The Age, Good Food
Simone Egger and Nina Rosseau, 12 March, 2013
Hottest cheap eats trends for 2013
WHEN DID WE ALL BECOME SO particular? For some time, we've hungered for truly authentic food, but that preference is now honed to specific regions. Where once we were satisfied with ''Italian'' as a qualifier, we now want to know from where in Italy: Bologna or Abruzzo? We want to know that it's in the Oaxaca style of Mexican or that it's an Argentinian barbecue.
A growing number of places are serving one dish to meet our taste for specialisation: places such as Wonderbao's steamed Chinese buns, Phat Brats' hot dogs and Huxtaburger. We want simple dishes done brilliantly and with premium, organic, biodynamic ingredients. And while we want our food to be honest, we also want it to be fun. ''Junk'' food and street food rule, and if it's both of those things, has its origins in the US and is served from a mobile truck, all the better.
Our under-$30 eateries are reimagining their regional expertise. They're adding a creative spin to authentic overseas influences and producing awesome fusions. Horn Please is based on the dhaba - a street-side, truck-stop restaurant in India. In essence it's Indian street food, but here vindaloo is made with free-range pork from Gippsland, and butter chicken is made with Bannockburn free-range chook.
Overall we've become less squeamish with our food, too. More of us have gnawed at a chicken's foot, tried pig's ear and gleefully ordered blood pudding with our brekkie eggs. And we've liked them. A lot.
Melbourne eateries that deliver a good meal for under $30 are sparking with resourcefulness and creativity. Here are 10 cheap eats that put the bite on 2013's trends.
1. Roti canai
It takes at least six months' training and a lot of dough to master making roti, but it typically takes 10 minutes tops before this feather-light, folded flatbread lands at your table. At Mamak (city), the roti chefs (usually two flinging and two grilling at a time) have the added pressure of an audience - their stainless-steel benches against the front window and the queue waiting for some roti canai. It's Malaysia's national dish, eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and often bought from a street cart. At Mamak, roti canai come with two dipping curries: a tangy tomato-fish curry and a lentil dhal, with sambal (spicy shrimp paste) on the side.
2. Something on the side
The quality and creativity going into some side dishes has made stars of sides. At breakfast: half an avocado with linseed-flecked wafer, half a lemon and a bunch of flat-leaf might accompany eggs. Or smoked tomato, fresh heirloom tomato, organic quark and basil. Excepting the portion sizes, everything on Small Victories' (Carlton North) carefully curated, seasonally adjusted sides list is so much more than just a side dish. For lunch and dinner, Rockwell & Sons' (Collingwood) sides from the south, such as Hushpuppies (deep-fried cornmeal dumplings), hickory-smoked onion rings, and mac and cheese, are at the centre of many a meal.
3. 'Proper' pizza
Pizza was hot a decade ago, right? Still hot? Damn straight. Only now we're distinguishing between the vast majority of thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizzas (wood-fired, made with ''OO'' flour and minimal yeast, fermented for 24-36 hours) and Sicilian-style, with thicker bases. Whatever the style, you can expect quality toppings, such as Berkshire pork sausage pieces, melted dabs of fior di latte, porcini mushrooms, parmesan and parsley (Non Solo Pasta, Docklands). Or asiago with enoki and oyster mushrooms; breakfast pizzas with egg and spinach; and Belgian chocolate calzoncino for dessert (Kaprica, Carlton). And classic combos, such as capricciosa using smoked ham, artichokes and Ligurian olives (The Way to San Jose, McKinnon).
4. Superfood salads
Some ingredients are bestowed superfood status for their high nutrition-per-kilojoule content. They often also come with a long history loaded with medicinal and healing worship. They're usually in a whole, unprocessed, raw state and positively beaming vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Some clever cafes are combining a number of superfoods and creating power-packed superfood dishes. Silo (city) does egg yolk with raw seeds and leeks, and a salad called 4 Grains, brimming with farro, quinoa, green lentils, foraged dune spinach, avocado and beetroot. Monk Bodhi Dharma (Balaclava) has a Bhutan salad that mixes goji berries, chia, hemp and sesame seeds, cashews, apple, beetroot, cucumber and quinoa with mixed lettuce. Kapowee!
5. Burgers of distinction
Brioche buns, wagyu patties, beetroot relish, slices of gruyere, smoked bacon, caramelised onion - these are the makings of today's ''classic'' burger, the top-quality ingredients responsible for bringing respectability, panache even, to the dish. But beyond classy classics, there are neat variations if you read between the buns. Bar Paradiso (Fitzroy) offers fried chickpea fritters and pressed pork cheek. In Fitzroy North, the Tramway Hotel's burger bar has a portobello mushroom and thyme patty burger with ''facon'', and a trevally, dill and caper patty burger with lime yoghurt and gherkin. At Jus Burgers (South Yarra), the roo and green-chilli jam burger is bonza, ahem, delightful.
6. Tacos, sopes and pupusas
You might have heard of these tasty little things called tacos. The South American street-food explosion started with Mexican, then reverberated out to other specialities. Radio Mexico (St Kilda) turns out jaunty soft-shell tortilla tacos and tostaditas (crisp, two-bite tortillas) in festive margarita-fuelled fashion. Mexican taqueria Los Hermanos (Brunswick) specialises in tacos and sopes (chunky corn discs), maybe topped with chipotle chicken. Los Latinos (Ascot Vale and Maidstone), a puperseria and Latin American cafe, offers a range of dishes, including thick house-made tacos and pupusas - El Salvadorean ''pancakes'' made with maize flour and stuffed with cheese.
7. Fried chicken
Melbourne's fried chicken is the ringleader of the ''junk food'' trend. Our fried-chicken frenzy partly comes under the star-spangled banner of our love for American food. The B.East (Brunswick) and Builders Arms(Fitzroy) bar menu are just a few places to find buttermilk-brined chicken. But you'll also find a fix at Japanese joints such as Ajitoya (Seddon), whose karaage (fried chicken) has a potato starch coating for crunch and a soy, ginger and garlic moistness in the meat. And Gami (city) is the go-to for KFC - Korean fried chicken, which comes with a choice of sauce, with cabbage and, often, a jug of house beer.
