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MoVida Aqui

Anchoa, Cantabrian anchovy on crouton with smoked tomato sorbet

I do get a little bit twitchy when a great restaurant expands. As a business spills into an adjacent shop front, I bite my nails as an appetizer. Sometimes, I can move happily on to the next course. St Kilda mainstay Ciccolina extended some years ago with great success. We habitués now ride out the no-bookings policy at the bar, noshing on the same glorious antipasto plate served in the restaurant.

Up the food chain a little, there are restaurants that replicate themselves. A visit to Nobu, for example, proves that cloning can be a very risky business.  Recipes can suffer and a TGI Fridays franchise feel is what passes for a “vibe” in some of the high end chains.

It’s impossible to reproduce the chemistry of an original restaurant. The best we can hope for is a really good translation.  When I heard that Frank Comorra had parlayed the back-lane MoVida into a huge Bourke Street locale, I started biting my nails again.

Out of the test-lab come new restaurants, MoVida Aqui and the adjacent outdoor Terraza. The original MoVida appeal is found not only in sensational food and wine, but in its cloak-and-dagger location.  There’s a particular romance to the Hosier Lane joint.  Tiny and tucked away, this place always made me feel very Boho. Seated with my small plates and rioja at the bar, I was a subversive diner.

At Aqui, one feels more upright. The place is large, bright and a million airy miles away from it’s forebear in terms of ambience. Massive windows afford views of the Supreme Court. Here, the legitimate city, and not the back alley, is part of the experience.

Perhaps the shift from cobblestone to avenue is not yet complete.  There are some mild kinks in the service. I was offered a choice between sparkling or “Melbourne” water.  When offered “Melbourne” water, all I could think of was muck from the Yarra. So confused and embarrassed, I asked for tap water specifically. Odd.

For the most part, Comorra sensibly offers a distinct experience. But he has been unable to resist a little decorative tribute to his original. The light fittings housed in milk crates are a design misstep. It’s as though the feel of a laneway has been transposed into an airline club lounge.

There’s no hint of airport in the food, though.  Many old favourites have made the transition intact. The Anchoa, Cantabrian anchovy on crouton with smoked tomato sorbet, has survived the trip up the Bourke Street Hill without melting. The braised beef cheek, however, didn’t seem to like its new surrounds so well.  It was a little dry and unappetizing.

New offerings include Bocadillo de calamares.  It’s a little like a calamari mini-burger, served with Basque guindilla and mayonnaise. It’s super-garlicky, the calamari was perfectly tender, and I could have eaten two. Codorniz, charcoal grilled quail served with housemade morcilla and chickpeas, hits all the right sour BBQ notes. An octopus salad appears that is OK but forgettable.

Paella del Marisco, Bomba rice cooked with seafood and saffron, is generous and flavoursome. I’d like say that it was spiked with a little too much rosemary; but I’ll concede the possibility that my membership in the original MoVida cult is clouding my judgement.

This new MoVida-for-the-masses ticks enough boxes for a return visit and a further education in some of the best Spanish cuisine in the country.

MoVida Aqui & MoVida Terraza, 500 Bourke St. (entry via Little Bourke Street)  Ph: 9663 3038.

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