AT recently dined in Melbourne’s finest tapas joint, MoVida Next Door, and were bemused to find that they’ve not yet heard there’s a Global Financial Crisis going on. If you’re after fine Spanish food, look no further – but you’ll have to pay dearly for it.
It’s a cold and windy night in Melbourne. Melbourne does cold and windy well. To compensate for this European weather, they also do European bars well. And this means lots of great small bars in the laneways and – in Spanish style – a couple of great places for tapas.

Tonight’s sad saga starts after a couple of drinks at “Le Bar”, the wonderfully dignified and private underground wine bar at Bistro Guillaume at Crown Melbourne. Our esteemed leader of all things cultural and gastronomic says he “knows where to go for dinner”, so we bundle into a cab and follow our nombre (that’s Spanish for leader, so no prizes for guessing where we end up).

Yep, it’s one of Melbourne’s über-cool little tapas bars. It’s a nondescript little place just off Federation Square. Tapas. At least our nombre hasn’t taken us somewhere where there’s expensive champagne and impossible-to-decipher foam creations on enormous white plates. This, I’m afraid, is something he is wont to do on occasion.

The bar has that great Melbourne vibe. It’s not pretentious; everyone seems to be hunkered down to the important task of eating and drinking. It’s my kind of place.

The waiter shows us to our table, and he’s a little supercilious. One of our group (let’s call him Bruno) cracks a joke. Waitron simply smiles condescendingly and says nothing. Cut down. We all laugh because, well, it’s funny seeing Bruno get cut down like that.

We’re handed our menus and with complete confidence I assert to nombre that I will be ordering this time. This is tapas, and in Spain that’s working man’s food. I am in control. The menu looks fantastic.

Having eaten Tapas many times in Sydney, the usual favourites are there, along with some more exotic items. So I order. “Yes, I will have four Oysters, two of the Croqetta and two of the Pincho moruno (lamb skewers) and two Gamba a la plancha.”

Actually, I try saying it in butchered Spanish. It comes out more like: “Four Ostra, two Crokedda, two Pink monaro and two gumboot la planks.” The waitron raises an eyebrow, takes notes and says nothing. Is he expecting more? I’ve ordered a fair amount of stuff.

“Will this be enough?” I enquire of Waitron.

“You’ll see,” he says through pursed lips.

The group agrees that we all love those spicy Spanish prawns – the Gamba a la plancha. Nombre suggests that two mightn’t be enough. I magnanimously decide to increase the order to three of the prawn dishes. That will mean three little cauldrons of spluttering, sizzly, prawny goodness in that delicious spicy tomato. God. Nombre must be hungry. But they’re only $3.50 apiece so it seems like a good idea. I also decide to add two Cordoniz – quail breast stuffed with chicken liver pate. At $7.50, they’re expensive but sound delicious.

Nombre orders some wine and we wait.

First out are the lamb skewers. A small plate arrives with two skewers. I selflessly decide to let the others taste these ones, while I wait on the second plate of lamb to come out. But it doesn’t. Instead, a small plate arrives with three of those delicious prawns perched on it. I was expecting a little sizzling bowl of prawns, but that’s okay. The prawns are hot, and there’s still a little sauce to soak up with some bread. It’s good. Very good.

The wine has started to kick in, so we order more. Much more. Bring this microscopic Spanish goodness to us immediately!

Then it dawns on me.

The prawns were $3.50. Per. Prawn.

Oh. My. God.

Here I am waiting for three bowls of prawns at $3.50 each, and it turns out that each individual prawn costs that much. Not only that, the little plate with the two lamb skewers was it. Two large toothpicks with some skerricks of lamb attached.

So it comes as no surprise when a plate with two little lumps of quail and pate arrive. I’m braced for it now. That, ladies and gentlemen is our $15 worth of quail breasts. I’m tempted to accost the dignified looking English gentlemen on the table next door. Maybe he has a monocle or a magnifying glass so I can split the portions between us. After all, the quail is a small bird and the breast of a quail is smaller still. However, I never thought I’d need a scanning electron microscope in order to share this little dish.

However, it is all delicious. Really delicious. To be fair, it’s probably the best tapas I have had in Australia. But boy, is it expensive. Our appetites have been piqued by these molecular gastronomic morsels. The wine has started to kick in so we order more. Much more. Bring this microscopic Spanish goodness to us, immediately! I am no longer horrified. My outrage has become amusing to everyone at the table.

Our waitron delivers us the bill: $280.

Luckily, nombre has the credit card and pays for all of us.

It’s not until later I find out we’ve actually been at MoVida Next Door, home to what is commonly regarded as Melbourne’s finest tapas restaurant. So the atmospheric pricing makes sense.

But that doesn’t make it fair. Tapas is supposed to be simple fare, served at a bar. The food is certainly served at a bar, but the only “working men” who can afford to eat like this don’t do the kind of work that people like you and I do.

The have names like Rupert. And they work in mergers and acquisitions.

DETAILS // MoVida Next Door
Where: 1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne. Open Tue-Sat, 5pm till late. Contact: 03 9663 3038, www.movida.com.au

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