8. Eastern-flavoured sweets
Flavours from the East are adding a fresh dimension to traditionally European desserts. Purple Peanuts(city) is building an impressive range of Japanese-French sweets and chocolates. It uses premium green tea in its green-tea brownies and green-tea creme caramel, and real yuzu (citrus) in its yuzu cheesecake and yuzu chocolate. LuxBite (South Yarra) makes macarons flavoured with pandan, green-tea pistachio, bamboo oolong tea, and lemon, ginger and pineapple. Nama Nama (city) changes its desserts with the seasons, but could include a Japanese tiramisu with umeshu-soaked sponge and mascarpone dusted with hougi-cha (green-tea powder), or a sundae with macha cream, rice puffs and strawberry Pocky sticks.
9. Hot, hot - as in spicy
No longer satisfied with a little token warmth from our chilli, we want the real deal, such as the singeing Sichuan heat of Shanghai Street's (city) spicy fishball clay-pot soup - it stays hot even after it's gone cold. Thai cafe Middle Fish (Carlton North) has a super-spicy pork-rib curry, a traditional southern Thai dish that's not mellowed with coconut milk but charged with chilli, lemongrass, garlic, pepper and turmeric. Indian restaurant Aashirwad (Beaumaris) puts a ''very hot'' qualifier against its fiery vindaloo, available in pork, prawn, fish, veg and beef.
There's magic to meat that's been licked by fire and shrouded in smoke, or coal-cooked to seal in juices. Lebanese cafe Bayte (Collingwood) offers its pomegranate-glazed chicken skewers served with barbecue potato. Japanese sumiyaki bar Maedaya (Richmond) charcoal-grills (no flame) skewers of eel, chicken and shiitake, with sake-matching an option. Senor BBQ (Balaclava) serves cuts typically found on the street carts in Argentina, such as beef brisket, or a mixed grill of chorizo, chicken wings and beef ribs with a side of chimichurri.
the (melbourne) magazine
Larissa Dubecki, 25 January, 2013
How do like your roti? There are plenty of versions to choose from now that Mamak's in town.
Some things in life are preordained: death, taxes and Sydney import Mamak being swamped since it opened in Melbourne. Crowds worthy of the latest iPad launch form orderly but impatient queues on Lonsdale Street for the bookings-free home of roti, where the flaky Malay staple is served in its many shape-shifting forms. For the past five years, Mamak has been once of those when-in Sydney things - a Harbour City site of pilgrimage since the first shop opened off the popularity of a Chinatown market stall courtesy of Malaysian trio Julian Lee, Alan Au and Clement Lee. They added a second Sydney site in 2010. Now Melbourne. Bless them.
There are some things worth waiting for - the pain of queuing shouldn't be too acute. Mamak is a quick turnover place, a cafeteria dressed in modern clothes where paper napkins are anorexic, water comes in plastic cups and glass tumblers go with any wine you've brought - it's BYO only. It's big (120 seats) and noisy and getting to your seat can involve becoming intimately acquainted with your neighbours as you squeeze onto banquettes and perhaps rearrange some furniture in the process.
For newcomers to Malaysian hawker food, Roti 101 tuition has been thoughtfully arranged starting with the queue, the front of which comes into alignment with chefs working frenetically on the other side of the window. It's edible performance art as they deftly make the oiled, multi-layered flatbread on a hot griddle, stretching the dough impossibly thin and folding and folding it on itself with quick-fire work on the metal spatulas before it puffs up on the grill. If that doesn't get the appetite revving, you have no business being here: give the seat to someone with priorities in better order.
Roti is a shoo-in to make the dais of the world's greatest breads. It's a meal unto itself as it arrives on a metal tray, all crisp on the outside and fluffy on the in. Try the original roti canna, a scrunched lotus flower of variegated tissue-thin petals for tearing off and dunking into ladle of fish curry gravy, another of lentils, or a thick dollop of a rust-red sambal that stirs olfactory memories of south-east Asia, all pungency with a fiery undertow.
How else do you like your roti? A menu that brings that line about the Eskimos' 34 words for snow offers six savoury versions, including the roti telur, coated inside with a thin layer of egg, roti planta, described as "rich, buttery", which might make you wonder how the hell that differentiates it from the other members of the roti family. Come dessert time it changes stripes easily, the biggest attention-grabber of the four options being the roti tissue. a sugar-crusted conical wonder that turns heads as it passes through the crowd.
There's other stuff to love, all of which arrives at breakneck speed from one of the fastest-working kitchens in Melbourne. Chicken curry is sweet and fragrant with cloves; fish curry fleshed out with okra and tomatoes answers the big flavours of Spanish mackerel with tamarind and chilli. Grilled beef satay carries the smoky char from the grill; the peanut sauce with the skewered meat has the right balance of sweet and salt, and there's the crunch of raw vegetables for dunking as well.
There's a palpable feeling of homesickness among a good portion of the crowd, Malaysian students who sip on glasses of tea tarik (frothy tea made with condensed milk) and whose sweet-centric palates embrace the cendol - luridly coloured noodles made from pandan leaves that grace a slurry of crushed ice flavoured with coconut milk and palm sugar. As off-putting as the colour is, the bright green worms aren't too bad at all - for anyone without the relevant childhood memories, they're a novelty rather a reason to return, but likeable. The only reason you need to return begins and ends with roti. Join the queue.
The crowd: Young, student-y and Asian.
Everybody's ordering: Roti canai.
Noise: A cafeteria babble.
Wine list: BYO for a cheap night out.
The verdict: HOT
The Age, Good Food
Dani Valent, 8 January, 2013
Quiet city, noisy eats
Address 366 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, 03 9670 3137
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
Melbourne is quiet, but some restaurants don't know how to take a holiday, and those of us who are town-bound in January are glad about that. The diners' part of the deal is to hit these restaurants hard to keep the wheels spinning. For a busy Malaysian hawker restaurant like Mamak, slowing down might feel like a space-time glitch and we don't want that to happen - rotis are at risk here, people!
The Mamak crew started making rotis (flatbread) at a Sydney market; they then spun their popularity into a restaurant in Sydney's Chinatown in 2007. In September, they brought their happening hawker style to Melbourne.
Mamak is a big, bustling no-bookings place that often has (fast-moving) queues. While you're waiting, watch a roti master stretching dough, splashing it with more oil than you should probably witness, folding it, grilling it, and fluffing it up with savage dexterity. Or watch them make the roti tisu, a crisp clown's hat of golden roti that's served with curry or ice-cream. It's mouth-watering theatre, especially when coupled with the wafts of shrimp paste, chilli and coconut rice that whack you in the face like a glass door.
