I think I confused Snooze and Bureaucrat a little when I told them we were going to a place called Big Mama. Bureaucrat asked whether it was a sandwich shop, and I must admit when I first saw the name my thoughts were of somewhere doing Creole or Caribbean food. Instead it’s actually quite a nice Japanese/Korean cafe, somewhere that aims for just a bit more than the typical student style eatery.
Big Mama is located in a slightly weird spot on Swanston Street, in between the CBD and Melbourne Uni. Consequently it has to have something about it to attract patrons away from closer lunchtime haunts. It does this through an extensive menu (several pages long), generous serves, well prepared and presented food, and staff who were polite and friendly. And I almost forgot to mention a very cute feature wall.
At one stage I thought there was going to be an arm wrestle over the eel, with both Snooze and Bureaucrat saying they wanted to order it. It’s also one of my favourite dishes at Japanese lunchtime places, eel on rice (Unagi don). In the end Bureaucrat won out, Snooze went for the teriyaki chicken bento and I went for my other regular choice, katsu kare don.
Both Snooze and Bureaucrat commented favourably about the smoky flavours of their dish. While I didn’t sample any of Bureaucrats eel I did try Snooze’s chicken and found it well cooked and indeed smoky, although I think most of that flavour came from the strongly flavoured sauce rather than through the cooking itself.
I think the others were appropriately jealous of my lunch choice when it arrived at the table. While not the most photogenic Japanese dish around katsu kare don (fried pork cutlet with a mild curry sauce on rice) generally smells and tastes great. Very different in style to typically available Indian curries, it has a soft flavour and texture. In some ways it reminds me more of a lightly spiced western gravy. It’s great winter food, easy to eat, comforting and warm.
For a bit of variety I ordered the agedashi tofu, lightly fried tofu which is crispy on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside. Served with sweet sauce and mayonnaise on top, liberally sprinkled with dried bonito shavings, I like this dish for the texture more than anything else. While I felt the skin could have been a little crisper the serve was massive, easily the biggest I have seen.
Nothing spectacular but a good honest place, with both quality and price slightly higher than most of its contemporaries. Staff were friendly, helpful and polite, and other than a wonky table (partially rectified by a handful of paper napkins) it was a nice enough place to eat.
Food – 7.5
Ambience – 7
Service – 7
Price – 7
466 Swanston Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9347 2656