1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne
Ph: 9663 3038
Open: daily, noon until late
DEGUSTATION is the word of the year in Melbourne’s restaurant scene but unfortunately the dining experience doesn’t come cheap. A visit to Vue de Monde will cost you $250, at Richmond’s Fenix you’ll have to cough up $145 and the famed Jacques Reymond it’s $140. Add in wine matched to each course and you can only imagine how the price skyrockets.
So imagine my delight when a browse of MoVida’s website revealed the 10-course set menu is a measly $48. Not bad for what has been lauded as the country’s best Spanish fare. MoVida has two sittings each night but don’t even think about trying to get a booking for this coming Saturday. My group of three had to settle on the early shift on a Tuesday, which meant we were there at 6.30pm on the dot and had to be out by 8pm-ish.
I’d been to MoVida in its early days and I remember it being quite a dark and cosy experience. This time in a considerably more sober state I realise it’s quite a modern space with timber furniture and an eye-catching floor-to-ceiling wine rack. We were shown to a private table and within minutes we had a serve of fresh bread with olive oil (Spanish, of course), I had my glass of red (Spanish, of course) and he had his beer (Spanish, of course). Not long after came our first dish of Oritz, anchovies topped with a smoked tomato sorbet and drizzled with capers.
I know anchovies aren’t the most popular of ingredients but that’s usually due to a nasty encounter with a “hairy” one on an otherwise perfectly good pizza. Rest assured the Barcelonian-born co-owner and chef Frank Camorra uses nothing but the best. In fact, these salty numbers were sourced from Spain’s Cantabrian Sea – more commonly known as the Bay of Biscay - and the contrast with the thin slice of fried bread and the icy sorbet was like an explosion in the mouth. As we sat transfixed over our three delectable creations our friendly waiter advised us to break each in half and spread the dollop of tomato sorbet across the length of the fish. It snapped us out of our anchovy-induced trance and definitely got our tastebuds tingling for more.
Luckily we didn’t have to wait long. Once the first plate was clean it was whisked away and we were offered three dishes at once: smoked eel and horseradish croquettes, miniature deep-fried whole prawns with a slice of lemon and garlic aioli and the dish we’d been waiting for…thinly-sliced jamon iberico with grissini.
The croquettes had a strong smoky taste and were the chosen dish of the night by one of my dining party. The prawns were crunchy and matched well with the aioli. But the jamon…oh my god, the jamon.
Served on a slightly warmed platter, the intramuscular fat had started to melt slightly, which is exactly what the meat did when I put it in my mouth. Jamon seems to be the ingredient of the moment and I was yet to try it so my expectation was high. It was certainly met.
Once those three were polished off we were presented with a medium-sized hunk of rabbit terrine with onion compote and small toast crispbreads. As special as the jamon was, I think the terrine was my favourite. I don’t mind rabbit and there were big chunks of it in the terrine, which matched perfectly with the onion compote and meant the dish was substantial enough for us all to get a decent serve.
Next it was caball ahumado, thin slices of Spanish mackerel topped with pine nuts and a gazpacho sorbet. The fish was silky smooth and just like the anchovies in the beginning, provided a perfect contrast with the cold sorbet.
But the mackerel was soon overshadowed by two serves of cecina, which took home the gong for dish of the year in this year’s Age Cheap Eats guide. I’d eaten the thinly sliced air-cured wagyu beef with a truffle foam and poached egg before and I was more than happy to try it again.
The saltiness of the beef (in fact, come to think of it, most of MoVida’s dishes have a decent amount of salt) matched perfectly with the runny egg yolk and of course the truffle foam.
As one dining companion noted, “I could eat this for breakfast every single day”. So could I.
Then it was time for our lamb cutlets topped with a salsa verde-type topping that had a flavour none of us could pinpoint. No matter. The cutlets were exquisite and char-grilled to perfection with just a tiny bit of pink left in the meat.
Our finale was two vegetarian dishes: a bowl of sautéed spinach with chickpeas and spices and oven-roasted portabello mushrooms finished with sherry vinegar. While both were good, they didn’t hold a candle to what we’d already eaten and perhaps would have been better slotted earlier in on the piece. But it’s a small gripe. As is the slight irritation that the dishes were served so promptly we didn’t really have the opportunity to savour each one. I guess that’s what happens when a restaurant is so popular it has two sittings, even on a chilly winter evening.
MoVida’s ten-dish set menu doesn’t include dessert but it’s almost criminal to not finish with the traditional Spanish treat of churros dipped in chocolate ($9). So we did, and it was as everything else had been, perfect.
Dining this way at MoVida represents brilliant value for money. Usually there needs to be a minimum of four to order the set menu but we managed to twist their arm with only three. Each dish came in either three or six serves so there was never any dispute about everyone getting equal portions, each waiter took the time to explain each dish and our water glasses were never empty. Put simply, MoVida is a well-oiled machine that definitely deserves a repeat visit.