It's OK if you're starving when you finally sit down because ordering is done via telepathy. Yes, you do tell a brisk but friendly server what you've chosen from the short menu of rotis, curries, rice and noodles, but it arrives on your table faster than you can imagine them delivering the order. The flavours are big and shouty; the napkins and bills small.
I love the rojak salad, a big, satisfying pile of shredded yam bean and cucumber, tossed with spicy peanut sauce and scattered with juicy prawn and coconut fritters, fried tofu and boiled egg. It's probably big enough for two so come with a crew so you can try more dishes.
The sambal udang - stir-fried tiger prawns - comes with a spicy sambal that's addictive at first hit. The mee goreng is a good rendition of a classic, with adequate wok heat and fresh bean-shoot crunch.
There's roti for dessert, but in summer, I like the cendol - green noodles, coconut milk and shaved ice. It's a race to eat it before it turns to sludge but Mamak isn't for lingering. Wait, eat, swoon, roll home.
7 January, 2013
Doubtless you’ve heard that Melbourne has inherited its own branch of Mamak – Sydney’s famed house of Malaysian roti breads, curries and epic queues.
In which case you’ll know this is where you need to come at lunch for a frosty iced tea and a nasi lemak – a blank canvas of coconut rice to which you adhere whole toasted peanuts, chilli-seed ridden sambal, cucumber, boiled egg and ikan bilis (tiny dried anchovies) till you’re adequately amused. But did you also know this easy-to-wipe-down, high-turnover cafeteria does late night supper?
Praise the heavens drinking fans, because Mamak offers the stuff beer dreams are made of.
Roti, if you’re not familiar, is a pan-fried flatbread with layers like sheets of translucent, buttery, tissue paper. They serve it here in all its forms – savoury, with pools of fragrant and fluid curry sauce, and an equally giving lentil mix for running the soft bread through; sweet, as a delicate towering sugar-coated cone with fresh banana slices and a melting blob of ice cream, or stuffed to the seams with minced pork, cabbage and egg (murtabak).
Use the plain flatbread as a pincer for plucking tender hunks of lamb from a kari kambing where it bobs about with thick cinnamon quills in its spicy liquor, or ditch the carbs and go for the chicken satay – a drinker's best friend being sweet, charred and smoky and served on a stick for easy application to ones face via piquant peanut sauce.
Add a mug of half-coffee, half-tea cham (crazy, but it works) and consider yourself sober.
The Age, Epicure
Nina Rousseau, 25 September, 2012
On the road to roti
ONE of the greatest things about hiring a Proton car on a trip to Malaysia - apart from hurtling down lebuhrayas (highways) at full pelt and overtaking vehicles on back roads by playing chicken in the secret ''middle lane'' - is being able to pull up at the roadside mamaks for made-to-order roti hot off the grill.
So I am super excited about the opening of Melbourne's Mamak - along with most of the local Malaysian population, with more than 100 diners piling into the big, rowdy dining hall on day one.
It all began when Malaysian lads Julian Lee, Alan Au and Clement Lee started a market stall in Chinatown, Sydney, selling roti canai and teh tarik (tea) every Friday. It was an instant hit. They followed up with a Chinatown restaurant in 2007, expanded to double the size a year later, and opened a Chatswood Mamak in 2010. At only five years old, it's already something of a Sydney institution.
The show is in the front window, where people press up against the glass to see cooks stretching sheer-thin roti, folding it, shaping it and watching it puff up on the grill. Roti comes 10 ways, the original a beautiful sculpture, almost like a rosette, crisp and soft in all the right places. It's served with lentil curry, a fishy gravy and a dollop of the fiery house-made sambal - delicious.
Mamak's fish curry is no namby-pamby affair, with a full-bodied, pungent curry gravy with fishy, tamarind notes that hit you in the back of the throat. Poke around and you'll find a meaty cutlet of Spanish mackerel and another belly section, plus chunky hunks of eggplant, tomato and okra.
Rojak salad is a high mound of yam bean and cucumber batons, topped with crunchy deep-fried coconut fritter and more fritters embedded with tiny school prawns to be crunched on whole. There's a boiled egg, too, and fried tofu, all of it slathered with a jammy peanut sauce.
Nasi lemak (a national staple) is authentically rendered - the rice cooked with coconut milk, the peanuts hot and pan-fried, the ikan bilis (dried anchovies) super crunchy, plus cucumber and half a hard-boiled egg. Adding a piece of deep-fried chicken, sambal prawns or curried meat is optional.
Dessert is cendol, teh tarik and sweet roti, such as a tall, sweet cone of tissue-thin sugar-crusted roti, with a total head-turning ''wow'' factor.
''Let's just meet at Mamak'' - it's that kind of place, a big 100-seater space with fast service, where you hook up for a quick, unfussy meal.
Expect to queue, but it's a transitory crowd, with a constantly rotating sitting, just like the open-all-hours mamaks in Malaysia.
On behalf of your southern devotees, now and to come, welcome to Melbourne, Mamak.
Where 366 Lonsdale Street, city, 9670 3137
Prices Roti and satay, $5.50-$16; mains, $14-$19; sweets, $6-$9.50
Cards Amex DC MC V eftpos
BYO ($2 a head)
Open Daily 11.30am-2.30pm and 5.30-10pm
SMH, Good Food
Sally Webb, 20 November, 2012
The quick and the fed
Address Shop P9, 1-5 Railway Street, Chatswood, 9411 4411
There are a few measures of success for a family restaurant meal: speedy service to satisfy small, hungry tummies fast, a bill that doesn’t break the bank and food good enough to make it worth the effort for parents, too. And if your visit ends up as news at school a few days later you’ve really hit the jackpot.
Mamak Chatswood ticks all the boxes. Tucked behind Chatswood station among characterless office buildings, Mamak is part of a self-styled Eat Street of which the local council is rather proud. To be honest, the street-side atmosphere is about as far from the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur as it gets, but once inside you don’t give a toss. The little sister of the Chinatown original (there’s a cousin in Melbourne, too) offers feisty fabulous Malaysian hawker-style food.
On our Sunday evening visit we snaffle the last empty table. Service is swift. Our waiter warns us that the satay might take 10 minutes. This turns out to be a good thing; other dishes arrive in a rush, and the table is barely big enough to cope. Rice is scattered, drinks are spilt. It’s chaotic, but fun.
