A creeping grin.
It's one that doesn't leave me as soon as I found out Billy and I have been booked in for a dinner at MoVida Aqui for our recent weekend trip to Melbourne. It's hard not be to excited - the buzz around MoVida is palpable with the success of its two cookbooks compounded by the recent opening of MoVida Aqui, its third instalment after Movida and Movida Next Door.
MoVida Aqui is not easy to find for the casual blow-in, hidden down an alleyway - like most of the good things in Melbourne, I suppose. When we finally spot the trademark red and white sign off Little Bourke Street, (me trailing behind Billy who is navigating via Google Maps on his iPhone), there's a moment of theatre as we admire the spectacular backdrop of the Melbourne Supreme Court and then a tingle of anticipation as we make our way with bated breath down the alley and then up the staircase toward the tinkling chatter of unseen diners.
Upstairs, we find MoVida Terazza buzzing with local office workers, unwinding with drinks and snacks at this outdoor bar on the terrace. We turn right instead and walk past the outdoor tables and into MoVida Aqui.
MoVida Aqui bar counter
The bar counter catches your attention first, a flurry of colour and activity with bar staff, wine glasses, patrons on bar stools and a funky installation of illuminated milk crates overhead.
Complimentary bread with olive oil
We score probably the best seating areas in the house - me on the leather banquette that runs parallel to the bar, whilst Billy gallantly takes the wooden chair on the other side of our table (thanks Billy!). The menu, printed on an A3 sheet of paper and broken up into distinct sections--starters, tapas, the grill, rice, vegetables and portions or raciones--reminds me of the menu design at North Bondi Italian Food.
Billy and I spend ages dissecting the menu. We want one of everything. Please. Commonsense forces us to eventually narrow down our options, but even then we know we have ordered far too much food for two. Our waiter raises an eyebrow. "That's a lot of food for two people," he warns. "We know," we laugh merrily, "but trust us, we'll get through it all."
What's that? Oh yes, famous last words.
Anchoa $4.50 each
Hand-filleted Cantabrian Artisan anchovy
on crouton with smoked tomato sorbet
We start with the anchoa, a beautifully plated dish that arrives on a rustic round wooden plaque. It's hard not to get carried away by continually taking photos. It looks so beautiful.
"Hurry up, Helen. It's melting!" Billy eventually pleads.
I relent guiltily.
It's hard to know where to begin so I start with a little bite on the end, a little scoop of the sorbet. The flavours are incredible. The anchovy is a smooth sliver of fillet that's almost toffee-like in sweetness. The elegance of the wafer-thin crouton has a pleasing snap, and the tomato sorbet - it explodes in the mouth with such intensity of flavour I'm rendered speechless. Smoky and salty, the crystals are amazingly smooth, melting quickly on the tongue until I look down and realise wtih sadness that every morsel is gone.
Sardina $4 each
Imported Spanish Artisan 'Cuca' sardine with tomato on toast
Sardina are another revelation. Plump and firm, these sardines have a freshness that transport you straight to the sea, its strong flavour tempered by the plank of toast crunchy and a thin slice of sweet tomato.
Bocadillo de Calamares $6.50 each
Calamari sandwich with Basque guindilla and mayonnaise
The bocadillo is a sandwich most commonly filled with a tortilla potato omelette or perhaps a few slices of jamon with cheese that you'll encounter at lunch counters around Spain. The Bocadillo de Calamares is a much more sophisticated affair. Thin strips of deep-fried calamari are both crunchy and tender, drizzled with mayonnaise and spiced up with Basque guindilla chillies that pack more punch than you'd expect. We relish the contrast between the delicate calamari and the comforting chewiness of fresh crusty bread.
Bomba $4 each
Catalan potato bomb filled with chorizo
Bomba are jazzed-up version of potato croquettes filled with a disappointingly miniscule amount of chorizo. We do like the crunch of these and the two-tone drizzle of tomato and chilli sauce is an artistic feat.
Chicken liver parfait with Pedro Ximenez with frutos secos
I'd had my eye on the chicken liver parfait from the start and am pleased that Billy agrees we order it. It's a thick satisfying wedge protected by a pale white fortress of butter. Drizzled with olive oil and splayed with a swooping trail of dried nuts and fruits--raisins, figs, capers, a fine dice of red onion and the biggest toasted pinenuts I've ever seen--we spread the parfait generously on the thin slices of fruit toast supplied.
This is my second highlight of the evening, the parfait deliriously smooth and silky with the sweetness of Pedro Ximenez sherry. The interplay of the dried fruits works marvellously too.
