Melbourne is a fine city to visit, indisputably one of the most exciting and rewarding food destinations I’ve come across. Restaurants manage not to take themselves too seriously, even as locals and visitors alike are increasingly obsessive about food. Eating out in Melbourne and rural Victoria over a week delivered consistently good quality without fanfare and a timely reminder that service can truly make or break a meal.
More than being a fad or phase, however, great eating is something that seems to be written in to Melbourne’s DNA. The waves of post-war immigration which defined the city and its people were intrinsically linked to food: it came to represent comfort, income and home, a sense of familiarity thousands of miles from Athens, Beirut or Hanoi. At the same time, the city’s geographical isolation meant that exposure to different cultures through their cuisine afforded people a chance to travel the world without ever actually getting on a plane.
Today this means that 3,500 restaurants serve cuisine from more than 70 countries. Go for Italian in Carlton, Vietnamese in Richmond, Lebanese in Brunswick or Ethiopian in Footscray. For the first night there I headed to Andalusia in the form of Movida, a constantly-popular tapas bar since it opened back in 2003. It’s in the graffiti-covered Hosier Lane, street art at its finest, smack in the heart of the city.
Andy Mac and Frank Camorra took a punt on opening it, as previous tapas bars had opened and quickly closed again. But their perseverance, experience cooking in Spain and devotion to quality produce has meant that it’s still one of the hottest tables (well stools) in town.
Simple things, done well, side by side with more (de)constructed and elaborate plates. So ‘anchoa’ meant Cantabrian anchovies, still retaining a kick from the depths of the Atlantic ocean, on super thin crispbread. A tomato sorbet lifted the saline factor and added some sweetness, alongside sharp capers.
If you don’t order croquetas in a tapas joint there’s something wrong with you, so The Brisbanite sister and I went for the especial. The bechamel was just the right side of smooth, the perfect crunch from a volume and bite perspective, some (saffron?) aioli and a zingy little jalapeno. Here the owners of Movida talk about what makes a great croqueta, if you’re interested:
Back to the sea for the pescado and something called a King George Whiting fillet. No, me neither. What I do know however is that bone marrow butter can only ever do very good things, while capers made another welcome cameo role. A two-baskets-of-bread kind of sauce.
Rounding off with another staple, namely some quite excellent albondigas (meatballs), resulting in another basket of bread being dispatched.
The choice of wines by the glass were excellent, notably the Espelt rosé from Catalunya, perfect even on a chilly winter evening. Most of all the damage, for some good eating and drinking in a cracking venue, worked out at just HK$520 for us both. I dread to think what half-arsed tinned gloop would be served up in Hong Kong tapas joints at those sort of prices.
1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne Tel: +61 3 9663 3038 http://movida.com.au/