Basque Tapas & Wine and Amici Bakery Cafe

Basque Tapas & Wine
159 Chapel St
Windsor VIC 3181
+61 3 9533 7044
Amici Bakery Cafe
242 Chapel St
Prahran VIC 3181
+61 3 9529 1806

Actually, not quite.

For starters, neither Adam nor I drive a wog mobile. In fact, I don’t even drive at all.

And even though Adam and I are pretty gweilo-y for Asians, we are far from being wogs (although a few of my fobby Asian friends have often remarked on how “woggy” I sound on the phone. But that’s another story for another time).

Given the fact that we were walking up and down Chapel Street all afternoon (i.e. technically, doing “circles”), I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised if people thought that we were wog-wannabes doing laps. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Chapel Street. I remember going here all the time when I was in high school, whether it’d be looking for formal dresses or having coffees with friends before finally declaring that I will never go there again because it’s a place for “try hards.” However, there was this tapas place on the Windsor end that I was keen to try so after church this morning, we took the train from Box Hill and made it there for lunch. The place I’m talking about is Basques Tapas and Wine which has been around for some time. The main reason why it’s taken me so long to try this place is because it’s in CHAPEL STREET which takes effort commuting to (okay, not really but if you’re lazy like me and car-less like me, any trip goes beyond one bus ride is “not worth it”). Also to me, anything that comes from Chapel Street just screams out STYLE-BUT-NO-SUBSTANCE. Nevertheless, I decided to put aside my snobbiness and venture onto muzza and bimbo maria territory for the afternoon.

Because this place has been featured in several editions of The Age Good Food Guide, I figured that it’d be packed and that we needed to book ahead. Adam, however, reckoned that we would be okay without a booking as the South-of-the-Yarra crowd usually don’t get up before 3pm because they’d be nursing hangovers from a boozy night. I heeded his advice and it turned out he was right. We arrived at around 12:30 and there were only 1-2 tables filled. We were greeted by a funky Asian waitress and shown to a window table promptly.

As we were reading the menu (skipping the wine list), I surveyed our surroundings and tried to make sense of it but it was a bit of a struggle. We were in a Spanish restaurant, an oddball amidst the designer stores and all the coffee shops that made up this part of Chapel Street…

There were red lights decorating the walls and I could not help but wonder whether the lights indicated what sort of women came to this joint (not looking at me, of course. Cough.)…
… the decor looked like something from the set of that Ugly Betty episode in season.1 where they go to Mexico. and they had some sort of Catholic shrine at the back which reminded me of those Buddhist ones you see at Asian restaurants. I reckon the person who decorated this place is either a kitschy Asiaphile Catholic or was inspired by that Killer’s video clip (When You Were Young). Heh.
Looking at the menu, we decided that much of what they offered were quite similar to Movida’s offerings but steered towards the “traditional” rather than “innovative” Spanish cuisine. The food was a little bit cheaper too. They offered a set degustation menu for $49p/p (I think it comes with 9 dishes) which sounded quite good but decided to choose our own dishes, 4 tapas (small dishes) and one racion (main/shared dish). We chose some awesome-sounding dishes, but several times the waiteress ran back to tell us that we couldn’t have the scallops/cod croquettes/whatever-else-we-ordered-that-sounded-yum because the kitchen was out. It was annoying but nevertheless, we chose our substitutes and the kitchen got down to business.

Gambas al pil pil ($10.50). Four large prawns sizzled in a spicy garlic and chilli sauce which made Adam and I both jump in excitement. There was a lot of zest in this dish with just the right amount of chilli (i.e. not too little, not too much) to satisfy Adam’s love for hot food and my wussy-ness when it comes to chilli-based foods. One bite of prawn and your tastebuds feel as if some hot Spaniard dancer (choose your desired sex) has danced one heck of a paso doble on your tongue.

Jamon de Serrano ($11). This dish was the simplest out of all the dishes we ordered but I thought that it was the best (apart from the prawns above). Two hugh chucks of sourdough slices were topped with some fresh slices of jamon (cured ham) and drizzled with some awesome-tasting olive oil. Four little gherkins were there as accompaniments. It might sound boring to a lot of people, but I think that using top quality ingredients really makes all the difference in dishes such as this. Even though jamon serrano is considered the “poor man’s” jamon (If you want quality (with a price tag to match!), you’d go for Iberico), I loved the zesty flavour of the ham and if I could, I’d have it in my sandwich for lunch all the time instead of chicken loaf or shoulder ham!

Bunuelos de manchego ($6.50). Okay, this dish was probably the weirdest one we encountered. It actually wasn’t bad but nothing to harp on about. They were described as “cheese puffs” and we were expecting something filo-pastry-y but we ended up with fried croquettes filled with mashed cheese and sweet potato in it. The balls were then dusted with paprika salt. Like I said, unusual and okay-tasting but we wouldn’t order it next time we’re here.

Chuleto de Cordero ($7.50). One lamb cutlet was marinated with chilli and cooked in a porcini mushroom jus. This was a very pleasant dish, the sweetness of the sherry in the sauce bringing out the spicy flavour of the succulent lamb. Yum!

