Melbourne, VIC 3000
MoVida Aqui was the first ‘nice’ place we had ever eaten at, and it was an exciting and slightly overwhelming experience for both of us. Almost two years later, we were back after having tried all the other MoVidas, greeting it like an old friend. We were still excited and overwhelmed, oh yes, but this time it was because of the excess of good food on offer.
Go up a set of stairs (the address says Bourke Street but it’s easier to find from Little Bourke) and you’ll come across MoVida Aqui sharing the terrace with Paco’s Tacos. On a sunny afternoon, the rooftop is filled with white collar workers clutching Moritz beers and glasses of excellent sangria, but it’s a bit grey and windy today.
Say MoVida and most people would probably think of cramped little bars off cramped little lanes. But MoVida Aqui is big even by regular restaurant standards, and positively airy if you compare it to the other branches. I remember reading in one of the MoVida cookbooks that the size of the kitchen at Aqui is roughly the size of the entire MoVida Next Door. Oh the things they could (and do) do in here.
The centrepiece of the restaurant is the bar, wrapping all the way around the open kitchen. The idea of using old milk crates as light covers is absolutely ingenious, and it adds a wallop of homely charm to the space.
The food selection at MoVida Aqui is the largest of all three restaurants. A huge A3 sized menu plus a long string of specials kept us dancing over all the things we could be trying. I really wanted paella, as Aqui is the only one that has room to make it, but unfortunately they only came in grande or muy grande, and we wanted to delay becoming fatties for as long as we could.
Oh and the bread and olive oil was fabulous as usual; I especially loved how the bread is just a little bit more salty than your average loaf, making it perfect for snacking, even on its own.
|Jamon Serrano ($15)|
|Jamon Serrano ($15)|
I couldn’t go past indulging in some buttery Jamon Serrano ($15), a stone slab laid out with paper-thin slices of cured pork. The flavours are smooth and nutty, and it goes well with the tomato-rubbed crusty toast, but I prefer to savour it on its own, allowing the fat to melt indulgently in the mouth.
Two years and five MoVida visits later, somehow Chris has still never had the Bomba ($4.8ea), one of the signature MoVida tapas made famous by Masterchef. I’ve always been amazed at how consistent these are; the coating is always crispy, the inside is always hot and buttery, and the generous center of mashed chorizo is spicy and peppery.
|Ajo Blanko ($7.5ea)|
I was intent on trying some of the more unusual dishes today, so I didn’t know what to expect of the Ajo Blanko ($7.5ea), an Alaskan snow crab and corn salad in almond and garlic soup. There were a lot of textures and flavours going on in the tiny plate, but the kernels of sweet corn and toasted almonds really stood out in the cold, silky soup. There wasn’t much in the way of crab, but I didn’t think the dish really missed it, as it already had so much going on.
MoVida surprised once again with the Anguila ($7.5ea), a smoked eel brandade with crispy jamon on brik pastry. The smoky and slightly gritty quenelle of eel mousse was an explosion of flavour, the rich fishiness rapidly spreading through the mouth to leave a lingering, creamy aftertaste. Some additional crackers definitely wouldn’t have gone astray, as I felt like I was eating a mouthful of eel pâté.
Chris had never tried school prawns before, so we ordered a serve of Camerones ($13) off the specials. These were wonderfully light with only a thin dusting of semolina to give it crunch, and as a result we could really taste the freshness of the prawns. They made for excellent beer food when dipped into the light aioli, though Chris kept complaining that the prawns had too many sharp bits that hurt his mouth.
We ended our savoury dishes with the more substantial Conejo ($26.5), a plate of rabbit braised in saffron and chorizo with olive oil and fino tortas. Three whole legs of rabbit were braised until they fell apart at the touch of the fork, releasing its gamy richness into the sauce, which we eagerly spooned on top of the chunks of meaty chorizo and strands of toothsome pasta.
|Sopa Inglesa ($14.5)|
Having already tried half the desserts on offer, we decided to try one more, the Sopa Inglesa ($14.5). This is the classic trifle dessert re-invented for grown-ups. The sweet innocence of the custard and crispy candied almonds hid naughty layers of alcoholic strawberry jelly and sponge soaked in Pedro Ximenez. If you’re not one for heart-stopping desserts, this will be right up your alley.
Very rarely are there three restaurants in a chain (I loathe to use this word, as MoVida is so much more) that are so distinctly different. If you’re at MoVida Aqui, you’ll find most of the menu residing on the plains and in the woodland, serving up not only traditional meats but also several types of game, such as quail and rabbit. It’s such a good place for everything from an after work drink and nibble to a grand feast for a special occasion. Bring that special someone here; you’ll be guaranteed to get a second date.
Rating: 16/20 – i like movida.