Roti canai, one of Malaysia’s great gifts to the world, comes as a crunchy, flaky disc on a metal tray with curry gravy, spicy dahl and a fiery, jammy sambal. It’s there for a mere nanosecond before Lulu, 5, tears the folds apart and almost scoffs the lot. Luckily we’ve also ordered another roti, the rustic and comforting murtabak, where the flaky pastry encases spicy lamb, cabbage, eggs and onions.
Mamak’s not necessarily the best place for those who are chilli-averse, and eyeing the kids, our waiter steers us away from the hotter curries. I ask Archie, 7, to give me his verdict on the mee goreng, hokkien noodles wok-tossed with prawns, nuggets of fish cake and bean sprouts. On a scale of one to 10 for spiciness, he gives it a score of “1 million thousand hundred” but powers through regardless.
Only the kari sayur, a vegetable curry with lentils disappoints. The eggplant was still squeakily undercooked, and all the veg on the stiff side of al dente.
No complaints, though with the satay, when it arrives. Six elegant batons of lemongrass-scented chicken are smoky from the charcoal grill. The children polish them off in seconds. The accompanying peanut sauce is so delicious that we end up slathering it all over our steamed rice.
I’m not normally a fan of Asian desserts but Mamak does them well. Cendol is a huge hit for the kids, creamy coconut milk sweetened with gula Melaka, poured over shaved ice and studded with “GREEN WORMS!” For Archie and Lulu, the bright-emerald, jelly-like panda noodles take on a life of their own. The moment is recorded for posterity with an iPhone video, and news is sorted for school the next day.
We’re in and out in just more than half an hour. The bill’s $75, the food great. A successful night, all round.
Do ... Go early or late to avoid having to queue.
Don't ... Expect a leisurely meal. This is fast, furious and fun.
Dish ... Chicken satay with spicy peanut sauce. Order a dozen. And roti. More than one.
Vibe ... Not quite a Malaysian street market but with enough noise and atmosphere to drown out any tantrums or sibling spats.
Bottom Line ... Roti $5.50-$11.50, curries, stir-fries and noodles $8.50-$19, satay $9, desserts $6-$9.50. BYO $2 per person.
Emma Guthrie, 14 September, 2012
Make Mine Mamak
While the owners do not come from foodie backgrounds, their passion for Malaysian cuisine (each hail from a Malaysian background) has quickly garnered a cult following. They traded in their corporate suits for the hectic lifestyle of restaurateurs and they couldn’t be happier.
So what sets Mamak apart from the plethora of other Malaysian restaurants in town? Quite simply, they refuse to compromise on taste, and when they speak of ‘spicy, bold flavours’ and ‘letting the food speak for itself’, you can be sure that what you see is what you get.
What Mamak’s menu lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality, with special emphasis on the roti, satays and traditional street eats made to order. The sweet roti that Mamak has come to be known for will also be on the menu – think tall cones of crisp, sweet roti filled with banana and ice cream.
With wooden tables and granite floors offering a city streetscape feel, Mamak is the kind of place you can head to any night of the week for casual dining with a bunch of buddies and a bottle of booze.
The Weekend Australian
Simon Thomsen, July 28, 2012
State of the Nation: New South Wales
A STATE-by-state wrap on local dining scenes and restaurants that should definitely be on your must-do list.
AS we've said elsewhere in our Hot 50 coverage, our list is awarded on merit.
Yes, we crossed the nation - several times - to find Australia's hottest restaurants, but we never attempted to represent each state on a pro rata basis. The fact is, some states are hotter than others, dining-wise (we struggled in the Northern Territory, for example). There are many fine restaurants around the country that didn't make the main Hot 50 list. So here, we've compiled a state-by-state wrap on local dining scenes and restaurants that should definitely be on your must-do list.
* * *
NEW SOUTH WALES
DINING in NSW has been full of contradictions over the past 12 months. On the one hand, a few high-profile Sydney closures have provoked apocalyptic culinary visions: most dramatically, the collapse earlier this month of Becasse and Quarter Twenty One at Westfield Sydney, among other food outlets owned by chef Justin North and his wife Georgia. Preceding them were Berowra Waters Inn, Matthew Kemp's Montpellier Public House, and fine diner Bilson's. On the other hand, many more eagerly anticipated places, including Hot 50 listers Sixpenny, Neild Avenue and Apollo, stepped up to the dining plate.
Sydney remains the national capital of hot top-end dining, from Quay to Tetsuya's, and from a global perspective it's remarkably good value. But if we're going to compare internationally, you're better off flying to Paris for mid-range dining; the bistronomy movement - haute cooking in casual surrounds - that began in France is now here, but it costs so much more than the original. What looks like a cheap night out can easily end up the opposite, as Bronte's Three Blue Ducks shows. Perhaps as an offset, midweek BYO is making a comeback.
Meanwhile, there are pockets of regional excellence, from Biota Dining 90 minutes south of Sydney to the northern NSW stalwart No. 2 Oak Street, which is shining as the Urquhart siblings take on the legacy their parents began 17 years earlier.
Heading briefly over the state border to Canberra, dining is mostly conservative and familiar, either Asian, Italian or inoffensively contemporary. The Artisan is a joyous exception. And while wine lists are expansive, the exciting ACT wine region is often relegated to afterthought.
As for that old inter-city rivalry, the lines are getting increasingly blurred when Sydney chefs such as Neil Perry and Mark Best are hot in Melbourne, too. If a restaurant is good, who cares where you find it?
PILU AT FRESHWATER
Giovanni Pilu's restaurant, in a charming cottage overlooking the northern Sydney beach, is an homage to his island home, Sardinia. From the salumi to the signature roast suckling pig on the bone with farmhouse sausage to the impressive wine list, Sardinia is everywhere.
Must-eat: Sardinian pastry with ricotta, sultanas and honey
Sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce makes this art deco dining room in a Blue Mountains guesthouse sound like it's stuck in the '80s, but so does the bill: just $60 for seven remarkable courses on a share menu by David Nemeth. A small, boutique wine list that favours locals is just as sympathetically priced.
Must-eat: braised beef cheeks with celeriac puree
The kitchen's ideas sing at Colin Fassnidge's Surry Hills newbie. We love what he does at gastropub The Four in Hand, and here, while the formality is turned down a notch, along with prices and materials, none of the excitement is lost. Fun, affordable but grounded in really good cooking, this place should be in every city.
