Having finally found a reason to visit this much-lauded Melbourne restaurant, little did I anticipate that it would be a month and a half before I finally got around to writing this review. Better late than never though right? We headed in early on a Tuesday night and were a little surprised at how busy it already was. Catering to a relatively mature crowd, the restaurant was noisy but not overtly so. We were promptly seated at a table that looked a little too small for a tapas style menu (or perhaps that added to the vibe, but in any case lots of plate-juggling would occur for the rest of the night) and settled in for a night of good food and wine starting with a a glass of celebratory champagne. Pictures and remembering dishes was somewhat secondary to celebrating the occasion, so you’ll have to excuse me.
MoVida offers a mix of Tapa (small individual pieces at $3.50-$5.50 each) and Racion (plates to share at $7 for olives to $50 for aged ham). We were enthusiastic about trying every dish and felt somewhat like kids in a candy store when presented with the menu, but our stomachs probably couldn’t have stretched quite that far, and so restraint was required. Nonetheless, we still ordered a respectable number of dishes between us. Ordering in English seemed like the safest bet though because A. the waiters were obviously Australia and B. even if they were Spanish, my toddler-level Spanish would probably have offended them.
Overall, the food was very good. The flavours were unique and interesting, with little cross-over between the dishes (always good when you want to try many things). The tapa were mostly too small to share efficiently, but we gave it our best shot regardless. Now, if you’re ready, here comes the parade:
First up, the ubiquitous dish of croqueta(s). The squid ink croqueta was contained within a cuttlefish skin that was reminiscent of a sushi roll.
Croquetas de Choco en su Tinta
Slightly chewy, the bite-sized morsel was packed full of flavour and texture. Definitely one of the better renditions of the dish I’ve had.
I have a weakness for goat cheese, so the Queso Manchego was a must order.
The cheese was delicate, and the quince paste was a nice counterpoint. I just wish there was more of the quince paste. The tiny sliver was barely enough for a bite of cheese, and without the accompaniment, the cheese got boring quite quickly.
Luckily, up next, we had the lovely Cordornice – pressed quail and morcilla with apple and pickled garlic.
Beautifully presented, it didn’t look much like quail, but it certainly tasted like it. Quail is the more interesting version of chicken, but I always find it doesn’t have the same ‘comfort’ factor. Not that comfort is a requirement of a dish such as this, but my thoughts follow an odd path sometimes. Also interesting was the morcilla, otherwise known Spanish Blood Sausage, so while this dish didn’t blow me away, at least it kept my interest levels up.
One of the must order items on the menu was the Lengua – char-grilled veal tongue with green pepper sofrito.
I must say I found the presentation of this dish lacking, but it was certainly delicious. The veal tongue was tender and the sofrito was packed full of flavour without being too oily. Why couldn’t there have been more of it! I wouldn’t have minded eating an entire dish (well, maybe entree sized) of just this.
The last two tapas dishes were greatly contrasted, we ordered the Cordero al Chilindron (Pyrenees wet roast lamb breast with fino and paprika sauce) and the Caballa Ahumado (house cold smoked Spanish mackerel with pine nut gazpacho sorbet).
Cordero al Chilindron
I have no idea what a ‘wet roast’ means, but it worked for this dish. Lamb has a tendency to dry out when you roast it, but this was moist and easily cut with a fork. The fino (a variety of dry sherry) sauce added an extra hit of flavour.
We were wondering what the smoke smell that wafted by every few minutes in the restaurant was, but it wasn’t until the smoked mackerel dish arrived at our table did we realise that this was the source of the intriguing aroma. Lightly smoked, the purity of the fish really shone through. Well presented, the pine nuts lent a nice ‘crunch’ factor to this dish.
After finishing the tapas dishes, with a lot of the aforementioned plate juggling, we moved on to the larger racions. I can get a little obsessive with my greens, so of course we ordered a salad. The Valencian salad with endive, orange, palm hearts and manzanillo olives was interesting enough to be counted as a dish on its own, rather than a side dish.
The special of clams with a pea sauce captured our attention, and we couldn’t go past ordering this dish.
Clams with Pea Sauce
While I’m sure there was a fancier name for this, I can’t for the life of me remember what it was (the trouble with ordering specials!). While the clams were succulent and juicy, they weren’t didn’t quite match my expectations. Perhaps that bar was set too high for seafood? Indeed, the Salpicon dish (a seafood salad of octopus, prawn, scallop and mussels) didn’t impress me either.
Our last main was very impressive though. The Carriellera de Buey consisted of slowly braised beef cheek in Pedro Ximenez on Cauliflower Puree.
Carrillera de Buey
I have to figure out how they made this cauliflower puree (probably with lots of butter) because it was some of the most addictive I’ve ever had. Oh, and the beef wasn’t bad either (though this line suggest that I’ve missed the point of this dish). I’d previously thought only red wines worked well in beef dishes, but I was happy to be proven wrong on this occasion.
We couldn’t wait for dessert though seeing as my companion had never had churros before. Ever. Unbelievable.
So these weren’t the best churros you can get as somewhat surprisingly, San Churros is better than a top-class Spanish restaurant, but they were a good introduction. The other dessert was much more impressive.
Poached Figs with Vanilla Ice-Cream
Alas the curse of the specials hits again. I’m fairly sure this was a poached fig cake/pudding with vanilla ice-cream. Almost nudging the side of ‘too-sweet’, it was warm and decadent and the perfect way to end the evening. You can’t lose with the combination of pudding and ice-cream. Don’t even try to argue that with me.
Somehow during the course of the night, we also finished a glorious bottle of red. At the recommendation of the sommelier, we went with the 2008 Palacios Remondo ‘Propiedad’, a mix of Garnacha, Tempranillo and Graciano. I loved it for the rich berry and vanilla flavours, but M didn’t quite like how hard-hitting it was. Surprisingly, it matched most of the food quite well.
Overall, MoVida serves delicious but simple fare (for a top-class restaurant), good service, and a lively atmosphere in wonderful company made it a great night. While I can’t pick a particular highlight, neither can I pick a particular disappointment. Do yourself a favour and book here when you’re in the mood for great dining, minus pretentiousness.
MoVida Bar de Tapas
1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne