Can you imagine the disappointment on my face when I called up MoVida eight weeks in advance to make a reservation and was told they were fully booked? True, it was a busy period with people flocking to Melbourne from all over the world for the Australian F1 Grand Prix and the Comedy Festival, but I wasn't happy... That is, until I was kindly offered a reserved table for two at MoVida Next Door (which strictly speaking, doesn't take bookings)! They must have heard the desperation in my voice!
I've read many good things about MoVida and have been eyeing their cookbook so when I was told that MoVida Next Door was a more casual bar version of MoVida, I was thrilled. I've always much preferred the more affordable, non-pretentious tapa experience.
The menu is traditionally split into three sections: conservas (preserved foods), tapas (individual items) and raciones (slightly larger plates for sharing) plus there are daily specials on the chalkboard above the bar. There are the Spanish must-haves like Spanish Serrano ham (jamon serrano, $14, which is unfortunately out of stock on this day) and garlic prawns as well as other brilliant inventions, pairing new techniques with old flavours.
Seated at a high bar table, I conveniently find a hook beneath the table to hang my handbag. It is just perfect as I hate eating with it on my lap!
We start with freshly shucked oysters (ostra, $3.50 each) which are delightfully creamy. They're served with some sort of jelly and vinaigrette, leaving an open appetite lingering behind.
Our flat grilled prawns (gamba a la plancha con refrito, $3 each) arrive just in time as I'm about to take a bite into the freshly baked bread. Like many of the dishes to come, it is served on a classic glazed terracotta dish. Already peeled and deveined, I quickly enjoy the wonderful marriage of garlic and chilli. There's just a tiny bit of oil left on the plate so I mop it up with another bit of my bread.
I'm carefully pacing myself as I've frequently made the mistake of eating too much bread before all the tapas are served.
Next we have crispy eggplant chips with Salmorejo sauce (Berenjenas, $9.50) which is just amazing! Thin fingers of eggplant remain delicate within a crust of golden batter. The tomato-based sauce is slightly tangy and works well in complementing the rich complexity of the eggplant. A quick search has led me to a recipe for these. If you attempt to cook this recipe before I do, let me know how it turns out!
Keen to get my first taste of razor clams since returning from Barcelona, we also have the tasting plate from the conservas menu. It consists of Cantabrian tuna belly, Galician razor clams and Escabecha mussels (entremeses, $16). The portions are disappointingly miniature for $16 but are so so so scrumptious. I think ordering another dish from the raciones menu would have been better value.
Our heartier tapas are served last. The pork and pepper sausage with clams cooked in cidar (monte y mar, $16) and Black Angus rump chargrilled with cauliflower and almonds (bistec, $16) are both spectacular and definite standouts! The pork and pepper sausage dish is fragrant and tasty - I love that the clams and sausages are drowned in cidar as I can't think of a better way to polish off my bread than to soak it in the aromatic juice.
Meanwhile, my first bite of the Black Angus leaves me speechless; it is ridiculously good! The nutty flavours of cauliflower, paired with sliced roast almonds and super succulent Angus beef is more than just amazing.
And so that, my dear readers, was one of the best lunches I've ever had.
MoVida Next Door
1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne (just off Flinders Street), VIC
Visit their official website