MoVida Aqui

1/500 Bourke Street, Melbourne, Victoria

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Clever dish: Roast beef with garlic, potato wafers and horseradish custard.
Clever dish: Roast beef with garlic, potato wafers and horseradish custard. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Dani Valent

It's been 10 years since chef Frank Camorra and front-of-house partner Andy McMahon opened MoVida Bar de Tapas in Hosier Lane.

Melbourne's laneway love affair and fondness for Spanish food has grown with MoVida, which is now a powerful and well-loved restaurant brand with five outlets in Melbourne and two in Sydney.

In all its iterations, MoVida is a fantastic exponent of how a venerable cuisine from far away can be turned into a contemporary Australian pleasure.

Inside Movida Aqui.
Inside the sprawling Movida Aqui in Melbourne's legal district. Photo: Wayne Taylor

My MoVida experiences don't so much prompt memories of meals but of perfect moments - the happy thrill of reaching the front of the queue at Hosier Lane, having memorised the specials board and inspected every piece of graffiti on the wall outside; fighting my dad for the last eggplant chip; swooning over sherry-braised beef cheek with a hot date and knowing then and there that he was a keeper; contemplating dessert (crema catalana or churros?) on the train into town; sinking the second (or maybe fifth?) bottle of red in gales of laughter with garlic-infused gal pals; sitting solo, silent and excited at the Melbourne Airport Bar Pulpo for a here-we-go chorizo sandwich and glass of cava. And always, planning trips to Spain with every bite.

This review focuses on Aqui, the suity, sprawling legal district MoVida, where the menu is a mix of charcuterie, tinned treasures, tapas, grills and paella.

Many items are simple and traditional. Others show modern flair. All say ''eat me''.

The smoked tomato sorbet is a MoVida classic. The chilly, fruity, smoky sorbet ebbs as a gorgeous salty whack of anchovy pushes through. It's a big-hearted dish in a tiny, elegant package. Another cold dish comprises thin slices of roast beef (''buey'') topped with garlic (fermented and pickled), teeny potato wafers and cubes of horseradish custard. It's a clever amalgam of sweet and acid, soft and crunchy, and so pretty too.

The suquet is more homely. It's a juicy, soulful clam, fish and potato stew. Grilled asparagus makes a hero of spring, the fat spears laid over chunky romesco, which pays off slowly and insistently with spicy, toasty warmth. As usual, service is good, speaking of good management and thrumming teams.

I love birthdays, especially when the subject is in such fine fettle. Cheers, MoVida, and here's to many happy returns.

Rating: 4 stars (out of five)

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1/500 Bourke Street, Melbourne, Victoria

  • Cuisine - Spanish
  • Prices - Small $4.50-$28.50; large $17.50-$85; sweet $6.50-$14.50.
  • Features - Licensed, Bar, Accepts bookings
  • Chef(s) - Frank Camorra
  • Owners - Frank Camorra and Andy McMahon
  • Cards accepted - AMEX, Diners Club, Mastercard, Visa
  • Opening Hours - Mon-Fri noon-3pm, 6pm-late (snacks 3pm-6pm), Sat 6pm-late
  • Other Branches - Movida, 1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne, Next Door, 164 Flinders Street, Melbourne, Movida, 50 Holt Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
  • Author - Dani Valent
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