Review: Vamos, Melbourne CBD

If I was to ask you where you might find a great little Spanish/Latin-style tapas bar in Melbourne, Little Bourke Street’s Chinatown probably wouldn’t be your first guess. The hip enclaves of the inner North perhaps – Fitzroy, Brunswick, Collingwood. Or the yuppie South – Prahran, South Yarra. The top end of Little Bourke Street in the city would hardly figure on your radar.

Yet that’s where you’ll find Vamos, a busy tapas bar located on the first floor of a fairly non-descript building. K and I headed there for a date night one evening after getting a 50% off food offer through Dimmi and lucked out with a little table overlooking the street below near the solo guitarist who was playing that night. Talk about setting the atmosphere!

Coconut Mojito ($16AUD) and a Pineapple and Coconut Frozen Mocktail ($12AUD)

We had a coconut drink each – a Coconut Mojito for K and a Pineapple and Coconut Frozen Mocktail for me. With the Australian summer heat still plaguing us, both drinks hit the spot perfectly in terms of quenching our thirst and refreshing our spirit. 

While most of you will know that I tend to opt for mocktails over cocktails on most occasions, this was a very particular choice on part as we’d just made the decision to start trying for a baby and I was cutting out all alcohol as a result.

Patatas Bravas – Spanish spicy fried potato with bravas sauce and chipotle mayo

We opted to order from their $35 per person menu, which allows you to order one dish from each section of the menu – $9, $14 and $18 tapas. Between the two of us, that meant sharing six different dishes and only paying $35 as we had the 50% off offer. What a bargain!

First up on the $9 menu was the Patatas Bravas, a favourite tapas option for us when we were travelling through Spain in 2015. What’s not to love about crunchy chunks of deep-fried potato smothered in garlicky spicy tomato sauce? While they served it with chipotle mayonnaise on the side, you really don’t need anything other than the bravas sauce with these patatas.

Mexican black bean and corn salad, coriander. lime and chilli

Our second $9 dish was the Mexican black bean and corn salad. As much as a bean and corn salad is a staple in our household (side dish out of cans – easy!), we very rarely use black beans as they’re just that little bit harder to get hold of when compared to chickpeas or cannellini beans. After having this version however, I might try a bit harder to get hold of black beans – or at the very least, adding some Spanish onion and coriander to my bean salads, because this mix was superb!

Seared scallops with brown butter, fresh chilli, avocado, chive cream and traditional corn chips

My highlight dish of the night were these Seared Scallops off the $14 menu. Perfectly tender, a little bit caramelised, and wonderful with the fresh avocado and chilli. A simple dish executed perfectly. K could tell that I enjoyed it so much that when I (very generously) offered to split the third scallop with him, he told me to just eat it and stop pretending like I was ready to share!

Free range grilled chicken skewers with Mexican cacao and cinnamon sauce, sultanas and Spanish rice salad

Next up the Free Range Grilled Chicken Skewers, which unfortunately I didn’t love as I found the cacao and cinnamon sauce strange. I couldn’t quite make the mental leap from ‘cacao – it’s dessert’ to ‘cacao – it’s savoury’. This is more my own personal fault though, as K had no issues with this and really enjoyed the dish!

Twice cooked pork belly, celeriac and chipotle slaw, apple and basil puree

We could both agree on this dish though – Twice Cooked Pork Belly. In fact, K loved the crunchy crackling and tender pork so much that I generously offered the third piece to him rather than insisting that we share it. It was, I think, the herbed sweet apple puree that really made this dish stand out. Is there anything better than apple and pork as a combination?

Roasted mushroom caps with charred sweet corn duxelle, Manchego, salsa roja, sour cream and fresh herbs

We finished our meal with the Roasted Mushroom Caps – juicy mushrooms topped with a mix of cheesy, corny, creamy goodness. A lovely lighter vegetarian dish to finish on after the heavier pork and chicken dishes.