Must-eat: crumbed pig's ears
Five years after turning roti-making into a spectator sport, the popularity of this Malaysian joint shows no sign of waning. Mamak, in Sydney's Chinatown and Chatswood, is fast food at its best: loud, quick and cheap - even if the tables are too small and you'll drink BYO from a tumbler.
Must-eat: roti tisu with ice cream
Luigi Esposito's joyously busy wood-fired pizzeria in Sydney's Lane Cove is forza Italia at its best. Most of the tables are on the footpath, and it bristles with boisterous Italian charm as diners share polenta chips drizzled with gorgonzola. An all-Italian wine list where wines by the glass are less than $10 only adds to the appeal.
Must-eat: pastiera napoletana
SMH Everyday Eats 2012
Heed the call of just-rolled roti, teeny satay sticks with jammy peanut sauce or a tangle of soy-stained mee goreng tossed with eggs, prawns and fishcake slices. You won't be alone: they queue at the city outlet as they do as this outpost near Chatswood station. But the lines move as fast as the roti-whirlers in the window and soon you're enjoying a spiced flatbread-led feast. Cinnamon-spiced kari kambing (lamb curry) balances delicately with shrimp-pungent belacan beans. Dessert roti drip with sweet coconut jam (kaya) or come as a giant, fine-layered cone (tisu roti) with ice-cream.
SMH Good Food Guide 2012
Terry Durack & Joanna Savill
Malaysian-food addicts have never had a problem getting their laksa or satay fixes in this town, but no one had really captured the magic of roti until Mamak came along. The hungry hordes flock to the bustling Chinatown original for the crispy, flaky flatbread, and luckily you can watch it being made through the front window as you queue for a table. (Trust us, you'll be queueing for a table). Whether you have the savoury version with the curry gravy or the sweet version with bananas, coconut or condensed milk prepare to become addicted. But man and woman cannot live by roti alone. Satay arrives in authentic bite-sized chunks, charcoal-grilled, and served with a gutsy peanut sauce, while flash-fried mee goreng delivers true, smoky, street flavours. And if noodles don't tickle your tastebuds, crunch into the signature fried chicken and spicy sambal kangkong with steamed rice, before cooling down with a colourful mountain of ice kacang - or a delicate, sugar-laced cone of papery roti tissue.
SMH Good Food Guide 2011
Terry Durack & Joanna Savill
The best thing about having to wait in line outside this funked-up Malaysian diner is that you can watch the chefs in the open kitchen twirl their pale white roti dough in the air then slap it on the fiercely hot griddle until it is flaky and golden. OK, so it’s the only good thing. We hate the queue. But luckily it moves fast – and you find out why as soon as it’s your turn to grab a table. This is no-fuss, high-speed, wipe-clean Malaysian. Orders are whipped away, noodles, curries, sambals and crushed-ice desserts come fast and furious, and lingering is not encouraged. A dozen sticks of chicken satay come hot off the (real charcoal) grill with an overly sweet but delicious nutty sauce. Crusty, spicy ayam goreng (fried chicken) is the big order, and kari ikan – great chunks of mackerel and eggplant in a smoothly balanced curry sauce – is a highlight, especially with that fabulous roti on the side.
The Age Good Food Guide 2011
Interstate – Sydney
There are no bookings; there’s always a queue; the decor is clean, bright and modern; and you have to bring your own booze. That all adds up to a small price to pay for sensational Malaysian mackerel curry, flaky made-on-the-spot roti bread, fried chicken and sizzling satays.
SMH Good Food Guide 2010
Simon Thomsen & Joanna Savill
The Malaysian canteen of choice for roti addicts – they make them in the window – is hardly a secret. Just spot the lines outside. But crunchy, flaky, more-ish roti (eat them while hot for maximum effect) are perfect with their accompanying curry gravies and sambal or with chicken or lamb in spiced sauce. Roti even come as dessert. Have an iced dessert drink on the side, Malaysian style.
The Sunday Telegraph, Food(i)
Elizabeth Meryment, November 21, 2010
An adventure for no-frills seekers
1-5 Railway St, Chatswood
Phone: 9411 4411
Service: No frills
I was at a party recently, listening to a naysayer whine on about the cost of mains at a certain fashionable restaurant. On he went about how a few slices of meat, albeit beautifully cooked, did not warrant a price tag of $30. The wonderful restaurant design, the wine list, the service, the buzz all meant nothing in comparison to that hefty fee.
It's a point of view I think many diners share, and it partly explains why low-cost ethnic eateries such as the fabulous, if utterly no-frills, Mamak Malaysian restaurant are perpetually packed.
Of course, it helps that Mamak serves really good, interesting food. But the fact that it's so cheap it's almost ludicrous surely isn't hurting its intense popularity, either.
Mamak originally opened in Haymarket in 2007 and rapidly developed a reputation for outstanding roti, a sort of fried flatbread. It's been a nightmare to get into ever since, with customers routinely forming long lines to get through the doors.
Thankfully, the owners have opened this new spin-off in Chatswood's freshly minted "Eat Street", a strip of eateries perched above the local train and bus hub.
Incidentally, Eat Street is an interesting idea. Clustering together a Bavarian Bier Cafe, a Thai canteen, an organic cafe, a Japanese izakaya, a mod-Oz restaurant and a Beijing-style diner called Crazy Wings, it's worth a visit.
But back to Mamak. Unlike its Haymarket sister, this Mamak occupies quite a large space that leaves it arguably devoid of some of the original's happening atmosphere.
Not that it's not busy. In fact, even on midweek nights, long lines stretch out the door. Luckily, the lines move quickly and there's the added bonus of being able to watch, through a large plate-glass window, a chef sweat over the preparation of the roti in the nearby kitchen.
Oh, the roti. Roti, if you're not familiar with it, is an Indian-style bread, made from highly stretched unyeasted wheat, that's crisped up on a grill. To Western palates, it might be something like a cross between puff pastry and naan. At Mamak it's delicious: light, puffy, soft in the centre and crisp on the outside.
It's clearly the star of the show here, and there are 10 different roti variations on offer, although it's just as good to start with roti canai, described as "the original roti" ($5).
The large pile of bread arrives with two Indian-influenced dips for dipping, one basically a red lentil dahl, the other a spicy sambal curry fragrant with mustard seeds, ginger, turmeric and garlic. Both are great.
Satay is also huge at Mamak, while the rest of the menu comprises familiar rice and noodle dishes such as mee goring or sambal udang.
