If this were the eighties…
You’d be making the same pilgrimage down Daly St, South Yarra on a Friday night. Only this time you’d have flair pants, a crazy shirt and some iteration of the Perm hairstyle. You would be heading to Warehouse nightclub where; a couple decades before my time, many a night would have been shared over a marsala and coke. Times have changed, however. For the better I might say. Now, George Calombaris’ food empire has expanded to something of an Italian-esque mezedes theme with his latest venture: Mamababa.
The name, as you might have guessed, blends Italo-Greco vernacular to inspire the sorts of feelings the cuisine implies. That is, homely style pasta-centric share plates reminiscent of mum and dad with a distinctly modern twist. The reality is that the design and functionality works effortlessly. My initial misconceptions were that the idea might be some deviation on a cheesy fusion idea of blending Mediterranean classics; it couldn’t be far from it. The menu takes a loosely segregated approach that allows punters to choose strictly Greek, Italian or a few select mashups on traditional favourites.
Walking in the decor is what strikes you initially; such a cool and collaborated approach to furnishings – culinary machines like slicers decorated next to masses of fresh pasta.
The classy decor also extends to the bar, where walls of liquor line to the ceiling (These were actually unopened bottles initially until wait-staff realised how much money was going into unobtainable product because they were too high!). The whole vibe is very classy without even the slightest whimper of pretentiousness. The service on the night was nothing short of faultless. Staff were very attentive, speedy (place was packed too) and always willing to help. Even when the table next door’s time was up for the next booking; rather than usher them out in Melbourne fashion they simply relocated them to an adjacent table and let them carry on drinking.
So we sat down to the initial antipasti; a duet of croquettes with crab and sweetcorn (Yes, I did actually try these) and arancini bolognese and mashed potato.
While these may not have been traditional Italian they were packed full of flavour and well worth a try – the perfect way to ease into the forthcoming pasta. With this we ordered our first bottle of the night; a Cren del Riccio Langhe Rosso 2010. This is a good, somewhat simple wine and its light-to-medium body and gentler tannin structure was a good match with the arancini.
Next followed another duet; this time pasta. I ignored the Greek offerings for the likes of Agnolotti with slow roasted pork, mortadella, artichoke, guanciale and date. This was paired with ravioli with truffle pecorino, duck ragu and asparagus.
I liked these. I mean who would possibly be daring enough to fill agnolitti with mortadella of all meats but it worked really well. Where I would not normally consider date to be any sort of match especially not in a pasta it helped marry the flavours together and was a fantastic and somewhat refreshing dish.
The ravioli though were my pick and dish of the night.
Wow. To hark back onto my original sentiments of wanting to evoke feelings of mum and dad’s cooking this couldn’t have hit home the point more. Funnily enough I ate my mothers own truffle pecorino agnolotti a couple of days later (unbeknown to her that I had eaten these here). I loved the way all the flavours amalgamated together and the richness of the duck complimented beautifully by the flavours of truffled pecorino. The only thing out of place here was the asparagus which I thought added no value to the dish overall.
With this we paired a Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria which went beautifully.
Finishing we off we went with a safe-bet Beef Tagliata. This came with the usual accompaniments of parmesan and roquette, but was overall the only disappointing dish of the night. The meat was quite bland and uninspiring and without being a bad dish was perhaps overshadowed from the jump-out flavours of the previous dishes.
The chips though came presented beautifully; in a miniature fryer and looked the part.
To finish off, a medley of deserts.
The Italian mess: A plate full of various flavours which was interesting and a little left-of-field.
Cinamon Bombolini with Nutella that you could centre a meal around. These were so delicious and the perfect release of endorphins on a cold Melbourne night.
Deciding that this wasn’t enough we thought we’d try the frozen tiramisu.
Possibly the most impeccably presented dessert I’ve tried. Such a cool way to finish the night with everyone getting their own deliciously packaged morsel of chocolate coated ice-cream. As a popsicle it was great; but as for being a Tiramisu aside from the cocoa I could not draw a single likeness to its namesake. Still, who lets such small details get in the way of an otherwise nice dessert. Although, if it was me Id freeze Marscapone around a coffee dipped savoiardi and dunk the whole thing in cocoa and try again. Could be onto a real winner.
Overall a fantastic night. Whilst perhaps you wouldn’t want to go here aiming to try Italian nor Greek in the truest sense of the word; if you’re after a cool setting with food that will guarantee to excite the senses and a chic environment thats fit for a wonderful night out: Make your next one at Mamababa.