Sarah Douglas experiences the reign in Spain at MoVida, the latest restaurant venture from the Potato Head Family.
Sometimes it is more than just dinner. It’s the thrill of anticipation, the potential risk of disappointment, the weight of whispers . . . big reputations come with big risks. MoVida has been hotly anticipated and with Potato Head group behind it, this has all the hallmarks of a long-term success story.
The founders of Potato Head, Ronald Akili and Jason Gunawan, have a unique sense of cultural sensationalism and they continue to reinvent the wheel at MoVida, housed in the thoroughly modern Katamama Hotel, adjacent to the Beach Club.
Attracting the likes of Chef and MoVida owner, Frank Camorra, to our shores could go either way. Spanish-driven, the produce required for authentic tapas dishes is tricky to find here. The Spanish culinary adventurer has won countless awards in his Australian home and is one of the high profile chefs who regularly appear on television and in bookstores.
“Doing nothing is the greatest challenge for a chef,” he famously wrote, referring to sourcing the best produce and showcasing it in all its simplicity.
Arriving at MoVida is a little challenging. With heavy security at the entrance to Potato Head, a short walk is required into unknown territory. Once you arrive, traditional Balinese bricks line the stairs and surfaces that propel you towards this dining adventure. Your first stop is Akademi; a modern bar-cum-library built of concrete and beautifully lit. A turntable spins vintage records, softening the sharp edges. Soft lights illuminate shelves filled with jars that resemble chemistry experiments and turn out to be infusions of arak, a surprising ingredient in many of the cocktails, including the house Sangria.
There’s a definite vibe happening here, a scene set to seduce and happily, it really works.
The restaurant is modern but dressed with wood and stone it has the hallmarks of a Spanish restaurant. The soundtrack all but disappears as the waiters spin a tale of passion and creativity. They have done a wonderful job with floor staff who imbue the menu with life, taking the diner through the menu with a lust that is rare in local waiters.
There are some musts on this menu and a few dishes that have already captured Bali diners, but first … cocktails. Beverage manager Tobias was born in Ibiza and was working in London when Potato Head’s Bar Manager, English-born Dré Masso, suggested he come to Bali. His infectious Spanish hospitality infuses the restaurant with charm and warmth. Our cocktails include a Mojito sweetened with pure sugar cane juice and a refreshing, though strangely murky, Limonada, with activated charcoal. Looks weird, tastes great!
We begin with a selection of cured meats, a plate of pure joy for those who savour the finest of Spanish goodness. It is served with crisp Catalan-style tomato bread that is a stand-out. Iberico ham, air dried wagyu, chorizo and Serrano ham lie gleaming in fine slices. The meats are sourced from a famous Spanish artisan house and the quality is clear with every sliver of perfection.
MoVida currently seats jut over 100 diners in small tables surrounding the banquette, low tables near the veranda and a scattering of larger communal tables. The waiters work the room in a wonderful dance of controlled frenzy and the hum of conversation creates warmth and a lively atmosphere. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s a happy place, unpretentious and infectious. Tables close together compare notes and enquire about the orders that arrive smartly.
The Sangria is infused with pineapple arak. A drink that is often awful, the red Sangria sparkles with personality, albeit slightly sweet. It’s a little cliché to order Sangria but hey, we went with it.
Head chef, Jimmy Parker, spent long months in Bali sourcing local suppliers who fit the bill for this menu, and the marriage of imported Spanish products with local produce works well. From local organic lamb and pork to line-caught fish and wild honey, the local compliments stand up to the quirky tins of sardines and mussels that are currently a huge trend in restaurant food.
Our enthusiastic waiter suggests we try a few small bites from the tapas menu while we wait for our cordero, a beautifully soft Javanese lamb shoulder created to share. Surrounded by saffron-scented potatoes, it is a dish that has Bali foodies talking. At 700 grams, it’s a little much for two, but hey, that’s what bungkus is for and I am revisiting my meal as I spread a little of the soft, pink meat on my sandwich the following day.
We sampled a tiny tapas dish called anchoa, a Cantabrian anchovy laid out on a crouton with a tomato sorbet to be spread on top that delivered on both flavour and texture. This is a signature tapas dish that harks back to the original MoVida in Melbourne. Another signature was slightly disappointing; Atun Rojo, is a pressed piece of tuna belly atop watermelon with beetroot and a drop of a gazpacho-type creation. It is clever and beautifully textured but didn’t deliver the full flavour of some of our other dishes. A simple ham and cheese croquette was close to perfect.
I’m thinking the dish of the night has to be the lamb, which has the dining room humming as it arrives in all its rustic simplicity; flavourful and soft. No knives are required as it falls off the bone.
This is the point where you think, enough! But you’d be wrong. A tiny voice inside my head was asking if they had a traditional Spanish flan on the menu? The famous creamy caramel flan that is spiced with cinnamon and sometimes sprinkled with citrus is Spain on a plate, in my opinion. Dessert is often my undoing and this is one menu that will unravel all good intentions with a deft hand, and yes, the flan is on the menu.
Tantalising in its beautiful caramel bath, the flan is soft, creamy and served with cinnamon crackers. Paired to perfection with a cold glass of Pedro Ximénez sherry, this made my night. However, it was a burnt Spanish cheesecake that may have won the day. A jewel-like portion of creamy cheesecake topped with a crispy burnt caramel, it was smooth and crisp, sweet and salty and burnt to perfection. This is one that really deserves the chat!
We couldn’t leave without sampling a signature cocktail at Akademi on our way out. Ten signature cocktails are featured while a single ingredient is chosen each month for special attention. February featured chocolate, infused and broken down, recreated and spiced. Dre (on bar) explained that is a perfect after-dinner treat but warned of its richness. I have been on a little cocktail adventure of recent times, sampling whisky sours. I jumped on the chance to sample his version, spiced up with an infused arak, some passionfruit puree and a number of exotic ingredients that probably shouldn’t work but were so balanced that the background of artisan bourbon still shone. It was the perfect ending to the evening; a large group arrived to fill the intimate cocktail bar as we headed out.
MoVida and Potato Head have filled this quirky space with charm and personality. The food was made for sharing, with friends and strangers, it’s a little bit of brilliance in truth and it will take a stronger woman than me to resist its charm. The food was excellent, and we agreed, MoVida is worth visiting more than once.