Aqui means “here” in Spanish, but for the last few years Movida Aqui has felt somewhere else.
“It’s been looking a little tired for the last three or four years,” says co-owner Frank Camorra. “The original design was fantastic, and it represented what we were [back then], but it did need a massive refresh to reflect how the food and service has developed.
“The first design was fun and energetic, but I felt that it needed a little bit of warmth, more environment, more atmosphere – there’s a more grown-up and emotional feel to the design.”
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Aqui opened in 2009 as one of the first offshoots of Movida, the iconic Hosier Lane diner that launched a thousand share plates. Since then, Camorra’s signature style of creative but comforting Spanish cuisine has expanded apace – there have been Movidas in Lorne, in both Sydney and its airport, and across the Tasman in Auckland. In 2019, Camorra and co-owner Andy McMahon re-upped on the 10-year lease at Aqui for another decade, planning a bow-to-stern redesign in the process. Then Covid arrived and scuttled that idea. When the lockdown era and the subsequent post-opening boom ended, Aqui finally got to get its beauty sleep.
“Committing to another 10 years is a big thing,” he says. “So we wanted to make sure it was still going to look appropriate in 10 years’ time.”
It’s hard to say where taste will be then, but for the present, the new-look Aqui is nailing it. The freshened-up space, handled by Izzard Design, who designed Movida Auckland, does more by doing less: the milkcrate lighting fixtures above the open kitchen’s chalkboard menu have been retired, and unnecessarily busy decor has been removed throughout. New chequerboard-patterned sections of the floor punctuate the dining room, while the tables and chairs sport darker finishes and upholstery. It’s sleek and serious, but no less convivial. The view out over Bourke Street, and all the natural light it provides, is as lovely as ever. Soon the outdoor area, which faces north towards the Supreme Court, will be completed, fully restoring Aqui to its position as a legal district favourite.
The menu has also been given a tune-up. Favourite entrees such as jamon iberico are joined by newcomers such as the crumpet topped with spanner crab, saffron emulsion and finger lime; and a beef tartare with pickled turnip, horseradish and almond cracker. Aqui’s lamb pinchos morunos (“Moorish skewers”) and talos – a Basque cornbread, similar to a tortilla – topped with chistorra sausage, are two more newbies. Alongside the signature paella, there’s now arroz de codorniz, which combines saffron rice with sofrito, globe artichokes and a whole Brisbane Valley quail, all roasted in the Josper woodfire oven.
It's been a busy year for Camorra, and Aqui’s reopening is just one of the milestones. Over on Hosier Lane, the original Movida, which is aging like a fine Rioja, is gearing up for its 20th birthday.