Smoked eel and horseradish croiquettes and tripe, chorizo sausage and chickpeas at MoVida.
Smoked eel and horseradish croiquettes and tripe, chorizo sausage and chickpeas at MoVida. Photo: Fiona Morris

50 Holt Street Surry Hills, New South Wales 2010

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Opening hours L D Mon-Sat
Features Licensed, Bar
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef James Campbell, Frank Camorra
Seats 90
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 8964 7642
Free wine for Citibank cardholders here

You know about Movida already. You know that Frank Camorra's mega-popular Melbourne establishment has just moved into Sydney's restaurant heartland, and that the queue stretches back to Victoria. Bar and counter seats fill quickly when it opens for dinner at 5pm - yes, 5pm - and phones run hot for the bookable tables.

But what you may not know is whether the hype is justified. It is. MoVida brings something special to the Sydney dining landscape - a fusion of great cooking, spot-on judgment and a very Melburnian sense of how to run a restaurant. Camorra and co-owner Andy McMahon have three of Melbourne's best-loved tapas restaurants - MoVida, MoVida Next Door and MoVida Aqui - as well as a tacqueria (Paco's Tacos), bakery (MoVida bakery), an outlet at Melbourne airport (Bar Pulpo) and a thriving food and wine importing business (Alimentaria).

The former Cotton Duck at 50 Holt Street didn't sound like a natural fit for the rustic-but-scrubbed-up MoVida bodega style, but in fact the poured-concrete floors, exposed-brick walls and recycled timbers have been reworked to great effect.

There's a generous wooden bar for dining, as well as slide-in booths for four and a mix of high and low tables, all grouped around a busy openish kitchen fronted by a chilled shellfish counter and stacks of evocative blue-and-white crockery.

The menu takes a bit of navigating, with most dishes coming one at a time, whether small, individual tapa or larger, shareable racione. So here's the battle plan: start with bunuelos or croquetas, go on to embutidos (jamon, etc), check the daily specials for anything to do with octopus or sardines, and finish with something meaty such as chargrilled rib-eye or callos Madrilenos (tripe stew). In turn:

Bunuelos de bacalao, $12. Five piping-hot, small, golden fritters of salt cod; the perfect tapa.

Smoked eel and horseradish croqueta, $4.20 each. Not your normal bland, boring, bechamel-heavy croquette; but something crisply crunchy outside, and rich and smoky inside. Sensational.

Anchoa with smoked tomato sorbet, $4.50. A must, even if you decide you'd rather eat the Calabrian anchovy on toast separately to the blush-pink sorbet.

Jamon Serrano with pa amb tomaquet, $17. Nutty, streaky, waxy Spanish ham, cleverly served on glazed terracotta warm enough to invite the fat to soften, alongside a whack of garlicky, tomato-rubbed bread, hot off the wood-fired Josper grill. Can't be beat.

Callos Madrilenos, $18. A lovely, messy, meaty, paprika-laden stew of honeycomb tripe, chickpeas and chorizo sausage. Moreish comfort food.

Pulpo alla Gallega, $20. A super-simple dish of poached West Australian octopus served Galician-style with warm chunks of potato, dusted with smoky paprika. ''Warm'' is a greatly under-rated serving temperature.

Bocata de buey, $12. An ElBulli-inspired ''air baguette'' - a hollow torpedo of crisped bread draped with roast beef wagyu and pickled and black garlic. Nope. Don't get it.

Sardines in tocino, $18. Four fatso sardines are blanketed in thin strips of tocino (Spanish pancetta) and cooked on the plancha (flat grill). Very mar y montana (surf and turf), with a great little pile of smoky grilled vegetable escalivada. Hooley dooley, as the Catalans say.

Tarta Santiago, $14.50. A surprise packet, clearly aimed at knocking chocolate fondant off its perch. Smash the tart with your spoon and gooey almond fondant runs out to mingle with a fig-leaf ice-cream and crushed nougat.

What's not to like? Perhaps the caldo ($7.50), a manchego cheese custard doused in a burnt-onion and truffle consomme that's neither rich nor subtle enough; and butifarra pork sausages with beans ($22), which feels dry rather than juicy.

You can't eat this sort of food without drinking, and the approachable Spanish-led wine list is strong on sherry and tempranillo. Everything here speaks the same language, be it a complex, lightly smoky Petalos Mencia red from north-west Spain ($88) or a Moritz beer.

Camorra is in Sydney until March when he returns to his Melbourne life, leaving head chef James Campbell to keep the place firing. There's a lot of MoVida Melbourne here, with its uncliched menu of Catalan- and Galician-inspired dishes and its smoky, blokey style, but it still feels very Sydney, with its emphasis on bright, sunny, sensational seafood as well. The best thing, however, is the down-to-earth, candid, helpful and attitude-free service led by Andy and Andy (McMahon and Jacoora). They're good with food, good with wine and good with people - not such a silly combination for a restaurant.

Welcome to Sydney, MoVida. You can stay.



Address 50 Holt Street, Surry Hills, phone 8964 7642,

Open Lunch, Tues-Fri; Dinner, Mon-Sat.

Licensed Yes.

Cost About $100 for two, plus drinks.

The low-down

Best bit: Direct and engaging Melbourne-style service.

Worst bit: Getting a bloody table.

Go-to dish: Callos, Madrileno-style tripe with chickpeas, chorizo and tomato, $18.