My friend Skill’s official birthday is in a little over a week and we celebrated early and thoroughly at MoVida Sydney last Friday. We love to share food and what better than modern Spanish at the newly opened Sydney outpost of a Melbourne institution. The head chef in Sydney is James Campbell (formerly at MoVida and MoVida Aqui) while owner/chef Frank Camorra is staying in town until March 2013 to ensure a smooth transition.
The space is comfortable with booth seating and generously sized black leather stools at the bar. The area near the kitchen has partially opened louvered windows allowing customers to peek at the chefs and vice versa. The restaurant only takes bookings for 40% of the seating and having missed out, I arrived before midday to secure a table. Unless you have private things to discuss, I love sitting at the bar or overlooking the kitchen in restaurants. You get to see more of the action and it’s fun chatting to other customers and staff.
Skill was running late so I ordered the Rosita apertif while I was waiting. Similar to a negroni, it was made up of Campari, vermouth, bitters and tequila. When Skill arrived, she was surprised with a complimentary glass of bubbly for her birthday! It’s the small things that make a difference.
To start Skill and I shared the air baguette, a skinny torpedo shaped hollow cracker blanketed with roast wagyu beef, pickled garlic and chives. It was fun! Next time I’d like to try the bunuelos de bacalao; salt cod fritters which were whisked past me to another table.
I’d gotten the inside word (thanks Dane!) that the rabbit and ribs are hard to go past. Perusing the menu, there were two rabbit dishes; a braised rabbit leg in sweet and sour sauce with raisins and pinenuts or rabbit meatballs with tomato and fino sherry. Skill hates pinenuts with a passion and so the meatballs it was! If there were more people, we probably would have ordered the spicy pork ribs too but I knew the birthday girl has been craving jamon. Or as Skill would say: JAMMMOONNN! The phrase ‘flavour explosion’ popped out of Skill with each mouthful of jamon so I think she slightly enjoyed it.
To balance out all the meat, we ordered the chargrilled vegetable salad and because I’m a sucker for potatoes, the patatas bravas. The smoked potatoes came out dusted with faux bacon dust (made of soy so suitable for vegans). I should have restrained myself because although they were good, the potatoes really weren’t necessary. I floated the possibility of callos, the tripe dish to Skill and she agreed saying: ‘YES! I’m Asian. I like tripe’. If you’re thinking by now it was far too much food for two people you’d be right. I have a chronic problem with over-ordering even if we did manage to graze through most of it.
Skill and I had a glass each of rosé to drink, easing down all that food. Rosé isn’t really my favourite but it was too muggy a day for red wine. Later in the afternoon, the moody skies opened up and pellets of rain fell down, drenching the streets and cooling the air; other parts of the city experienced hail and wind that brought down powerlines and trees. The heavy rain drew all eyes in the restaurant outside, probably making everyone curse themselves for not bringing an umbrella.
I have to give props to the friendly and helpful Josh and Brent (aka Arthur) who looked after us so well. Feel a little guilty that I distracted them with frivolous questions about dance moves and how I could procure a MoVida-style apron. Although the food is predictably good, the smart MoVida service made it an especially memorable meal. The best restaraunts are ones where you can relax, eat great food and the staff make you feel comfortable. When I had a query about one of the ingredients of a dish, one of the the waiters returned very quickly to confirm for me.
For dessert, Skill choose the homemade ice creams with fig bread to share. The three scoops consisted of rockmelon (cantaloupe) sorbet, mango sorbet and honey and saffron ice cream. The flavours were clean and bright and the moreish toffee like fig bread consisted of more dried fig and nuts than bread. It’d be great on a cheese platter.
After some coffees, Josh suggested a shot which Skill declined since she was driving. I’d decided to take a six week break from alcohol and this meal was my last hurrah so how could I resist? After accessing my drinking preferences, he chose a Spanish rum for me. Served in an enormous shot glass, I didn’t down it in one go but sipped it slowly. Very smooth, the rum warmed my throat and made me feel a little giggly.
If it’s your first time at MoVida, try the anchoa, an anchovy toast with tomato sorbet. I can also recommend the carrillera, beef cheeks slowly braised with Pedro Ximenez and served sitting on a pool of cauliflower puree that I’ve sampled at the original MoVida in Melbourne.
Barcelona is one of my favourite destinations in the world and Sydney’s MoVida feels like a beautiful postcard from that city and Melbourne. Wish you were here? Oh yes.
8/10 50 Holt St, Surry Hills
Mon-Fri 12pm-late | Sat 2pm-late | Sun closed
Phone: 02 8964 7642 (bookings by phone only)