
Mon-Fri: 12 noon until late.
Saturday: 5pm until late.
Large groups welcome.