Category Archives: MoVida Next Door

The Vegetarian Mediterranean – Roast Capsicums in Vinegar and Olive Oil

By | MoVida Next Door, Recipes | 4 Comments

One of the things I love most of all about Lebanese food, and Mediterranean food in general, is the stunning array of options when it comes to vegetarian dishes. What is beautiful about these dishes is that they are whole heartedly vegetarian, and not simply meat containing dishes with the meat taken out. The vegetable itself is the star of the show, and its flavour and texture are celebrated, matched with anything from olive oil to garlic, onions, spices, vinegars or wines in order to create something wonderful in its simplicity while being absolutely delicious.

Recently, I treated myself to a copy of MoVida Rustica, a book on Spanish food that has quickly become one of my favourite books of all times. Written by Frank Camora from Melbourne’s phenomenal MoVida (see my 2009 review of MoVida Next Door here), the book is a treasure trove  of photography, stories and recipes. One of the book’s many vegetable centric recipes is one for preserved red capsicums. Now, I love preserves as much as the next person, but I am also one for instant gratification and am all for the immediate enjoyment of the fruits of my labour. I’m sure the flavour of this dish would improve by making it as a preserve, but it’s also so damn good eaten the moment it cools down. Can it get any better than smoky, sweet capsicums drizzled with olive oil, and spiked with vinegar, with nothing but a touch of sea salt flakes to balance it all out? This dish is so easy that the recipe doesn’t need much explaining. Simply roast some red capsicums in an oven at 200c until they are blackened. Put in a plastic bag and let them steam until they are cool enough to handle. Discard the skins, membranes and seeds and mix the flesh with enough olive oil and malt vinegar (I used balsamic vinegar) and sprinkle some sea salt flakes on top. Enjoy with some bread and a glass of vino.

Eating Melbourne in three days – MoVida Next Door Review

By | Melbourne, MoVida Next Door, Reviews | 6 Comments

This blog entry is part of a series. Read Part 1 here.

MoVida Next Door, view from Flinder’s Street
1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne,, (03) 9663 3038

In his recent podcast, Ricky Gervais was discussing the subject of his ideal restaurant with Karl Pilkington and Steve Merchant. Now Ricky is undoubtedly one of the best comedy writers of all time, and I am a big fan of the majority of his work (Fame excluded). From previous podcasts, Ricky was known to be a great lover of cheese, not only fine, but any cheese. So he is obviously not a man to go by when it comes to food. This was driven home to me by his description of the ideal restaurant. To Ricky, that would be a restaurant that is empty, and the food is there once he arrives. He sits down, eats very quickly and walks off, still chewing and says, put it on my bill. Now both Ricky and I agree that Karl Pilkington is a loveable round headed buffoon, but when it comes to the image of an ideal restaurant, we differ greatly. Here is my idea of an ideal restaurant, or at least one scenario of an ideal restaurant, and as you may have guessed, this is the experience you get from Melbourne’s MoVida Next Door. You walk in with no booking and are greeted immediately with a smile, sat at the bar while a table clears, and offered a variety of great wines and beers. You order a drink, and it comes with a complimentary salty treat, perhaps some tasty salted bread, to get your appetite going. The place is noisy, but the people around you are friendly, and are there for the food, talking about it, enjoying it. You love it so much at the bar that you decide you don’t want a table, and prefer to stay at the bar where you have a view of the kitchen, and you notice the chef putting some live yabbies on ice next to the freshest looking prawns and mussels.

view of MoVida Next Door’s kitchen with the fresh seafood

does it get any fresher than alive?

The Spanish beer and the salty bread do their job and you are ready to order, but you can take your time. You don’t need to order all at once. One dish at a time works better, and makes more sense. The waitress behind the bar is more than just a waitress. She is an alert, young lady keeping the whole bar area under control, and she can rattle off the entire menu, including six or so specials, telling you to the last ingredient what goes into them, and all in the cutest Spanish accent. Ask her to say Pedro Ximenez 🙂 Easily waiter of the year award.

Spanish Moritz beer with salty bread, the salt meant to make you drink more, and it does

In a series of tapas, MoVida Next Door’s first dish of the night is the croqetta, or croquettes of mahon cheese and jamon, crunchy on the outside, and full of cheesy savoury goodness, soft and melty. Mahon is a sharp, hard, cheddar like Spanish cheese made from cow’s milk. It is intensely flavoured and has a fair bit of tartness to it, and when combined with jamon, fireworks. Jamon is offcourse Spanish for ham, and Spanish ham at its best is expressed in the form of Jamon Iberico (ham made from the Iberian pig), of which jamon iberico de bellota is the finest. At that level, the free range pigs are fed a diet purely of acorns for a period before slaughter. The ham is cured for 36 months for an amazing flavour, and if you have not tried it, you have not lived. Even the proud Italians are picking up tips from their Spanish friends and are now further ageing their prosciutto to get some extra depth of flavour.

MoVida Next Door’s croqetta of mahon and jamon

We are still hungry, offcourse, and decide to order something else. So next come baby calamari, stuffed with prawns and rice then grilled, their tentacles breaded and deep fried and served with squid ink. The crunchy tentacles are a good textural balance to the creamy rice and soft, yielding flesh. I’ll try to explain how this tasted, but I will never give it justice. The rice had a consistency creamier than a risotto, and a wonderful soft, but not overcooked texture perfectly matching the juicy sweetness of the prawns, and the grilling of the outer flesh gives some caramelisation to the super sea fresh meat, and then the tentacles add the crunchy salty body, and all the flavours are amplified and brought together by the briny ink. Sensational! And it looked beautiful.