While we dined at Vamos on a 50% off voucher, we both agreed that the food was so good that we would definitely return to try some of the other tapas dishes. While we haven’t yet had the chance, I can definitely see us bringing my in-laws here next time they visit Melbourne. A top pick for tapas in the city.

Vamos is located at 37 Little Bourke St in Melbourne CBD.

Chanoy Honeymoon: Valencia and Barcelona, Spain, October 2015

After nearly a month and a half on the road, it became clear that K and I were starting to tire. We’d been staying in a range of cheap Airbnb apartments – some better than others, but they were generally smaller, older, and dirtier than what we’re normally comfortable with. While they were fantastic in terms of allowing us to save money by cooking in, they didn’t offer the most comfort or luxury.

That’s why when we arrived in Valencia from Granada and checked into our hotel (Hotel Kramer), we decided to not even bother going out into the city. When you have a hotel room for one night, and the luxury of a large soft bed with clean white sheets, a large flat-screen TV and a clean luxurious bathroom with a rainfall shower, a night in relative comfort and luxury was all we wanted! So while we didn’t see the town of Valencia at all, I can highly recommend the luxuries of the Hotel Kramer, located a little bit out of the centre of town.

I can recommend the hotel restaurant (Kram Bar) for a tasty cheap meal though. It’s not a fancy restaurant, and is more like a modern pub with a selection of burgers, bagels and steaks, with sporting games showing on the various flat screen TVs (we saw Australia win their Rugby World Cup semi-final!). K had a burger (juicy meat patty with a runny egg yolk), and I had some grilled chicken and vegetables. Simple, filling, and less than 20 Euro for both of us with drinks.

After a night of hotel luxury, we drove onto Barcelona for a stay of a few days. Unfortunately as I’ve already previously mentioned, K was struck down with a flu and we didn’t get out as much as we would have liked. Instead we spent our first full day in our Airbnb apartment, K wrapped up in a blanket to sweat it out and watching cartoons on TV. On all the other days we were in Barcelona, we only ventured out in the afternoons for lunch and a little bit of sightseeing – mornings were spent with K having a sleep-in to try and give his battered immune system time to recuperate.

Still, illness didn’t spoil our trip too much. We had two really good meals at Jai-Ca and at Elche, and some good random snacks along the way, including a delicious sweet fresh fig pastry from the award-winning bakery Baluard. Most of the time though, I tried to feed K with food designed to improve his immune system – lots of orange juice naturally, some hearty soups, salads, etc. Thanks to our local supermarket for being extremely well-stocked!

We spent a full afternoon at the famous Sagrada Familia cathedral, brainchild of the eccentric visionary architect Antoni Gaudi. A hundred years after it was first conceived, builders are still working to complete the extravagant building. It’s well worth a visit if ever you’re in Barcelona – and make sure to pay for the audioguide and visits up the towers as well, as both are very comprehensive and really allow you to experience key aspects of this innovative building. I was a particular fan of interplay of light and colour in the building, a result of Gaudi’s careful consideration of how stained glass windows should be used to create a spiritual experience.

Other afternoons, we just spent time walking around the streets of Barcelona…which seem to largely be inhabited by English tourists, chasing the Iberian sun. Speaking of chasing the sun, I was surprised by Barcelona’s beaches. I’ve always heard a lot of positive things about how beautiful the beaches are, but they were a little lacklustre to my eyes. The beach itself isn’t particularly large, with barely 50 metres from the start of the beach to the water’s edge. It also wasn’t the clean, white sand that we get in Australia, and looked a bit dirty. Still, it’s probably still the best beach most English tourists will see unless they decide to come to Australia for a visit!

Overall, given that we were hermits in both Valencia and Barcelona, I feel that we didn’t give either city the amount of love and attention they probably deserved. Barcelona is worth another visit to explore other areas we didn’t get around to visit – perhaps we’ll come back when the Sagrada Familia has finally been completed and we can see it in all its glory?