Calamari and Chorizo salad ($19). This was our sharing plate/main for the meal. The plate was actually smaller than what I expected but for $19, it’s actually decently-sized compared to the sharing plates they serve at Movida. The light tangy salad and the airy, crispy-fried calamari pieces complimented each other perfectly while the addition of two slices of chorizo made for one helluva sexy threesome. I reckoned that a bit more chorizo wouldn’t help but then again, too much sausage would, I guess, make for a more complicated menage a trois. (Oh STOP, Libby )

A bowl of Patatas Bravas and aoli ($6.50) was ordered as a side dish. We agonised betweent this and the sherry mushrooms but opted for the potatoes in the end as they are generally more filling than mushrooms. There was liberal use of paprika salt over the hand-cut potato pieces which were crunchy but like the “cheese puffs”, nothing to rave on about.


Stand-out performances were the prawns and the jamon. Sigh.

In summary, I’d definitely come back for another visit. I was very satisfied with my meal. In fact, I could honestly say that this place is the best Spanish place I’ve been to so far. It was decently priced too – $64.50 for the two of us, plus drinks (the meal we had at Movida was $30-odd dearer) . I think the differentiating factor between Basque and Movida is that Movida tries so hard to impress and but fails to deliver (okay, it doesn’t exactly FAIL per se, just that my dinner there could have been better). Movida is a bit like the Spanish soccer team – looks potentially good on paper, plays a few great games but when it comes to the crucial moment, it chokes. Basque, while the food isn’t as innovative as Movida, serves more simple food but it gets plenty of thumbs up on TASTE. The the ingredients of superb quality and the flavours were sensational. I just wished that they had some scallops in. Sigh .
We planned to have dessert at Amici Bakery Cafebut it was PACKED when we got there so we ended up wandering around Prahran market and reading books at Borders, not to mention a bit of window shopping here and there. It was 4 o’clock before we made it back to Amici again with only a few tables occupied. They had already closed the kitchen by the time we rocked up but that was okay as we were still able to have anything from the food cabinets below:

How cute are they!


*squeals*


I had an iced coffee while Adam had this third coffee for the day ().

My pistachio chocolate mousse ($5.50) and Adam’s bacon quiche in the background. This was really yum! Full of chocolate-y goodness without being too rich.

Although not the best coffee and cakes we’ve had, there was nothing to whinge about in terms of taste. The service, however, wasn’t that great. They presented my iced coffee without a straw and the waiter had no idea where to bring the food to (we had to signal to her). Most of the staff weren’t all that friendly although I won’t take marks off – I can understand, it’s the end of a busy Sunday shift and they were all keen to check out the underage clubbing event that was happening at Chasers and prey on young boys and girls go home and relax. Nevertheless, a good place to have a cuppa with some yummy snacks or a weekend gossip session with some friends. Next time, I’ll try their food when their kitchen is open.

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FOG

8 Comments

  1. Yum! I hate hate hate when the waitress comes back and tells me that they’ve run out of something, cos to me that signals zero communication between the kitchen and the waiting staff. At my place (not boasting or anything) the chef (ie the boyfriend) bellows out whenever we’re out of something, and he does it to every single waitor/waitress and tells them to tell all the other waitors/waitresses so everyone ends up hearing it at least 3 times. So yeah, from then on, if you still need to go back in the kitchen and be told that we’re out of something, then you get a huge telling off from the kitchen as well as greasys from the rest of us cos you’re making us look bad to the customers. However, despite this seemingly fool-proof method, I work with a few airheads whose heads must be a scary place to be in cos one can walk for miles and miles before encountering an intelligent thought. Anyway, I was gunning for the scallops too (though I have no idea how they were cooked) but the prawns and calamari salad look a-okay

  2. Maybe the red lights were some hint as to what other services the waitresses offer perhaps?  Adam required a 3rd coffee perhaps because of all the walking or perhaps you’d kept him awake the night before. hah

  3. Amici used to be good – not anymore. For a good brunch around that area, try Dukes (on Chapel, just a bit after High St on your right if you’re coming from Amici). Or Globe (which is just a few doors down from Amici).

    Or if you’re near South Yarra station – I recommend Gaia Cafe (Avoca St). They have Pork Belly with Potato Rosti for brunch at the moment… Delicious!

  4. Are you serious?! Basque equal to or better than Movida? I have eaten at both restaurants more than several times (in the case of Basque, not by choice). The food at Basque is generally greasy and over-fried Spanish tourist-style food (a la Granada backpacker booze and tapas tour) and the ingredients are nowhere even close to the quality of those used at Movida – as evidenced by the lack of grease and presence of full, rich, healthful and flavoursome oils, more subtle flavours and perfect portioning and service.

    1. Hey ADW,

      Yes, I’m serious! Not sure if you’ve read my post on MoVida but I thought my experience was underwhelming – food was a hit and miss. Not that I profess to know a lot about Spanish food (and I certainly knew less back when this post was written some three years ago) but in comparison, I thought Basque’s food was lovely and the prices were very reasonable. Having said that, I’ve been to the other MoVida restaurants and found their food to be very good (particularly the food at MoVida Aqui, and the salad I had at MoVida Terraza was probably one of the best salads I’ve had). Given that I enjoyed my visits at MoVida proper’s sister restaurants, I can only assume that I must have went to MoVida on a bad night and will endeavour to visit again.

      P.S. Hey, nothing wrong with grease – who doesn’t love a greasy souvlaki, burger or even good ol’ hearty Cantonese food at Supper Inn at 2am in the morning? 🙂

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