MoVida was the original venue of what was at the time of writing a mini-empire of four Spanish restaurants for Frank Comorra. The premises on this Sunday evening were buzzing with fashionable young people (plus me), with closely packed tables and seats around the bar. Music plays in the background, but it was not overly loud, and since this included tracks by Morcheeba (a favourite of mine) I was not complaining. Lighting was "moody" i.e. dark, so my camera was sending signals that roughly translate as "why not just leave the lens cap on and be done with it, sonny?").
There was a list with plenty of Spanish wines, plus some Australian choices. It was not kindly priced, with markups seeming to be over three times retail throughout the list. Choices included Muga Reserva 2006 at AUD 98 (£64) for a wine that retails at around AUD 20 (£13), Roda 1 2006 at AUD 225 (£146) compared to a shop price of around AUD 45 (£29), up to gems such as the lovely Rioja Alta 890 1995 at AUD 380 (£247) for a wine that costs AUD 115 (£75) to buy. Many of the wines are stored in tall wooden display cabinets behind the bar, which given the high ceiling seemed pretty inaccessible. I was curious as to how the staff reached these as I could not see a ladder, and the mystery was revealed when one of the bar staff jumped onto the counter, perched precariously and stretched out an arm to grab a bottle in a way that would give a UK health and safety inspector months of ready-made work.
Bread is made from scratch every day in the kitchen, and consisted of decent foccacia that was a little too dry (14/20) but also superb sourdough, with excellent crust and that hint of acidity that a good sourdough has (17/20). I was very impressed with spiced chicken escabeche (AUD 4.50) sandwiched between crisp croutons; the chicken had been poached carefully, with yielding texture, and its marinade had lovely balance with a little spicy kick, the crouton adding a welcome texture contrast (easily 16/20). Croquetta (AUD 4) had a crisp exterior and creamy filling flavoured with ham and egg (15/20).
Cigarillo of salt cod (AUD 7) was also successful, a pastry cigar filled with salt cod, egg and pil pil sauce (a traditional Basque country emulsion with garlic and olive oil). A classic dish, well executed (15/20). Pressed quail (AUD 5.50) and morcilla (blood sausage) was brought together with apple and pickled garlic, the apple acidity nicely balancing the richness of the quail (15/20). Sardines from Western Australia were deep fried and merely pleasant, but were served with an excellent aioli (14/20).
The bill came to AUD 69.80 (£45) with a couple of glasses of good red wine from Priorat in Catalonia. Service from barman Paul was friendly and he could describe the preparation of the dishes in detail, suggesting that staff here have good training. Overall I was very impressed with the food here, with a high standard of skill on show from the kitchen.