Review: Elche, Barcelona Spain

In a country where every street will boast at least two restaurants geared towards tourists advertising paella for 14 Euro per person, it’s hard to know what’s genuine and what’s not. The best indicator is the size of the pan they use – do they use a pan large enough for paella for 20 people? In those cases, you know for certain that the paella is never freshly made to order, as they just pre-prepare large batches and dish it out once people order it.


I was determined to have a more genuine paella experience, and so spent some time researching Barcelona paella restaurants. One name kept popping up – Elche. While many people acknowledged that it wasn’t the cheapest restaurant around, it was held up as an affordably-priced traditional paella restaurant where all dishes are freshly cooked to order. That was good enough for me!


K and I went along to Elche one afternoon for lunch, and were seated right by the window in a restaurant that was much fancier than I had originally anticipated. Still, for a casual fine dining restaurant, the prices on the menu weren’t quite as extravagant as I thought they would be.


We started our meal with a bottle of sparkling water to share. The Vichy Catalan is the local Catalonian brand of sparkling water, and even the bottle proclaims its status as a product of Catalonia. The mosaic effect on the bottle is reminiscent of the colourful mosaic tiling (trencadis) that can be found all over Barcelona, most notably on the famous Sagrada Familia.


The complimentary starter at Elche is a foie gras mousse, served with slices of baguette. The soft foie gras was quite strong and livery, and won’t be to everyone’s taste. I thought it was quite delicious and more-ish though, and the only missing element was some crackled black pepper to top it all off.


A few different breads were delivered to our table to accompany the meal, but as much as I wanted to rip into them (freshly baked at a local bakery), I wisely decided to wait until we got our mains so as not to spoil my appetite. This ended up allowing me to use the bread to sop up the paella sauce and oil left on my plate, which just enhanced the fresh bread and really took it to the next level.

Verduras de temporada a la parrilla con langostinos, $8.90
Verduras de temporada a la parrilla con langostinos, $8.90

We shared an entrée – a Chargrilled Vegetable Platter with Prawns. Disappointingly, there were only four prawns offered on the plate, so we only got two small prawns each. Also disappointingly, the tomato was a little bit rotten inside and was in the process of going black, so we ended up just leaving that on the plate. The grilled eggplant and zucchini was excellent, but not enough to justify ordering the whole dish. I probably wouldn’t order this again.


If I could order this tapenade that came with the vegetable platter by itself though, I would! This tomato and olive tapenade was ridiculously more-ish in its saltiness and went well not just with the vegetables but even by itself on a bit of bread as well. There was real depth of smoky flavour in the tapenade, as though the ingredients had been roasted beforehand.

Paella Mixta Parellada Pelada, 16.40 Euro per person (min two people)
Paella Mixta Parellada Pelada, 16.40 Euro per person (min two people)

The piece de resistance of any meal at Elche is the paella though, and we had the Paella Mixta Parellada Pelada – a chicken and seafood paella (without shells). Unfortunately, you only get this not very picturesque photo, as I was much too slow with my camera and didn’t get a shot of the beautiful paella in its pan when the waiter brought it out for our inspection.

For the record, this is how the process works at a ‘proper’ paella restaurant: 1) order your paella (always a minimum of 2 people); 2) kitchen prepares and cooks the paella; 3) waiter brings it out to the table for your inspection; 4) waiter takes the pan away and dishes out the paella onto plates for you. So contrary to what we would normally expect, the paella pan is never actually left on the table for you – it’s always taken away and served onto plates!

For what it’s worth, the paella was quite delicious with super tender chicken thigh pieces and a good range of tender seafood. I did feel that it was missing something though to help lighten what was otherwise a very heavy dish – perhaps more herbs to add a lighter flavour, or even more peas which would have helped to give a fresh burst with every mouthful. That’s the only thing I would change!

Overall, I would suggest Elche as a good genuine paella restaurant in Barcelona. Non-paella dishes (entrees) seem to be a bit hit and miss, but the paella is pretty special and a much better option than any of the usual street-side paella restaurants. Here, you know that your paella is specially cooked to order for best results!

Elche is located at 71 Carrer de Vila i Vilà, Barcelona.