Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mamak, Melbourne CBD by Big Fil

So what is Mamak? Well first of all it’s a style of food very common in Malaysia. As I understand it Mamak cafes are generally run by Tamil Muslims from Southern India. Typical meals might include nasi kandar, roti or noodle dishes, washed down with a glass or cup of teh tarik (pulled tea made using condensed milk). Often open 24 hours a day and open to the street, they're cheap and delicious but sometimes of questionable hygiene standards.

Mamak's also one of the most popular restaurants in Sydney, and has now opened a Melbourne Branch on Lonsdale Street. We've been keeping an eye on it for weeks, and by getting there just before noon on the first day it was open for lunch we managed to score one of the last free tables before the line started running down the street.

First thing immediately noticeable was the number of what I would assume were Malaysian or Singaporean diners sitting at the other tables. In some ways the opening seemed to be pretty low key. If there'd been anything about Mamak opening in the paper I missed it but the word had obviously got around. Second obvious thing, the cute and friendly staff who were so obviously trying very hard to please.

For a mamak place it certainly felt quite up market, more like a modern restaurant than a roadside diner. Lots of scenes from their Sydney restaurant scattered around the walls, including staff stretching the tea and throwing the roti around. With bare walls and floors the cafe has a lot of background noise, which made it hard on a couple of occasions to hear what our softly spoken waitress was saying.

What we were here for though was the food. First up were four glasses of tea tarik. Good start here, the tea sweet but with strong tea flavours and a proper frothy head on top.

First dish to arrive was our roti chanai. The roti here is of the crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, scrunched up version that I generally love. There was something about it though which didn’t quite resonate with me, not fluffy enough maybe, but Snooze loved it. What I did think were really good though were the curry dipping sauces and sambal served on the side, the sauces smooth and rich and the sambal with a kick from both the chilli and dried shrimp.

The beef satays were something I probably wouldn’t order again. The meat is tender and flavoursome, the sauce tasty and generous. The major issue is the amount of meat is so small. I know satays tend to be a lot smaller in Malaysia than here, but given you're paying Australian prices and not Malaysian they should be a bit larger.

Next up were the chicken and lamb murtabaks. Think roti filled with spiced meat, cabbage, egg and onion, fried on the grill and served with a curry sauce and/or daal on the side. I like murtabak, Snooze loves them, and with the teh tarik and the roti chanai these what probably what we were most looking forward to. Unfortunately though while the chicken one was delicious the lamb was surprisingly lacking in flavour, dominated a bit by the egg and cabbage with not much of the lamb coming through.

Finishing off with a couple of the dessert roti, the acclaimed dish of the day was the roti kaya. Kaya is a coconut based jam and the version here was boosted by the great pandan flavour coming through.

Disappointing though was the roti tissue, served with a scoup of ice cream on the side rather than the drizzle of condensed milk I'm more familiar with. I think both are authentic options for serving a sweet roti tissue but I have to say I much prefer it with the condensed milk.

It's really hard to know how I feel about this place, at least after just a single visit. Atmosphere wise it didn’t quite seem to come together, and staff were very friendly and helpful but it did feel a bit disorganised (that might be harsh though given it was their first lunch service). Everything was really nicely cooked with a few items like the roti kaya and the sambal and dipping sauces standouts, but a couple of things also disappointed like the lamb murtabak and the satay.

On the whole though I probably should've liked it more than I did. I guess the thing is I really like the cheap, rough around the edges feel of a real mamak cafe and this felt as though it'd been cleaned up just a bit too much for me. Maybe another case of potato/potatoe, where I was looking for something slightly different to what Mamak is trying to provide. It’s certainly good enough to return to for a second chance.

Food – 7.5
Atmosphere – 6.5
Service – 7
Price - 7

366 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9670 3137

Mamak on Urbanspoon


ming said...

Oh now this is exciting! It's disappointing to see that they were underwhelming though; maybe once they find their sea legs?

Tim Chuma said...

Might have to give it a few weeks, the restaurant across from Mamak in Sydney has "the Roti man" and "best roti in Sydney", yet there is still a line outside.

Don't really like Pappa Rich these days, Old Town Kopitiam Mamak had more heart even if it was a bit of a mess, open late also.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Mamak doesn't seem to be getting a lot of on-line love at the moment.

While it felt a little pricey for the serving sizes nothing was bad and a couple of the dishes were good so I am not sure why more people don't like it. I should probably give it a lunchtime passby to see what the crowds are like...


MoMo and Coco Dessert Correspondents said...

Kaya roti!!! Hmmmm! Pity about that tissue roti, we heard it was supposed to be their signature roti dish.

We heard about this place from a colleague who visited on the night of its soft launch last week, thanks for your thoughts on it too.

Catherine said...

I suppose since it is newly opened, I will give them a few weeks to get into the groove before a visit is made!

Anonymous said...

DISSAPOINTING! Obviously the Sydneysiders have lower standards. The roti tasted like paper, the nasi lemak was a let down, the fried chicken was not up to scratch and the murtabak was raw inside. The table next to us had left their roti tissue after a few bites. If they dont improve, the only line we see next time, would be flies!

Anonymous said...

Hmm, while based on our visit I thought soem things could have been better I think thats a bit harsh.


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