103 Lonsdale Street Melbourne, VIC 300003 9077 0451
|Opening hours||Mon–Fri noon–3pm; daily 5–10.30pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Mastercard, Visa|
Maybe it's the Friday night pressure valve letting off the steam of the working week. Maybe it's the warm weather. Maybe it's the sangria. If the mark of a restaurant is the passion it inspires, the rebirth of the Aylesbury as Bomba is a runaway success. There's a couple sweetly lip-locking at the bar, oblivious to the full-house roar, and another couple getting to know each other altogether less sweetly, hands quickly reappearing when the waiter approaches from their blind side.
Oh yes, Bomba's feeling the love. The Aylesbury's heirloom meat-and-veg high-mindedness didn't encourage friskiness, but Bomba's the place to forget your hang-ups. It's a far more relaxed joint; a place to drop in for a quick bite or to make a night of it, with or without a trip in the elevator to the rooftop bar with its own tapas chef.
Jesse and Vanessa Gerner have taken the rooftop lead - which in its turn took the lead of Anada, their Gertrude Street tapas bar - and gone back to their Iberian beginnings. They describe Bomba as a Spanish workers' caff, which in the local context means a frolicsome party joint with a traditional parade of small eats.
Half the battle for a restaurant is getting customers simply to enjoy being there. To that end, they've bumped in a new stage set with the Andalusian accents of green and red and a copper-trimmed bar. The lights are low and the tunes are loud; the cheery coloured cane lightshades say cantina and the blackboard wine list says drink up.
The list is Bomba's greatest triumph. Sangria is king - the ratio of drinks with a slice of lemon is about 2:1 - but the wine collection really beds down the concept. Unfamiliar Spanish grapes and smaller producers give it heaps of indie cred, and with everything priced at either $40 or $60 (or $9.50 or $12.50 a glass), it frees things up to go exploring.
Which might help explain why Bomba's buzzing. It's early days, mind you, but there are two hotly contested sittings a night, a handful of tables reserved for walk-ins snaffled before cocktail hour, a tardy reservation - that'd be us - politely shuffled from the window banquettes to perch on wooden stools at a high table overlooking the bar. No matter; all the better to keep a close eye on the morals of the clientele.
My preferred form of frotting at Bomba came in the form of montadidos (rough translation: toast with friends). The tomato-rubbed bread is a Catalan staple with an added curl of Serrano jamon, and the excellent house-made morcilla - rich, humid and chocolatey - makes sweet music with the Meredith goat's curd and broad beans.
Hop along to the tapas section. Oysters are fried and returned to the shell on a textured swipe of walnut taratour. Scallops are ruggedly topped with lemony toasted breadcrumbs infused with a whisper of pork. Chicken and manchego croquetas are bland - where's the smoked paprika? - but at $3.50 it's hardly worth a tantrum. Anyway, here comes a charry lamb chop with a deeply funky sheep's yoghurt sauce - $8 of finger-lickin' goodness, and all is forgiven.
Paella is a dish fraught with danger but this arroz negro, the rice stained with squid ink, is an honest, crusty-based version despite ever-so-slightly overcooked seafood. The raciones list harbours the wow factor: tuna tartare with pickled green tomatoes and puffy seaweed crackers; or braised pork jowl with a glossy sherry sauce and celeriac puree that stands up well, despite the inevitable comparisons to MoVida. It's so rich and sweet the only sensible option for dessert is a reviving orange sorbet with vermouth.
Reflecting on Bomba the next day, it's the sort of place that's more than the sum of its parts. Professional service, some simple, nicely judged food, in a place where you can really enjoy eating it. As my friend texted afterwards, ''My highlight was the lamb, but then I had my back to the people at the bar.''
The best bit Freewheeling fun
The worst bit Getting a table
Go-to dish Lamb T-bone chop with yoghurt sauce, $8