MoVida (Aqui to be exact) was one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne. When chef Frank Camorra was spotted hanging around regularly in Sydney, it was rumoured that he was looking at expanding the brand interstate to here in Sydney. The rumour finally came true, a brand new Movida is opened in Surry Hills late last year at the former site of Cotton Duck on Holt Street and it instantly becomes a hot spot amongst food hunters.
It is a Friday night and without any prior booking, the chances of getting a table at MoVida is slim. Thankfully we arrive a little earlier and manage to score the last table for the 6.30pm seating. Despite we have been warned that we might get water drips now and again through the leaky windows from the earlier downpour, we are not letting the table go that easily.
And within minutes, the whole restaurant is heaving with punters shoved into wooden booths, stool tables and also the L-shape bar area. A giant fish tank offers a glimpse of the seafood that will be on the menu this evening, there are no uniforms for the waitstaffs at this restaurant but so long you rock up in crisp checked shirt with a slick hairstyle then you will fit right in.
The menu is designed to share so to speak, many small dishes are categorised in embutidos (charcuterie), tapas, racoon (entree), a la parilla (from the grill) and verduras (vegetables). Then there is also a separate print out of daily specials. The bound booklet of wine list has an extensive choices of Spanish wines to choose from, with a few local blends thrown in the mix.
Big Kev is our dinner date of this evening but since he is running a little late, The Pom and I are happily settling down with a glass each of refreshing sangria and pisco sour while waiting for his arrival. The sangria is not what I expected, the tall glass is piled with ice cubes before filling up with fruity red wine and a few lemon segments on top. On the other hand, the pisco sour is absolutely delicious, is sweet and sour with a frothy egg white top.
Waiting game can be boring, so we both tuck into some Padrons. These fried green Padrons peppers are a popular Spanish tapas snack to go with beer. Pan fried with a little oil until all the peppers are charred with blistering skins, then simply seasoned with caper salt. Padrons is the edible version of a Russian roulette, one out of ten peppers will be a scorching hot one and someone will get burned, but sadly none of ours were hot, a nature's prank failed.
We are all famished by the time Big Kev walks through the door. He has no interest in looking at the menu, happily sits back and demands, "Feed me!" May as well, since I have already mentally bookmarked all the dishes that I want to order, and the anchoa is a MUST!
A thin sliver of Cantabrian anchovy is aligned and centred on a wafer thin crouton that is threatened to shatter into crumbs with the gentle touch. We are informed by the waitstaff that the anchovy can be quite salty, and the best way to eat it is to spread the sweet and smokey tomato sorbet over the anchovy to tone down the saltiness. Sweet and salty combo works like a treat, whilst the sudden bursts of sour green capers clean the palate brilliantly.
Whenever you see the word "sardine" on the menu, order it. The toastada de sardilla looks strikingly beautiful on the plate, the Specials menu simply says sardine on toast, but the plump grilled sardine fillet is actually cleverly served on a squid ink toast! The refreshingly zingy picadillo salsa adds textural wonders and covers some of the fishiness on the sardines. It is definitely one of my favourite dishes of the evening.
The croqueta is da bomb! These edible grenades are loaded with flakes of smoked eel and grated horseradish with that subtle heat kick, sealed within a crispy golden skin that is not at all greasy. But piece of warning, please do handle them with extra precautions as they are hazardously hot inside which can blow your head off if not being careful.
Sometimes one picture on instagram is all it takes before a list of suggestions what to order are flooding in. But I am glad we listen to the recommendations and go for the cecina, another highlight of the evening. A blanket of glossy air cured wagyu beef are shaved so thinly, resembles a stained glass motifs that you still able to see the prints on the plate underneath. In the center sits a fragile poached egg on a bed of frothy truffle foam.
We are instructed to "make a mess" of this dish - prick it, swirl it, mix it, smear it, and the end result may not look appetising but to define sex on the plate, this could be one of them. Creamy egg, rich cauliflower foam with a subtle hint of truffle aroma, and the velvety cured beef dissolved in the mouth like candy floss, it makes my toes curl underneath the table.
One of my deep dark secrets is I do love black pudding, a lot. From the specials menu, the morcilla here at MoVida is housemade in two version, the original and another one with pumpkin, both served with padron peppers. These black pudding is soft and filled with lots of barleys and grains which makes it crumbles quite easily, richly spiced yet still can taste that distinctive flavour of black pudding.
And this is the last dish we have ordered, but we are still hungry...
Big Kev's flirtation skills with the waitress works like a charm, she recommends us suckling pig that is actually neither listed on both the normal and Specials menus, sounds like a secret chef's treat only for the VIPs. The dish arrives with three slab of suckling pig with bones still intact, they are actually not that meaty and chewy at some parts, but I am only in for the golden tiles of crispy cracklings. Served with roasted carrots and hazelnuts, with a spicy harissa sauce.
Possibly the most expensive sandwiches on this planet - called the bikini, four dainty sandwiches are secured with toothpicks, inside is layered with melted buffalo mozzarella, a thin slice of smoked pork shoulder sandwiched in turkish bread and a petty shave of truffle as finishing touch. Sadly we don't find the bikini any sexy or makes our jaws drop, it sounds more appealing on the menu than what it actually is. Nevertheless, dessert always lift our spirits up again!
Big Kev has his big appetite set on the Churros con Chocolate. Long twirls of Spanish doughnuts are dusted sparingly with cinnamon sugar, a cup of watery chocolate sauce on the side is for dipping. As the menu says, the churros is meant to be served with rich drinking chocolate and not your typical thick like lava melted chocolate sauce, I find the diluted drinking chocolate is good for 'drinking' rather than dipping, it is not overly sweet and I believe it is spiked with boozy Cointreau or Grand Marnier for that subtle hint of orange flavour.
We order the Tarta Santiago is not because of the almond fondant itself, but we are actually more curious about the fig leaf ice cream that comes with it. The fondant has that traditional sugar dusting on top and masked by an imprint of the Cross of Saint James, the cake itself has a modern twist, it is light and soft with a gooey centre like a fondant should be instead of a flat and wide tart. The fig leaf ice cream is an interesting one, the flavour is subtle with a grassy, leafy note to it, like tabacco, it is extremely creamy and velvety smooth on the tongue.
Another dish that isn't on the menus is the smoked goat's curd ice cream. The ice cream itself is creamy and the goat's curd flavour is not overpowering that can put some people off, but we are rather disappointed that we actually can't detect any smokiness on the ice cream. It is served with a fluffy pillow of sugared financier in a pool of blueberries Oloroso sherry.
I've always enjoyed a meal at MoVida, while we were happily ordering small dishes to share, it does add up in the end and it isn't a cheap meal after all with over $100 per head. It is a splurge now and again that I couldn't resist.
MoVida 50 Holt Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8964 7642
Monday 5pm til late
Tuesday to Friday 12 til late
Saturday 5pm til late