MoVida has been a dining institution in Melbourne for nearly 20 years, serving up modern Spanish food using Antipodean ingredients in a convivial atmosphere. Next week, the New Zealand flagship of the restaurant opens in the Seafarers Building at Britomart. We caught up with founder Frank Camorra to find out what he'll be putting in front of eager Auckland diners.
We’re very excited about MoVida opening next week. You've been spending time here exploring the produce to develop the local menu. What have you discovered?
Frank Camorra: Yeah, it’s been amazing. There's some things that we use in Australia that aren't available here, so we're using local ingredients. For instance, one of the dishes we do in Melbourne is an albacore tuna dish, and we just couldn't find the same fish here. So, we thought, well, why don't we just use the Ora King salmon that’s here, which is amazing. We’ve used some kumara, which I've never really used before in Australia, but sweet potato is actually used in some parts of the south of Spain in desserts, so I’ve sort of adapted that. There’s amazing shellfish here - stormy clams [Cloudy Bay clams], which are incredible, incredible oysters. We've been pretty lucky, to be honest. I’ve never had two weeks to develop a menu before. We haven't been in a rush to open, so it's been really good. Having two weeks to create a menu with these amazing ingredients is, for a chef, an absolute luxury and a pleasure.
We can’t wait to try everything. To rewind a bit, many people in Auckland know MoVida already, but some won’t know your background. You've lived in Australia since you were five, right?
Yeah. I grew up in Geelong, but then I moved to Melbourne when I started becoming a chef, so trained in Melbourne for most of my career. I was studying architecture, but I decided, no, that wasn't for me. Eventually I got to Melbourne and started working in Italian food with Guy Grossi, who's a very renowned chef in Australia. My background is Spanish - I was born in Barcelona, although my family's from the south. Back then, there wasn't really anyone doing interesting food within Spanish cuisine. I don't know if you remember 1992, but it was the Barcelona Olympics, and everyone was doing tapas and dancing on the bar and not taking it very seriously. Another of the people whose restaurants I loved eating at back then was Greg Malouf, who was doing the same as Guy Grossi but with Middle Eastern food. I just thought, “I want to represent the cuisine that I love because I grew up with it, just as well as these guys do with their cuisines." So I decided the only way to do that was to travel and work in Spain and make myself understand it a bit more intimately. Every European food is so regional. My parents were from the south, so I knew a few dishes from each of the other regions, but that was it.
Do you travel there frequently?
Yeah, I do - well, not over the last couple of years, unfortunately – but yeah, I've written four cookbooks over there. I generally use those trips as my inspiration for menus and just in my professional development. Do as much research as I can for the books, and then use those dishes in the restaurant as well. I also usually take two tours a year - small groups, which are food based and tie in other interesting, fun-to-do stuff. They're hopefully starting back by next year. And we also import food into Australia, Spanish food and wines as well.
It’s been a tough time for hospitality, so it's a bold move to be launching in a new place. Why did you choose Britomart to open a new restaurant - what gives you confidence in this location at this time?
We’ve been lucky enough to do a couple of pop-ups here over the years. We did one probably eight or nine years ago for the Auckland Food and Wine Festival, a couple of dinners here, when Josh Emett was the chef at Ostro, and they went incredibly well. Even at that stage, we were talking about potentially doing something a bit more permanent down the track. Then we did a month pop-up here in 2016. It was super-successful, really busy, really well received. At that stage, it was like, "Okay, yes, we have to do this." But months became years, and then COVID hit, and so it's taken this long to get it up and running. I guess for us it's just a great opportunity. We're working with really good partners [Savor Group] who do things really well in an incredible location. I mean, seriously, this view! [gestures to the harbour] The location is unbelievable. And I know a lot of our repeat customers are from New Zealand, and they're coming over to Melbourne, so why not bring it here?
What do you think will make MoVida Auckland work in the spirit of MoVida Melbourne while still being its own restaurant?
We've got to replicate the essence of MoVida [Melbourne] and execute well. That's the key. The location is different to what we have in Australia but I think it’s about the essence. If you go to MoVida, it's about the bar, that vibrancy, that high energy. People laughing and carrying on. That transfers into the dining room, and they sort of feed off each other, and that's what we've created in the space here. The same open kitchen, a big, long bar where you can eat, which is, I think, central to that Spanish experience. If a bistro is your classic French style restaurant, then the tapas bar is the classic Spanish experience.
In terms of location, the central city is where MoVida really flourishes, right? You’ve spoken before about MoVida working best when it’s right in the heart of a city.
Oh, yeah, because MoVida is not just corporate. I mean, yes, lunchtimes there’s a lot of that, but it's a bit of everything. MoVida Original, it's a mix of all people going to a theatre, they're finishing work, they're having a date. It's not just people finishing work and going home. It's a destination, but it's also a place you can just pop in and have a glass of wine and feel comfortable. You don't have to have a full meal. You can have a couple tapas, a couple of glasses of wine and off you go. Or you can have the full monty if you want. I think the flexibility is what works with being in the city. If you've got a group of work colleagues and you're going out, you can do that and have a set menu and sit a long time, but you can also just pop in and catch up before you go and see a movie.
What are you enjoying most about the space you’re setting up in?
The kitchen here is amazing. We've got these woodfired grills that are pretty cool. We're doing paella cooked over a wood fire, and that's something I've never done in Australia. We’ll start them up on the other side of the kitchen, then we bring them over to the grill and they finish them off. It gives them a beautiful smokey flavor from the wood. We’ll do whole fish, big cuts of meat, again, stuff that we don't actually get to do in Melbourne because we just don't have the resources for it in terms of the size of the kitchen. So this is a luxury. Also, the small goods that are available here are really good. In Australia, we can't import some Spanish small goods which are allowed to be imported here. Anything that has under six months curing - like some chorizo sausages – that’s stuff we can't use in Australia, but for some reason you guys allow it here, so we'll take full advantage of that. It's great.
Will you be here in the New Zealand kitchen often?
Yeah. When we open I'll be here for two months. And I intend to be here three or four times a year after that. My head chef at MoVida was here with me for two weeks and he'll be travelling over as well, so we'll sort of alternate every couple of months. One of us will be here for a week or so. There's a really good team here. Josh [Shields], who was the head chef here at Ostro is here. They've got amazing infrastructure here and as a partnership, we need to develop the culture of the style of food, develop menus. At MoVida, what we do is have a lot of specials on all the time. So, it’s really just making the guys more confident about what they're putting on the menu.
It feels like Auckland is ready for more Spanish restaurants. There are a few great ones, like Alma, which is here at Britomart, but not many.
Yeah, I’ve had dinner at Alma, twice, actually. Really delicious. In Melbourne, when we first started there was hardly any Spanish restaurants, and then it's all just blossomed. I can see that's happening here, because I guess there's more access to Spanish ingredients, which you need. You need that paprika. You need good anchovies. You need good ham. You've got the amazing fresh produce to be able to use here, from New Zealand, but you need those elements to replicate Spanish cuisine.
MoVida Auckland opens on Level 2, Seafarers Building, 52 Tyler St, on Wednesday 31 August. Tables are filling fast in the first weeks, so book yours here.