The latter, a dish of stir-fried prawns in a sambal sauce ($18), is the menu's most expensive dish, although you could hardly blanch at paying $18 for nine full-sized king prawns in a fiery chilli and anchovy paste-rich sauce.
Nasi lemak ($7.50), meanwhile, is another favourite Malay dish, comprising a mound of coconut rice accompanied by small piles of peanuts, dried anchovies, sambal, chunks of cucumber and a hard-boiled egg. Add $3 for a piece of fried chicken with a slight chilli kick and you get a more than satisfying meal.
The service is at times haphazard and joyless. Dishes arrive at odd times and drinks are clunked down on the table thoughtlessly. And speaking of drinks, wow - check them out. The adventurous might like to try cham ($3.50), which is described as: "half tea, half coffee".
Unarguably the best thing about Mamak is the value. Our bill for two, for a hearty dinner with four non-alcoholic drinks (it's BYO) is $50.
That's a bargain deluxe. Mamak certainly isn't fine dining. It almost isn't even dining. It's an eating house where the food is good, fast and fun.
No wonder people love it.
All meals are paid for and visits are unannounced
The Sydney Morning Herald, Good Living
Lissa Christopher, September 7, 2010
Learn to toe the line
At 7.05 on a cold, wet weeknight - the sort of night that screams couch! slippers! - 47 people are waiting outside on Goulburn Street, Haymarket for a table at Mamak. They seem quite cheerful about it though, even those at the queue's tail end. They chat, laugh, poke their iPhones and peer through the window at the chefs working the dewy, supple roti dough.
Clearly the patient crowd doesn't begrudge the wait. Not enough to walk away, anyway.
Nicole Coote, manager at Café Soprain Waterloo, where queues are also a daily event, says keeping customers updated about the likely length of their wait is essential at a no-reservations eatery.
"You have to keeping coming back and reassuring people in the queue," Coote says. "You can't just abandon them."
The co-owner of Mamak, Clement Lee, concurs. "We go out to customers and tell them roughly how long the wait is. Once they get a bit of a reassurance from us, then they are happier to queue. Plus they have the entertainment of our roti chefs [who work in the front window]. It's like a show."
Coote says most of her waiting customers are well-behaved though some "have their moments", particularly if they're new and thus unused to the system.
"Sometimes people will come back to me and exaggerate how long they've been waiting [Coote writes it down alongside their name] ... but I think when people get impatient, it's often only because they're hungry. I never take it personally."
The dishes at Sopra are seasonal and only a limited number of each one is prepared for each sitting, which can make those who know the delights of the menu particularly keen to get in before their favourites go.
"I've had grown men get tears in their eyes about the meatballs," Coote says.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Surry Hills, during a relatively quiet period, there are only about 10 people queuing outside the Bourke Street Bakery.
A hasty poll reveals they're all regulars and no one is particularly troubled about the wait.
"It depends what you're queuing for," says one. Standing in a line at Medicare, we agree, is nowhere near as rewarding as waiting to buy a lamb and harissa sausage roll.
"This is nothing. Have you seen the queue at that patisserie in Balmain?" says the man approaching pole position. (He's referring to Adriano Zumbo Patisserie, whose MasterChef involvement has inspired a frenzy of custom.)
"This is the best bread in Sydney and I don't mind queuing for it at all," says a woman towards the back of the queue.
"It gives me time and I've got lots of things to think about."
The bakery's owner, Paul Allam, is quick to point out that his Surry Hills outlet is so tiny that "three customers means that there's a queue out the door".
Nonetheless, he has seen the line "reach the tree at the bus stop on Devonshire Street, about 15 metres I'd say ... though people, dogs and bikes make it seem longer. Our queue is pretty social. I wouldn't say that it's a queue to be seen in but it's definitely a queue of locals who chat among themselves."
Allam estimates his Surry Hills branch serves nearly 1000 people on a Saturday, when there are eight staff behind the counter. Sometimes, in a lull, "there can be more people serving behind the counter than there are in the queue," he says.
Sarah Doyle, a host at tapas specialist Bodega, also in Surry Hills, says there's usually a queue out the front of the restaurant when it opens at 6pm on a Saturday and it is often substantial enough to fill the entire 70-seat restaurant.
Once Bodega is full, however, she doesn't let people waiting for a table queue outside. She takes phone numbers and sends people off to surrounding bars.
"I think it sets up a really bad atmosphere for the people inside because you just have people glaring at you through the window. And our average dine-time is an hour-and-a-half."
Doyle says her clientele, too, is usually well behaved.
"People usually organise themselves into a neat queue, so we don't have to go out there and ask them. They will get angry if someone tries to push in but that doesn't happen very often."
For the owners of establishments that attract queues, they're great things - up to a point, indicators of a thriving business.
"We are quite happy with a short queue," Mamak's Clement Lee says. "A queue attracts a queue. It's sort of like mini publicity for us every night."
Travel + Leisure
Anya Von Bremzen, July 23, 2010
The Foodie 100
Ever wish you could have an expert critic on speed dial to tell you where to eat, wherever you are? We enlisted the peripatetic ANYA VON BREMZEN to scope out the essential stops in 10 food capitals. With insider recommendations from local chefs, restauranteurs, and other food obsessives, this list is one you’ll want to save.