Cuttlefish on the plancha with onion and squid ink sauce
Choco is a visual striking dish with squares of seared cuttlefish, just-cooked to a mouth-sighing tenderness, garnished with crinkly wisps of what we presume are sheets of deep-fried seaweed.
A trail of onion and squid ink sauce is ebony black in colour but tastes more of tomato than the buttery richness of squid ink.
Consome $8.50 (daily special)
Iberico jamon, consomme with cicharrones
We make enquiries about our missing consome only to be told by our waiter that he hadn't heard us order it the first time. Pork crackling? It was the first thing we saw on the menu!
After our reassurances that yes, we still would like this dish, a thick wooden board is brought out bearing two glasses of steaming hot consomme with curls of cicharrones.
The cicharrones are an earth-shattering crunch of deep-fried pork skin, dusted lightly with smoky paprika and salt. We find the consome overpoweringly salty, particularly alongside the salty pork crackling, but as Billy points out, perhaps we would have appreciated this more had we supped on this at the start of the meal rather than halfway through.
Twice-cooked ox tongue in fino, carrot and peppercorn sauce
I'm a big fan of ox tongue but usually enjoy it sliced thinly and cooked quickly over a charcoal grill, Japanese-style. Intrigued by the twice-cooked lengua, we order this and are surprised by its meaty appearance.
As our forks sink into the flesh, we realise this is no ordinary ox tongue. The flesh falls away like a fatty beef brisket. It's rich and unctious, more like a hearty winter stew with carrots and celery cooked in dry sherry.
Arroz al horno $38 granda (2-4 people)
Bomba rice baked with duck, Catalan butiffara sausage and chickpeas
We'd heard good things about the arroz al horno, a paella made not with seafood but duck, Catalan butiffara sausages and chickpeas. We know we're in trouble when this dish arrives, a huge paella pan that would probably feed three to four people as a main.
We find two generous portions of duck, the duck leg is still soft and succulent, and plenty of Catalan butiffara sausage scattered throughout - a housemade sausage made with pork and baby leeks that is fiery with black pepper and piquillo chilli.
Chickpeas are all-too-often dismissed as a cheap filler, but the consistency of chickpeas resconstituted from dried peas is altogether different, with a satisfying density and chewiness. Our only disappointment is that there's no soccarat or thick crust on the bottom, my favourite part of any paella.
Salami advertisement on the wall
Wine glasses at the bar
The open kitchen
A visit to the bathroom takes me past the kitchen, an open set-up that allows everyone to see all the action behind-the-scenes. The mood is calm and efficient and the entire team seems to operate as a well-oiled machine.
Valrhona rich chocolate mousse
with cherries, salted caramel and olive oil jam
We face a quandary when it's time to order dessert, torn between the chocolate mousse, the Pedro Ximenez trifle and the creme caramel. It's a dilemma we discuss with our waiter and I'm pleased that my craving for flan gets the go-ahead.
The Valrhona rich chocolate mousse arrives first, a squat tower capped with a shortbread biscuit. We're more fascinated by the swirl of olive oil jam, an almost neon green in colour, that's covered with a trail of sugared pistachios.
Valrhona chocolate mousse with cherries and salted caramel
The Valrhona chocolate mousse is ethereally light and fluffy in texture, ocasionally interrupted by bursts of sour cherry and pockets of gooey sweet and salted caramel. Eating the chocolate mousse with the olive oil jam and pistachios adds a new slant to dessert. It's a puzzling combination that is irresistibly addictive, the grassy stickiness of the olive oil both confusing and alluring at the same time.
Creme caramel served with pestinos
Flan is a much simpler affair and it's the third highlight of my MoVida Aqui evening. I'm not so keen on the pestinos--traditionally honey-coated fried pastries--but the creme caramel itself is a whole other story.
Eggy, sweet and a slippery smooth as a new set of silk bed sheets, the creme caramel doesn't get any sexier. It's the kind of dessert you take small spoonfuls of, and then cautiously, delicately, sip through your teeth. The caramel sauce has just enough bitterness to keep it from being sickly sweet.
It's a dessert I savour quietly as I feel another creeping grin.
View MoVida locations in a larger map
Level 1, 500 Bourke St, Melbourne, Victoria
(enter via Little Bourke St)
Tel: +61 (03) 9663 3038
Monday to Friday 12pm until late (lunch and dinner)
Saturday 5pm until late (dinner only)
Grab Your Fork dined at MoVida Aqui as a guest of Tourism Victoria and Movida. Grab Your Fork visited Melbourne as a guest of Tourism Victoria for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival.
> Read the next Melbourne post (Claypot King)
< Go back to the first Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2010 post
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3/30/2010 03:40:00 a.m.