Melbourne’s much-loved Spanish institution has opened its first NSW outpost –but, asks Alissa Jenkins, does it live up to the hype?
In literal terms “MoVida” means move, which seems rather fitting, considering the recent migration of Melbourne’s award-winning Spanish restaurant brand north of the border to Sydney.
Not that it feels as though there’s been much movement. Its chosen haunt – Surry Hills – has the same graffitied laneways as its Melbourne counterparts and has been crafted to bare the MoVida stamp of effortless cool.
A garlic-laden waft of something char-grilled suggests a promising menu almost immediately upon entering the glass doorway. And I’m not the only curious Sydneysider here – the recycled timber tables, casual booths and bar stools are filled with a lunchtime crowd ranging from casual catch-ups to suit-and-boot business meetings. According to our moustachioed waiter, this has been the norm since the restaurant’s opening, although democracy rules with half the restaurant reserved for walk-ins.
The design is rustic but sleek. Polished concrete floors and exposed brick walls are brightened with decals of retro Spanish poster advertisements, while the kitchen takes centre stage behind a wall of orange and yellow glass shutters. The menu offers a host of traditional Spanish dishes like Madrid tripe – a shoulder of lamb in Moorish spices, paired with very contemporary touches such as wagyu beef with truffle foam and an organic egg.
We begin shortlisting our selections… done in record time by my vegetarian accomplice. There are merely two meat-free tapas and three salads to choose from, which perhaps we should have expected in hindsight. After tut-tutting over the many creative meat selections (crispy pigs’ ears, anyone?) she settles on the sublimely chargrilled Braised Manchego Vegetables ($14) and the Patatas Bravas con Mojo ($16) – Spanish-style potato fries sprinkled with faux bacon dust. (“They’re tasty”, she later announces, “but I can see why French Fries won.”)
Happily, for the rest of the world there is plenty to choose from.
Interestingly, the tapas here aren’t for sharing as many have become accustomed. Delicate little morsels like anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet ($4.50) are designed for individual consumption. But they’re so undeniably tasty that you won’t want to share them anyway. The menu truly is about intricate, carefully-prepared bites to be savoured, not loading up on mass-produced fillers. As a result, expect to pay $7 for a single prawn… served with bortagga and piquillo peppers. And forget the diet. Creamy and deep-fried delights frequent the menu but are well worth the kilojoules.
I almost settle on ordering the Conjeo Agridulce for my larger dish (braised rabbit leg in a sweet and sour sauce with pine nuts and raisins – $24), when I make the mistake of deliberating out loud.
“I used to have a pet rabbit,” says my friend solemnly.
Right. Classic salt cod fritters ($14.50) it is.
Goat’s curd and quince cigars prove a hit for meat-eaters and herbivores alike ($5.50 each), while the smoked eel and horseradish croquette is filled with an addictively smoky centre ($4.20). The extensive drinks list, dominated by Spanish wines, showcases unique varieties such as Albillo, Samso and Bobal.
Location aside, dedicated MoVida fans will notice many similarities to Melbourne’s MoVida in Hoiser Lane. The layout, with a bar area that feeds into a dining room, as well as the combination of timber, brickwork and decals is largely the same.
Even the staff seem familiar, with MoVida owners Frank Camorra and Andy McMahon relocating to Sydney for the first six months, bringing with them Sydney’s head chef James Campbell and venue manager Andy Jacoora (who have both run the kitchen and front of house respectively at other MoVida venues).
As we leave, farewelled by almost every wait staff, we feel like old friends that will undoubtedly be back for the feel-good vibe, Spanish wine and elaborate, mouth-watering bites. True to form, MoVida’s other translation seems just as fitting here – a place of good times, to enjoy life and the people around you.
You won’t want to share the seriously decadent morsels here, but the warm, welcoming, fun-filled setting incites much more sociable behaviour.
The service. We were greeted warmly, served promptly, offered suggestions and farewelled happily… by verily half the wait staff.
The bathrooms, separate to the restaurant, shared with anyone in the adjacent multi-level commercial building.
Where: 50 Holt St, Surry Hills, NSW, 2010.
(02) 8964 7642; firstname.lastname@example.org
Open Monday 5pm-late, Tuesday-Friday 12pm-late, Saturday 5pm-late, Sunday closed.