Locals book weeks ahead at Kazbah on Darling (379 Darling St.; 61-2/9555-7067; breakfast for two $36), in Balmain, where days start on an exotic note with Zahi Azzi’s eye-opening breakfast tagines and sweet couscous with rhubarb and cardamom milk. Another reason to come to Balmain: the deliciously outré confections (rice pudding eclairs; Negroni macaroons) from Sydney’s flamboyant young pastry provovateur Adriano Zumbo (296 Darling St.; 61-2/9810-7318; pastries for two $8) at his namesake patisserie. For lunch, the city’s fooderati favour the basement space that houses Neil Perry’s attention-worthy Spice Temple (10 Bligh St.; 61-2/8078-1888; lunch for two $58). Happiness here means crunchy salt-flecked, cumin-laced lamb pancakes followed by stir-fried quail with silky steamed egg custard from a menu that showcases the tongue-tingling cusine of Hunan, Sichuan, and Xinjiang, among other provinces. Yes, but what if your mood is Malaysian? Then join the queue of ravenous regulars in front of Mamak (15 Goulburn St.; 61-2/9211-1668; lunch for two $45), home of intricate curries, fierce sambals, and epically flavorful roti canai, a crisp-edged, flaky flatbread that transports you straight to Kuala Lumpur. Pre-dinner, join the New Cocktailians at Eau de Vie (229 Darlinghurst Rd.; 61-2/9357-2470; cocktails for two $29), recently launched but already a legend for its speakeasy vibe, vintage bar paraphernalia, and killer Dark & Stormies (spiced rum and ginger beer). For dinner you can tuck into a sublime Queensland spanner crab and buckwheat risotto served under a frothy bubble of pink shellfish essence at Sepia (Darling Park, 201 Sussex St.; 61-2/9283-1990; dinner for two $144), the confident new venture from Tetsuya’s longtime chef de cuisine Martin Benn. Or for an infinitely more laid-back scene with equally razor-sharp cooking, head to Bodega (216 Commonwealth St.; 61-2/9212-7766; dinner for two $70), where three partners-one of Polish-Argentine origin, one Italian-born, the other Irish-Cypriot – spin out Spanish tapas with a South American twist and an Australian accent. Welcome to 21st-century Sydney.
Scott Bolles, May 2, 2010
If you don’t like queues, don’t go to Mamak
If you don’t like queues don’t go to Mamak. It is a good-natured, well-behaved pavement queue - quieter than seniors sweating on Shirley Bassey tickets - but any more bodies and you'd expect some police presence. Thankfully, once you're in the door and seated, the food arrives quickly.
Sydney has seen its fair share of Chinese-Malaysian. We love its nonya cooking, with its emphasis on aromatic spices. But Malaysia is a country with several distinct ethnic cuisines and a big part of the success of Mamak is its focus on hawker-style street food.
A glistening upmarket dining room would only betray the core of Mamak's brief, so we're not fazed when there isn't one. And while it has had the design dust sprinkled over it, at its heart Mamak remains a slick, smart canteen for anyone with an itch for the street flavours of Kuala Lumpur.
You can tell Mamak means business simply by looking at the food. There's none of those over-bulked satay sticks of the standard Sydney variety - this place serves the slimmed-down authentic Malaysian model in chicken and beef ($8 for six).
Rookies might find nasi lemak ($7.50) an overly simple introduction to Malaysian food: fragrant coconut rice served with sambal and an assortment of peanuts, cucumber, anchovies and hard-boiled egg. But Malaysians lap it up like Sunday-night dinner.
The shredded yam bean and cucumber salad ($12) doesn't take me somewhere I'm particularly keen to revisit; the stir-fried tiger prawns with the kick of sambal ($18) are more my ticket. But what I'm really here for is to relive the comfort of the mild chicken curry with potatoes ($15), mopped up with arguably Sydney's best roti. It transports you to another place. And all without the airfare.
In a few words: Authentic Malaysian food in Chinatown.
Come here for: The flaky roti.
The Weekend Australian, The Weekend Australian Magazine
John Lethlean and Necia Wilden, April 17, 2009
Great Australian Bites
Wasn’t it Paul Keating who insisted we were, in fact, part of Asia, not Europe? Nothing new, of course, to a generation of curious Australian diners for whom the flavours of Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam had provided cut-price, passport-free gastro-tourism for years. Lemongrass, chilli, shrimp paste and garlic seemed a natural fit with the Aussie palate, especially when it came packaged in such discounted, no-frills inner-city wrapping. And Mamak, on the fringe of Sydney’s Chinatown, provides a direct link to Australia’s first wave of South-East Asian laksa and stir-fry canteens. Noisy, cramped and unfashionably utilitarian, there is, however, a very good reason you will need to queue most evenings in Goulburn Street for a table: delicious, powerfully authentic Malaysian food at prices that must surely embarrass Sydney’s stellar diners. The wait is worth it and besides, when was the last time you watched a guy making roti while you stood in line for a table? Suffer it. Dream about the tamarind-tangy, deeply spiced fish curry with tomato, okra and eggplant. Get your palate ready for a plate of verdantly green water spinach fried with fresh chilli and scoops of garlicky shrimp paste. And just try to imagine a plate of light, flaky, crunchy roti light years ahead of the mass-produced commercial muck most Malaysian restaurants use. Mamak is the quintessential Great Australian Ethnic Café.
The Sydney Morning Herald, the (sydney) magazine
Simon Thomsen, October 6, 2008
10 best new restaurants
Yes, storm clouds might be gathering over the restaurant industry as everyone worries about whether there's enough money left over to dine out, but it's still full steam ahead for Sydney's most creative chefs, who continue to come up with imaginative ways to convince diners to open their wallets.
The past year's delicious panoply of newcomers includes high fliers such as Universal and Berowra Waters Inn, which rank among the finest, as well as more modest and great-value places such as Mamak, which are equally enjoyable.
And while everything from butler to rice has doubled in price, fierce competition for dining dollars means restaurants have borne most of the costs so far, ensuring that meals remain good value.
The 2009 edition of The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide features 51 new listings, in a sure sign that the city's dining scene continues to thrive. Here are 10 that caught the attention of the (sydney) magazine.
Yes, Sydney is world class when it comes to how much money you can spend on a night out, but the bargains are there if you know where to look - in this case, a bustling, no-fuss take on fast food, Malaysian style. No wonder there's a nightly queue being entertained by roti cooks at the front window making wonderful, crisp and flaky flatbreads. They knead, stretch, roll and grill with such mesmerising speed and precision you know exactly what to order first.
This is authentic, street-hawker food, full of bold, spicy flavours, arriving faster than Michael Schumacher for very few ringgit. A basic, irresistible roti canai comes with spicy dhal, and a dollop of jammy sambal. Waif-like chicken satays are perfumed with lemongrass and charcoal smoke. Ayam goreng is deep-fried chicken so perfect the Colonel would weep with envy. A soft lamb curry redolent with clove is slightly sweet, while stir-fried water spinach with chilli and shrimp paste is a funky mix of heat, sweetness and gentle bitterness.
There's a golden cone of crisp, buttery and sweet roti tisu for dessert, or the sugar rush of jellies with condensed milk over shaved ice. All that's missing is a drive-through.
15 Goulburn Street, Haymarket. Phone: 9211 1668.
The Daily Telegraph, Weekend
Michael Hampton, August 9, 2008
Taste of the real deal
As the saying goes: “Let’s start at the very beginning, that’s a very good place to start” – but to describe Mamak, I’d like to start at the end, with dessert. Although when I tell you dessert is served with curry you might think I’m talking about the beginning of the meal. Confused?
