There’s something awfully naughtily gluttonous about eating tapas at MoVida. I’m a Sydneysider and this Spanish hot spot had long been on my Melbourne restaurant hit list. During a recent work trip I tore out of my hotel to get there early enough to score a seat before the hungry after-workers streamed in. I asked for a stool at the bar and was literally wedged into a corner. I didn’t complain. I didn’t care. I had my pew. And a ring-side view of the action.
It was mostly couples at the bar and cozy tables around me. But I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the buzz of activity behind the bar. A waiter sliced home-baked foccacia and brazenly popped a piece into his mouth, another flipped caps from bottles of Mahou beer and cascaded the amber liquid into chilled glasses. He slid one my way. It was all very cool in a Melbournian kind of way.
Soon after my tapas started to arrive, perfectly timed so that each small plate did not infringe on my enjoyment of its predecessor, nor leave me drumming the polished bar with anger-hunger (it’s a family thing … the result of not being fed fast enough).
I have a wickedly insatiable weak spot for croquettes, so Frank Camorra’s squid ink cuttlefish variety were top of my hit list. They arrived, tiny, golden, crumbed balls with molten, black innards, and a skin-thin piece of cuttlefish draped on top. One-bite wonders. They barely hit the sides.
An ortiz anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet on a crisp, thin crouton was a decadent, crunchy salt hit – a mouthful of delight.
Venison rib oozed sweet fattiness. Under its caramelised coating, flesh pulled away from an immaculately white bone.
A soft sandwich of morchilla and quail was studded with pickled garlic and a splodge of bright green apple puree, the latter accompaniments added texture and bite.
Finally, wet roast lamb breast with fino and paprika sauce was moist and tender with a kiss of spice.
MoVida is named for the spontaneous movement of “art, film, music and fun, energetic youthful exuberance” that descended on Spain after a decade of dictatorship died with Francisco Franco. Camora’s restaurant encapsulates just that.
Up-beat music doesn’t drown out the edgy, urban-cool vibe.
Smile as you dine should be the mantra at MoVida, because it’s difficult not to do just that.
Only in Melbourne will a solo diner be served the weekly newspaper food lift-out if they walk into a quiet restaurant on the day it’s published. The city takes its food seriously, there’s not doubt about that.
It was a Tuesday, the day the Epicure food lift-out is in The Age newspaper. Golden Fields was almost empty when I arrived just before 6pm. I asked for a stool at the bar, and was handed Epicure as soon as I sat down. Nice touch. Ditto the small hooks under the bar for handbags and the like.
During a three-day whiz-bang work trip to Melbourne I acquired a taste for the bar action when eating alone. Dining bar-side is better than being flanked by an empty table and feeling conspicuous amongst the crowd. Plus you can watch the inner workings of some of the country’s hippest restaurants. Andrew McConnell’s bar stools, with designer bum grooves to boot, are some of the hottest seats in town.
A chef prepped Asian salad ingredients in front of me. She plucked herbs from stems and whirred leaves in a salad spinner and offered menu advice.
I didn’t need it. I had one thing in mind when I walked into Golden Fields: New England lobster roll. Golden Fields’ default signature dish, they have a kind of cult following.
One bite and it’s not difficult to understand why.
Poached crayfish was perfectly at home in a sweet, buttered bun. Peppered with watercress and a smear of Kewpie – Japanese mayonnaise that is made with rice vinegar rather than harsh distilled vinegar – it was utterly scoffable. So simple, but so good.
Pork dumplings – the large, fluffy white bun kind – were crammed with succulent pork and served with super-hot Shanghai chilli black bean vinegar on the side. At this point – pleasantly full and ready for the bill – I spied a plate of crispy soft shell mud crab cruise by.
I’m a sucker for soft shell crab. This healthy sized portion was scattered with aioli, scuds (tiny turbo-charged Thai chillis) and holy basil. An immediate salt hit was overwhelmed by cheeky chilli heat, which was soothed by herbed mayonnaise. It was a McConnell culinary hat trick.
Shortly after 7pm as the restaurant started to fill – fed, full, and fading fast – I took my leave.
I was in between meetings during a chaotic work trip in Melbourne. I was in the CBD. I had about 35 minutes to spare and i was about a minute’s walk from Flinders Lane. Could Chin Chin fit me in and serve me fast? They made sure of it.
I was stowed away on a stool by the bar (can you see the pattern here?) and handed the menu. I was already five minutes down, so i scoured it quickly. I needed a swift little something that would tide me over until dinner and give me a taste of Chris Lucas’ much talked about Thai-infused menu. I found just the thing.
Pork roll ups, which comprised red braised suckling pork with Peking duck style pancakes and a herb-slaw that included pickled bean shoots, cabbage, chilli, basil, mint and coriander. Rolled up in little pancakes the richness of the pork was undercut by the fresh aromatic salad, which exploded satisfyingly with every bite.
Chin Chin was in the throes of mid-week lunchtime chaos. It was busy. It was noisy. I was sitting by the dirty glass collection zone. But I didn’t mind. I was in and out in 20 minutes.
I crossed another Melbourne hot spot off my list.