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Restaurant review: Lounge in style without spending your entire paycheck

By: Brooke Chenoweth

Mama San
46 Wyndham Street, Central | 2881 8901

Must-try dish: Slow-cooked crispy pork belly

From the minute I was greeted and ushered inside the cool and calm interior of Mama San, and presented with a cocktail menu, I was won over. Being ludicrously early, and therefore having to wait a while for my friends to arrive, I took the opportunity to sample the Coconut Mojito – as good as it sounds!

Because we were dining in a group, there was an opportunity to sample a number of dishes and drinks, and also to get a real feel for the atmosphere of the place. We ordered a selection of items from the regular dinner menu and vegetarian menu, and also a couple of specials from the birthday set. Mama San’s menu features Asian dishes, with influences from Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Cambodian and Vietnamese cuisines – and it makes for some really interesting and flavourful combinations.

As the only vegetarian in the group, I was thrilled to see a separate vege menu, and a creative one at that. The vegetarian betel leaves with pomelo, peanuts, coconut and lime was a deliciously light starter, though the carrot, green mango and coriander salad was unexpectedly spicy. I also tried the green curry with tofu, beans, corn apple and eggplant – very nice. Slow-cooked beetroot with garam masala and grated paneer proved popular, even amongst the meat-eaters.

Among my companions, the tuna betel leaves with lemongrass, green tomato, sambal matah and bumbu pasih might have been a challenge to pronounce but they were devoured with gusto, as was the scallop ceviche from the Raw Bar. While a starter of Peking duck and shrimp salad failed to make an impression, the slow-cooked crispy pork belly with green papaya, dried shrimp, apple, eggplant and black vinegar caramel was one of the night’s winners. Crispy whole snapper was also cooked beautifully, with wild ginger, turmeric, pineapple and tamarind giving it a lovely sweet and spicy kick.

Even though none of us needed dessert, we did feel we had to try the lemongrass panacotta, and it was really refreshing and light. I finished my meal with the black sticky rice with mango and coconut milk – a favourite – and I was not disappointed.

My dining companions were as impressed by the cocktails as I was, and the wine list got the nod from a particularly discerning oenophile.

The service at Mama San was fantastic, with genuinely friendly and enthusiastic wait staff really adding to our enjoyment of the evening. All around us there were friends catching up, couples on date nights, and others enjoying celebrations, making it clear that it’s a great venue, whatever the occasion.

This story first appeared in Expat Living’s August-September 2015 issue.