MoVida Next Door’s stuffed calamari with squid ink

So you see why this place is ideallic. There is no better way to eat food than ordering when you want it, taking your time to savour one dish at a time. And when the friendly waitress tells you that you must have a special of grilled quail legs marinated in Pedro Ximenez (pronounced Heemeneth, the “th” sounds like the beginning of the word “the”) you can’t say no. Pedro Ximenez is a grape that makes the dessert sherry that goes by the same name. The grapes are dried in the sun and turned into a sherry that is dark and sweet, aged through solera, a process that mixes alcohols of different age to yield a complex flavour. The quail legs arrive double skewered, juicy and plump with an aromatic mollasses sweetness, strongly alcoholic and delicious.

MoVida Next Door’s quail legs marinated in pedro ximenez, the waitress placed it there showing off the MoVida cookbook

Finally, we go with tostadas de bacalao. Bacalao (Spanish) or Bacalhau (Portuguese) is the word for salted cod, which needs rehydration to be used in cooking. Tostada is a popular way of serving food, with a toasted peice of bread or similar with any type of topping. I usually find bacalhau a bit too heavy with salt and being so dry, it also usually absorbs a lot of oil in the cooking process. Unfortunately, MoVida’s version was not as light as I had hoped, with a bit of an oily mouth feel. The flavour is strong and salty and the texture is creamy and contrasts well with the crunchy tostada. I am not sure if I should fault MoVida for the dish, or perhaps I found an ingredient I am not too crazy about.

tostadas de bacalao

In any case, my trip to MoVida Next Door was a huge success. After returning to Sydney, I was aching for a similar experience and attempted to go to Bodega in Surry Hills in extremely rainy conditions, only to be turned away at the door, as they were full to capacity. Looked too la-di-da anyway! MoVida Next Door has really set the standard for me, so Bodega, watch out, you have had a bad start. If you are in Melbourne, you have to go there and try it for yourself. If the owner reads this and wants to hire, I’m available!

Eating Melbourne in three days – Introduction

By | Books for Cooks, Fitzroy, Gertrude Street Enoteca, Greg Malouf, Maha, Melbourne, MoMo, MoVida Next Door | 3 Comments

Since I’ve arrived to Australia in 2001, I’ve had the chance to see the food scene in Sydney blossom and grow in inverse proportion to the size of foam bubbles in cappuccinos. Getting a good feed around here is getting easier by the day, what with all the fantastic chefs we have opening new restaurants and seducing us with thoughtful, concentrated and enticing menus. However, if you follow this blog, you would agree if I said that it is not my habit to review restaurants (not online anyway). So in the coming few entries, you will see this change somewhat. My trip to Melbourne has injected me with tonnes of excitement, and my camera is packed with some delicious photos. But let me step back first, and make it clear that my intention is not review Melbourne’s restaurants, but rather share an amazing weekend away. The restaurants I’ll be discussing are integral to my experience, as they were the focal point, and if it the place was not worth it, I am not going to include it.
April 26th 2008: Lainy and I have just tied the knot, and are in the hotel waiting to catch a cab to the airport, for a 4 week culinary journey to Japan and France. All cashed up with the generosity of friends and family and about to have the best month of our lives.
April 24th 2009: One year later and Lainy has not left me yet! Hurrah! This year, the trip will be domestic, and Melbourne is the destination. Sydney’s top foodie (and I mean that honestly, but no name dropping here) had provided me with tailor made lists of restaurants that are a must for our trip, but the main reason why Melbourne is the city of choice was simple: Greg Malouf. A few months back, I was reading through Greg’s fine book, Saha. I can not stress the importance of this book enough. This is a unique travel log by one of Australia’s finest, documenting the impressions and emotions that the food cultures of Lebanon and Syria can impart on a man whose mind is ready to take it all in, and draw and mix those experiences with the expert eye and knowledge of a master chef. And it was as I was reading through that I decided to email Greg and express my admiration. Unbelievably, Greg answered my email, and extended an invitation for me to visit him at his Melbourne restaurant MoMo. Greg had only recently reopened MoMo and there was a lack of literature on this new venture, so I was not sure what to expect, but I knew one thing, it was going to be worth the trip to Melbourne. And boy was it worth it! Now, I don’t want to jump ahead of myself, so let me list down the places that I will be covering in the next few posts.

Gertrude Street Enoteca
Books for Cooks
MoVida Next Door
• MoMo

Following a friend’s suggestion, and gratifying my well loved hatred for hotels, we decided to base ourselves in arty Fitzroy, in a little Victorian bed and breakfast called the Brooklyn Arts Hotel:, 48-50 George St Fitzroy Melbourne, Australia
Telephone +61 3 94199328

Our room at The Brooklyn Arts Hotel

This cool little space is run by Maggie who is possibly the friendliest person you will ever meet, so if you are ever in Fitzroy, make sure you stay there. The hotel has a very communal feel to it, very befitting the area of Fitzroy, which is very similar to Newtown, with the difference that you can get some fine tipple even at cafe’s, which are abundant. So, for a morning coffee, having just arrived from the airport, first on our list is Gertrude Street Enoteca.