The only inevitable trend in dining is change and this year has seen an acceleration towards the more casual end of the spectrum when it comes to eating out in Melbourne. After the successes of Chin Chin and Mamasita over the past couple of years, it should come as no surprise that many of today’s diners are looking for a quality dining experience but without the higher price that is usually associated with fine dining. Along with that shift, restaurant owners are faced with battling against falling numbers of patrons or overhauling their concept and going for the casual market. The Press Club has been traded in for Gazi, Virginia Plain briefly morphed into Mercy and now The Aylesbury is becoming Bomba (or ‘bomb’).
Jesse and Vanessa Gerner’s The Aylesbury opened late 2011, offering a ‘top-to-tail’ fine dining-esque menu, but Bomba sees them going back to the Spanish roots of their Fitzroy eatery Añada. Where Añada is a little more sleek, adult and focusing on Andalusian cuisine, Bomba is embracing wider Spanish dishes and is about delivering a laid-back, fun experience, describing itself as a “Spanish workers bar”. Along with that casual vibe comes great prices, the most expensive dish on the menu is a sharing paella at $36, with most tapas around $4-8 and the raciones around $15-25. The wine list is also toeing the line, with most bottles around the $40-60 mark and glasses around $10 – $12.50 a glass.
The wine list itself is focusing on artesian Spanish varieties, many from small producers which are going to be imported directly by Bomba. Yet it would not be a tapas bar without sherry, and a Melbourne bar without cocktails (‘Sex with a bearded man’ anyone?), however it could be the vermouth that proves to be a unique hit at Bomba. The big trend in Barcelona at the moment is fer vermut or ‘doing vermouth’, dusting off that old-fashioned tipple and making it fashionable again. Usually drunk as an apéritif before a meal, alongside fried, cured and preserved nibbles, vermouth could soon be the drink of summer. Served over ice, with orange and an olive, it is sweet but not overly and will be far too easy to drink when the summer temperatures kick in.
Joining Jesse Gerner (previously MoVida, London’s Moro before opening Añada and The Aylesbury) in the kitchen is Andrew Fisk (Cumulus Inc, Añada); with Kelly O’Loghlen (Taxi, Circa) running front-of-house. When we dined, the lovely Vanessa Gerner and Sacha made us feel at home, which is how you always want to feel when dining out. Along with the main dining area, the well-loved rooftop bar is staying put, perfect with summer on the way. A new addition will be a coffee window on the Smythe Lane side, serving Sensory Lab coffee, along with churros, Spanish pastries (from Clifton Hill’s Cavellini) and savoury bocadillos (rolls/sandwiches).
The menu follows that familiar tapas bar style, starting with Aperitivo, small nibbles which could be oysters, mussels or house-stuffed olives filled with boquerone (anchovy fillets marinated in vinegar and olive oil) and piquillo peppers or wild-boar salami and piquillo. The Charcuteria covers the usual jamon and air-dried wagyu (cecina), but for something a little different the mojama (air dried tuna; ‘jamon of the sea’ as a friend described it) and a pickled pork belly will be good choices.
The Tapas themselves include the sinfully rich and moreish chicken and manchego croqueta with a kick of smoky paprika, perfect with a glass of vermouth. A delicious, tender scallop is served with a squeeze of lemon and the crunch of fried breadcrumbs. A highlight is the grilled quail, perfectly cooked, and worth eating with your fingers. The standout of the Montadidos (a topping served on bread/baguette) is the house-made morcilla (Spanish black sausage/pudding) with fresh spring broad beans and tangy goat’s curd that cuts through the richness of the meat.
Moving into the larger dishes, designed to share, are the Raciones, where a signature Bomba dish is going to be the meltingly slow-cooked pork jowl in Pedro Ximénez (PX) and creamy celeriac puree, a new take on a classic Melbourne dish. For me one of the best dishes of the night was the Shark Bay king prawns, served pil pil style (oil, garlic, peppers, herbs); the prawns were sublime and the infused oil left in the bottom of the cazuela begged to be mopped up with sourdough bread (just ask for some if you need it). The prawn dish summed up the concept of Bomba for me, this is about unfussy, rustic food that uses great produce, executed perfectly and the end result is delicious. Larger still are the Paella which are definitely the right size for sharing between 2-4 people, there is the braised duck and pork paella, or the arroz negro, a wetter squid-ink coloured dish with a bounty of prawns, pippies, calamari and mussels.
To balance out the meat and seafood, the Verduras (vegetables) move from light and simple, grilled asparagus, dusted with cheese and served with a slow-cooked egg and crunchy breadcrumbs (migas), through to Moorish influences in the freekeh and cauliflower salad with sumac and pomegranate.
Ending the meal are the Dolce, with classic churros and melted chocolate, or the equally decadent chocolate croqueta with anglaise and the crunch of nuts. For something a little lighter, the orange and vermouth sorbet is a perfect choice at the end of a long meal on a hot summer’s day.
Bomba opens to the public on September 26, and takes bookings for the dining area or live dangerously and hope there is a seat at the bar (left for walk-ins). The vibe is laidback and fun, focusing on delivering delicious tapas, matched with Spanish drinks (make it a vermouth!).
Eat Melbourne was invited to attend a preview night ahead of the public opening. This post will be updated following a second visit to Bomba.