The word on the street is that molecular gastronomy is over. That’s right, young-annoying-one-from-Masterchef-whose-name-escapes-me, it’s O.V.E.R.
Apparently the new thing in food is an old thing in food: terroir.** (Not of wine, clearly, but of food.) This means that each dish should be an expression of its spatial and temporal location. It should reflect: the season; place of growth; person who grew it; local traditions; etcetera etcetera…
Around Melbourne, this food fad is apparent at restaurants that have long existed (such as Sunnybrae) and restaurants of more recent times (such as Loam – check out our review here). And, it seems to be the philosophy of Frank Camorra in his new book, Rustica and at his newish restaurant/bar, MoVida Aqui.
It was Dad’s birthday last week and I gave him the afore mentioned cookbook. I also chose the restaurant – MoVida Aqui. I thought it would tie in nicely with the present!
The food at Movida Aqui is very similar to the food in Rustica. The recipes were inspired by Camorra’s recent trip around Spain. In Rustica, Camorra speaks of the terroir of food and says that he wants to ‘highlight some of the pillars of Spanish cooking, and the culture in which their food is grown, prepared and eaten’. This philosophy was also apparent at the restaurant.
MoVida Aqui is in a newly developed bluestone building up the business end of Bourke Street in Melbourne city. It is attached to Movida Terraza, reviewed by Em a few weeks back. Aqui takes bookings for lunch and dinners, while Terraza is open all day for small meals, tapas and drinks but does not take bookings. When I arrived on a warm Tuesday evening, there were plenty of after-work suited types, ties loosened, shouting across long tables. There were also several couples huddled over tapas and groups of lovely ladies enjoying one of the new ‘it’ venues.
We had booked a table for six and were told that we would have to have the set menu. This was fine with us. Thankfully, they accommodated our freakatarianism (me, pescatarian; Em, wheat-free) without drama. The set menu included seven courses and cost $65, not including drinks or dessert.
Overall, the food was simple, unpretentious and well-executed. The service was attentive without being over-the-top. (I, personally, would have preferred deeper explanations of the food that we were served, though I doubt everyone would be as keen on all the details. Luckily, the online menu and Rustica helped me later to fill in the gaps.)
Emily was, as usual, very diligent with her photo-taking so we can share everything that we ate with you here. I think the pictures pretty much tell the story!
First up, they gave us anchovies on crouton toasts with smoked tomato sorbet and capers. A great start. The smoked tomato sorbet*** was my personal favourite flavour of the meal. (For those interested, this dish is in Rustica on page 274.)
Wheat-free Em was given an oyster with a watermelon and manzanilla sherry topping. She reported that it also had a jelly-like substance with it, but we were unable to determine what this was.
Next up was a platter of jamón with toasted rolls and a tomato puree. (This dish appears in Rustica on page 116.)
I was given an egg, potato and onion tortilla with a small bowl of olives. The olives were marinated with orange and lemon rind and so their taste was reminiscent of crema catalanas , somewhat oddly. I’m a huge lover of olives and these ones were great – the marinade was a little unusual, which meant that they were not just your average olive. The tortilla was a little under-seasoned, in my opinion. Good but not memorable.
For course three we were given calamari rolls. According to the menu on the internet, these contained Basque guindilla (chillies?) and mayonnaise. Simple but classic.
Em was given the tortilla and olives. Em agreed with my thoughts about this dish.
Course four was for the whole team! It was a grilled octopus salad. (A very similar version is on page 232 of Rustica.) It contained grilled octopus (obviously) on a salad of cucumber, tomato, radishes, olive oil and lemon juice. This dish was also a winner in my book. Mr. M (my brother and Em’s husband) thought that it lacked a little in taste.
For course five, the others were given grilled quail with morcilla (blood sausage) and chickpeas. Em said that the quail was perfectly moist with a burnished exterior. However, she thought that the chickpeas needed something extra. While they were perfectly cooked and obviously not from a can, they were just a bit ‘lacking’. She had eaten a chickpea salad at Bar Lourinhã the previous week that had been, in her words, ‘awesome’.
I was given scallops on manchego style vegetables. This was very similar to a finely chopped ratatouille. The scallops were perfectly cooked – very soft but still cooked through and with a nice seared crust.
For course six, the red-meat-eaters were given beef cheek with Pedro Ximénez sherry sauce and a cauliflower puree. (Incidentally, this appears on page 278 of Rustica.)
Em told me that the meat was slow cooked, falling apart (in a good way), rich and unctuous. The sherry sauce imparted a sweetness. The accompanying cauliflower puree was creamy and also rich. Em thought that the sweetness of the sherry was a bit much with the richness of the meat and the creaminess of the cauliflower. Again, Mr M disagreed with Em. He enjoyed it greatly.
I was given some salmon pieces with a zucchini plus flower. It seemed to be in a buttery sauce with tiny pieces of flat leaf parsley. Sadly, I do not remember much about this dish. Again, it may have been slightly under-seasoned though perfectly cooked.
The grand finale was a seafood paella accompanied by an endive salad with braised onion wrapped in pancetta. My family all love paella and this one hit the spot – even after all that other food. It contained swordfish pieces, prawns and pippies. Unlike most of our efforts at cooking paella, it had the socarrat, the crisp, brown rice at the bottom of the pan.
And finally, there was dessert. Only three of us made it this far, including myself. How soft the others are!
I thought that I made the best choice! I had the special: pineapple ‘gazpacho’ with strawberry slices and coconut sprinkles. The gazpacho was a just like a melted pineapple sorbet; it had not-unappealing icy chunks floating around. It was a bit kooky, but all the flavours worked well together. The acidity of the pineapple was offset nicely by the strawberry slices.
Younger brother W had the sorbet dessert. The flavours were saffron (great), berry (possibly raspberry) and almond (confusingly violet-coloured).
Em had a chocolate mousse. She reported that she enjoyed it though it had a slight powdery texture.
That’s it, my friends. In summary, the food was interesting yet simple. Each dish was, I imagine, intended to be an expression of traditional Spanish food – the terroir of various regions of Spain. Some of the food was a little under-seasoned, which may have been a result of the aimed-for simplicity. It probably comes down to personal taste in that regard. However, everything – especially all the seafood and meat – was perfectly cooked. The stand-outs for me were the smoked tomato sorbet and the grilled octopus salad. Fortuitously, these recipes are included in Rustica, which it looks like I’ll be borrowing from Dad…
**I read this in the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival programme, so it must be correct…
***The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival programme also informs me that ‘smoke’ is the new it ingredient.
Level 1, 500 Bourke Street