The MoVida Group needs no introduction, but I’ll give you one anyway. Focusing on bringing authentic Spanish food into Melbourne, the MoVida Group largely serves up a range of tapas, using copious amount of seafood; and larger plates of dishes, all aimed for sharing. There are four MoVida restaurants in Melbourne, and one or two in Sydney too I believe. Needless to say, MoVida has been on my radar for the longest time, and I finally made the decision to give it a visit for some birthday celebration.
We visited MoVida Aqui on this occasion, because the original was fully booked out on a Friday night, and although they do take walk-ins, I’m not a fan of bar stools, the only type of sitting available to walk-in diners.
Entering into the restaurant, it felt very sophisticated and mysterious, with dimmed lights, and a bar as its centrepiece. We were sat promptly by our waitress for the night, and from the beginning, let’s just say, she didn’t seem very friendly. This is going to possibly take up a large portion of the review, and I apologize in advance.
We were served some complimentary bread after placing our order, and the bread had a nice bite to it, although it was nothing spectacular, it was a pleasant enough way to start our night.
MoVida Aqui had an extensive drinks list, and we were quite overwhelmed. My policy for choosing wine is generally anything that is under $20, has the word berry in it, and if the bottle was extra fancy looking, it’s pretty much a done deal.
On this occasion, we had a browse through the food menu first, since that’s what we were here for. The waitress asked us if we wanted anything to drink right away, and we said not for now, and she responded ‘no drinks’ in a condescending manner, almost mocking us. We felt extremely unwelcomed after this exchange, and just wanted to place our order as soon as possible so that we don’t have to have any further contact with her.
I settled for the Oloroso, knowing pretty much nothing about it besides it being a sherry. The waitress’s response for my choice of drink was ‘it’s got a bit of a bite to it, are you sure?’ And as often is the case, it’s not what she said, it’s how she said it.
The drink was quite dark and nutty, definitely not something I would grab a bottle of at Dan Murphy, but it suited the general atmosphere of the restaurant, and I was happy to step out of my comfort zone.
My dining partner had the only Rose that was available by the glass. She liked it enough; being a Rose and all, it was quite easy to drink.
Our first dish of the night was the Cecina, described simply as ‘David Blackmore’s air dried wagyu’. It was served with pickled jalapenos, and I’m not sure what the white crumbs were, but it had strong wasabi flavours coming through. The wagyu was cut into thin slices, and almost melted at the tip of your tongue, its richness complemented by the bitey jalapenos, as well as the crumbs.
The Pincho was one of the specials, described as ‘quail breast, pancetta, red mojo’. I was curious by the sound of the dish, but wanted to clarify what red mojo was. Response by our waitress: ‘it’s quail breast wrapped in pancetta’ as she tries to not roll her eyes at such a simple question. I had to ask again for an explanation of the red mojo, and it turns out to be a capsicum sauce of sort. In what universe would the most exotic ingredient out of the three not require an explanation? Beats me.
I enjoyed this tapas immensely. The quail breast was surprising tender, and was seasoned heavily with cumin – aka my favourite herb for long time readers – and the pancetta added both crunch and saltiness, with the red mojo balancing everything out.
Onto probably one of the most infamous tapas across all MoVida restaurants, the bomba. This was essentially a potato croquette, with chorizo mince as its centre. The potato was very creamy, and the exterior of the bomba was quite crunchy. Placed on top of the bomba was a dollop of the same red mojo, and a smaller dollop of a mystery white sauce, the flavour was not prominent enough for me to pinpoint what it was.
I gotta say, the high expectation I had for this dish probably didn’t work in its favour. Having tried many croquettes in my time, this was nothing special. Sure, the textures were nice, but there was barely any flavours coming through. This could be due to the ratio of the potato and chorizo being off, or the chorizo being chopped too fine, whatever the case, there is definitely room for improvement.
Onto the only dish that we actually didn’t like on the night. From the menu, I expected a grilled octopus tentacle with the sauce on the side. This was certainly different to what I envisioned, and the flavour was also not up my alley. There was a heavy use of yuzu or something similar, resulting in an extremely bitter sauce. If you got lots of the creme fraiche underneath, it kind of overpowered the bitterness, but it was still not enough. The redeeming factor of the dish is that as always, the produce was cooked perfectly, the octopus was extremely tender.
We originally wanted to order the crispy pork belly, but unfortunately that was sold out for the night, and we settled for the tartar instead after finally getting a recommendation out of the waitress. With a topping of Flinders Island lamb, cracked wheat and mullet roe puree all placed on a thin semolina cracker, it was a rather refreshing and refined dish. I have never tried lamb tartare before, and was worried that it would be too gamey, but that was not the case at all here.
This was the most substantial dish of the night, although it had an exotic name, it was pretty much a cuttlefish squid ink paella. After hearing that I was going to dine at MoVida, my friend at uni highly recommended this dish, and having only tried a couple of paellas at markets in my time, we decided to give it a go.
The waiter that set this on our table was very helpful, telling us that he likes to heavily drench the dish in lemon juice, and that adding some creme fraiche – which was served on the side – adds more uniqueness to the dish.
We followed his orders, and what resulted was a very decadent and unexpected dish. The rice was cooked perfectly, and there was a decent amount of cuttlefish thrown into the pan. However, the dish was quite salty, although it was somewhat balanced out by the creme fraiche and lemon juice, I still had to down a couple of glasses of water while eating it, and many more afterwards.
After our table has been cleared by our waitress without asking if we wanted anything else, there was no hint that she was going to be bringing us the dessert menus. Debating whether to just leave the restaurant without having desserts at this point, the waitress seemed to sense our agitation, and kindly graced our table with her presence, and I still had to request for the dessert menus nonetheless. When we were ready, we had to practically wave our arms around to get her attention to place our dessert order.
The flan left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the creme caramel was some of the creamiest I’ve had, and the pestinos – deep fried biscuit glazed with sugar – were also a nice touch. On the other hand, the burnt caramel or whatever the brown syrup is, was extremely bitter, and we had to eat around it to not let it destroy the dish.
As you can probably tell already, I was not pleased with my dining experience at MoVida Aqui, to say the least. The food were largely pleasant, but the flavours were often just a little bit off. The appalling service, however, is not something I can overlook. I know that this may be a rare case, as other reviews tend to rave about how helpful the waiters and waitresses can be, explaining the menu in detail and all. But that wasn’t my experience on this particular occasion, and I think it is important for me to share that.
At its pricepoint, MoVida Aqui can’t get away with having shockingly terrible service, even if it is just one waitress. From beginning to end, our waitress made us feel that we didn’t belong in the restaurant, we didn’t understand and couldn’t appreciate Spanish cuisine, and thus she did not have to pay any attention to us. That is not how I wish to feel after any meal. Food is supposed to be a medium for people to gather and share joy. Unfortunately, I do not recommend for anyone to dine at MoVida Aqui in the near future. I am open to re-visiting the restaurant to see if it was really just a one-off thing, however, given the plethora of similarly priced restaurants that gave me a much more enjoyable experience, I am in no rush to return.
How to get there:
Catch any of the City Loop trains to Flagstaff Station, and the restaurant is about a 5 minutes walk away.