What do you get when you combine a Canberran institution with a Melbourne food icon? Well, this. Five courses, six matching Spanish wines. Tickets were sold out months ago, well before the event even hit the press. Which gives you an idea of the kind of reputation that Frank Camorra commands. With greying stubble and soft-spoken demeanour, he’s one of the nicest chefs you’ll ever meet, but make no mistake – he is Australia’s king of modern Spanish cuisine. In town to launch his new cookbook, MoVida Solera, he’s partnered with Parlour Wine Room to bring us a taste of MoVida in Canberra.
We are greeted at the door by Bria, one of Parlour’s owners and shown to our table. It’s buzzing in here and the first thing I notice is the sheer number of staff it takes to run an event like this. The waitstaff breeze from table to table – I don’t know about you, but I consider it the mark of an excellent front of house team when staff members can whisk away an empty wine glass and replace it with a full glass without me even noticing.
To start, we are given an apéritif – glass of fino sherry, warm Canberra sourdough and Spanish olive oil to start. I’m not one to get pretentious about wine (ref: Black Books “Nobody is prepared to admit that wine doesn’t have a taste.”) but the sherry is an excellent palate cleanser; refreshing, with notes of apple and green olives.
Then come the tapas – anchoa, one of the biggest sellers across the MoVida restaurants, Cantabrian artisan anchovy on crouton with smoked tomato sorbet; cigarillo de queso, goats’ curd and quince cigar; and the infamous morcilla or black pudding that Frank says his father used to make. I’m an anchovy and black pudding skeptic, but hey, when MoVida comes to Melbourne… And what’s not to like, the anchovy is (surprisingly) not overly fishy, a good contrast to the cold, fruity smoked tomato sorbet. The black pudding is good too – crumbly, spicy and studded with bits of rice. But it’s the cigarillos that are to die for – it’s like a one bite cheese plate, really, which is always a win.
Our first racione is asparagus puree, jamon iberico, piquillo peppers and almonds. And it is outstanding. Those little things that look like bits of chorizo – they’re crunchy little morsels of peppery, tomatoey bread. It’s my favourite course of the night and the earthiness of the asparagus pairs well with the umaminess of the jamon and the sweetness of the peppers and almonds. It’s served with one of my favourite wines, a 2013 Albarinio from Rias Biaxas – slightly sweet with a chalky finish.
Theres a tink tink tink of cutlery against a wine glass, and Frank Camorra steps into the dining room, alongside Bria. Frank tells us a bit about the food, about how his father made morcilla until they asked it for so many times that he refused to make it anymore. He says he was initially going to cook simple, traditional dishes from his new book, but when he gave it more thought he decided that people would probably prefer a taste of MoVida – so the dishes are the signature dishes that people know and love.
“These dishes represent what we do, they’re usually two or three ingredients, it’s bread, tomato, anchovies- they’re classic combinations that work very well but we’ve just put a little twist on them, like using a smoked tomato sorbet.”
The third course is a Spanish staple, suquet, a Catalan dish from northeastern Spain. It’s like a pimped up version of seafood stew – tuna, octopus, clams and pickled sardines in a rich, warm broth that has all the hallmarks of comfort food. It’s tomatoey, garlicky goodness finished off with an almond picada – think of it as a sort of a Spanish pesto. This dish sums up what I think most people love about Frank Camorra’s food – it’s refined, yet honest and unpretentious. The matched wine is a 2013 Mencia – it’s a red, with fruity, cherry notes and and a short finish. A sort of Shiraz meets Pinot in a strange delicious way.
The final racione, a cordero chillendron, hits the table and fork straight in, Nick declares it his favourite of the night. “You could chuck anything in that sauce and it would be delicious,” he mumbles over a mouthful of lamb. Milk fed lamb is cooked in a rich white wine, capsicum and paprika sauce and served with bakers potatoes and green salad. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t give the salad much of a look in. I can tell it would be good to cut the richness and all that, but I can’t look up from my plate of lamb. I’m absolutely stuffed at this point, but it’s so good that I contemplate asking for a spoon to drink the sauce, but I decide that would be uncouth so I opt to just try and fish it out with a fork instead. There’s some bones in the lamb that add a sweetness, and I love that it looks like they used a whole lamb. You know that point in the night when you reconsider what you wore – yeah, that. The wine is a 2012 Tempranillo but I’m too full to even fit in wine as this point.
Thankfully, dessert is small I’m told.
Luckily, I believe in the dessert stomach ideology and so when a chilled glass of Moscatell comes with almond fondant, still warm from the oven, I dig right in. Instead of using quince, Frank’s opted for sweet potato which is an interesting change. Warm cake, cold ice cream – I don’t think I need to say more – it’s a winner, every time. I’m in love with the Moscatell, it’s sweet, not overpowering and has notes of lychees.
Our plates are cleared, but wait – there’s still a glass of every dessert lover’s favourite sherry, PX. A Gran Reserva Pedro Ximenez from 1983. It’s sticky sweet with chocolatey notes and a great way to finish the meal.
It’s a fun night, but beneath all the excellent food is the spirit of the evening and it’s that generosity that underlies good hospitality. I’m usually the last one at the table eating and will happily power through five courses and still be not-quite-full, but not tonight. “We don’t want people to leave here hungry, ‘ says Bria. And you know what else, it may not be a big deal to most people, but as someone who’s worked front of house, it’s pretty damn rare that an owner puts on the same uniform and carries plates like the rest of us. And she gets a lot of respect for me for that.
The complete list of wines we were served are as follows –
Bodegas El Mastro Sierra Fino Palomino Jerez
Pazos De Lusco ‘Zios’ Albarinio 2013 Rias Biaxas
Algueira, Joven Mencia 2013 Ribeira Sacra
Quinta Milu ‘La Cometa’ Tempranillo 2012 Ribera Del Duero
Espelt Moscatell De L’Emporada, NV Emporada
Toro Albala Don PX Gran Reserva 1983, Montilla Moriles
*Tash dined as a guest of Parlour Wine Room.