Perhaps I'd better start at the beginning – although anywhere on Mamak’s menu would be a good place to start.
Mamak is a Malaysian market or street-style eating house – authentic and delicious – on the edge of Chinatown. It opens at 5.30pm and on a cold and rainy Tuesday at 5.20pm we still have to join a queue waiting for the doors to open.
It specialises in roti. Unlike the Indian version, Malaysian roti is more like filo pastry, but without the butter, fried on a griddle at the front of the restaurant.
There are 10 roti on the menu – six savoury and four sweet – and here’s where I get back to dessert.
While the sweet rotis can be served with ice cream, traditionally they are served with curry – spicy, savoury curries and a sambal. Surprisingly, their fieriness works wonderfully with the sweet roti bom ($6.50), which is crisp on the outside with an elastic interior drenched in sugar syrup. I’d go back time and again for just this taste sensation.
It was an intriguing highlight to an already enjoyable meal, starting with murtabak ($9.50) – a roti stuffed with a flavoursome but not overpowering combination of minced lamb, egg and curry leaves, served with the same curry dips and sambal as the bom.
Ayam goreng (four for $10) is marinated chicken pieces deftly coated with bold spices and deep fried until the chicken is succulent and the coating crisp and oil-free.
Rojak (below, $10) is a Malay term, roughly translating to mixture. Here, a salad includes an eclectic mix of prawn tuilles, coconut fritters, fresh shredded yam bean and cucumber and a hard-boiled egg topped with a rich, fragrant peanut sauce – a moreish dish we continue pick at throughout the meal.
Nasi lemak ($6.50) – a Kuala Lumpur staple – is true to its roots with coconut rice surrounded by sambal, whole peanuts, hard-boiled egg, cucumber and fabulous crispy-fried anchovies. It seems incongruous but works marvellously.
Beef satay (also chicken, far left, $8 for six, $14 per dozen) can be a bore but not at Mamak where succulent, fragrant strips of beef, smoky from the charcoal grill, are served simply with spanish onion and cucumber with a nutty, spiced sambal-based dipping sauce.
Mamak is not licensed (BYO $2 per person) but Malay teas and coffees ($3.50) – hot and cold – are addictive and complement the food beautifully.
Mamak is a fast-paced place and the food arrives in no particular order but is always pleasantly delivered. It’s a bit cramped, a bit chaotic but that’s how it should be.
All they need is someone selling trinkets at the door.
- Food: Malaysian roti and satay
- Drink: BYO
- Dress: Casual
- Expect to pay: $20
- Value for money: 4/5
- Overall rating: 4/5
The Sunday Telegraph, Insider
Clair Weaver, June 7, 2008
It’s spiced up city eating
First the bad news: you may have to queue to get into this narrow little eatery on the edge of Sydney's colourful Chinatown.
But the good news is there's a feast of live entertainment in the front window, where masterful roti cooks twirl dough into a translucent skin before dropping it into a bubbling mass on a large hotplate.
We are lucky to secure a table on arrival shortly before 7pm, as the rock-bottom prices are matched by an egalitarian no-booking policy.
The interior is not flash and it's clear people are here for the exceptional food.
Seduced at first whiff, we order roti canai ($5) - a delightfully crisp, scrunched puffball of elastic dough with a flaky top.
Pulling strips of it off to mop up puddles of accompanying curry dips and spicy sambal is a deliciously tactile experience. We promptly order two more.
My well-travelled dining companion is deeply impressed by the kari ikan ($14) - big chunks of meaty whole fish, okra, eggplant and tomato swimming in a tangy red curry. Complete with bones and a strong chilli kick, this is truly "a curry to put hairs on your chest'', he declares.
Having taken a few mouthfuls myself, I pray this is merely a figure of speech.
A nasi lemak ($6.50) is an intriguing combination of coconut rice, peanuts, a pile of crispy dried miniature fish, hard-boiled egg and sambal. But this bizarre dish makes sense, with every ingredient combining to create perfectly balanced harmony.
To wash it down, he has a traditional kopi 'o' ais ($3.50) - a refreshing sweet black coffee served over ice in a half-pint glass mug.
My sambal udang ($16) is a satisfying plate of a dozen stir-fried tiger prawns spread with a thick chilli sauce, which leaves my mouth buzzing pleasantly.
A dessert of roti tisu ($7) - roti shaped into a wafer-thin cone with vanilla ice cream on the side - is fresh off the hotplate, sweet and highly addictive, as is the ais kacang ($5), a brightly coloured traditional Asian dessert of sweet red beans, grass jelly, rose syrup and sweetened milk on a bed of shaved ice.
Essentially high-quality and affordable street hawker food, Mamak began as a humble food stand at Bondi's Organic Market in December, 2006, before developing a cult following at the Chinatown Night Markets and then opening as a restaurant eight months ago.
Mamak is clearly well on its way to becoming a Sydney institution.
MAMAK 15 Goulburn St, Haymarket
Phone: 9211 1668
Food: Traditional Indian-Muslim food from Malaysia
Service: Quick and friendly
Why go: Best roti canai this side of the Indian Ocean
Pat Nourse, February 2008
Lazy Sunday afternoon
It’s all about the flavour here. It certainly isn’t about the décor. This is a long, skinny room –permanently perfumed with the scent of the hotplate – that’s not unattractive, but best described as functional (and “functional” is more than can be said of the tiny, translucent napkins). No, it’s all about the deep-down-and-dirty complexity of Malaysian hawker classics, rendered here at Mamak as well, if not better, than anywhere in Sydney. Pulling together many of the more appealing aspects of Chinese and Indian cuisine and throwing in a dash of Straits exoticism all its own, Malaysian food is utterly suited to picking and pondering, sharing, dipping and nibbling – all good things in a casual (and cheap) Sunday bite. Don’t miss the satay sticks – here saved from the usual mediocrity by merit of charcoal grilling – and the rotis, light and flaky fried flatbread, served with curry sauces for dipping, filled with egg, or even stuffed with coconut jam or fried crunchy and sprinkled with sugar for dessert.
Time Out Sydney
Myffy Rigby, January 30, 2008
Time Out Sydney Hot 50
If you haven’t eaten roti before (it’s a kind of Indian style flat bread made with clarified butter, flour and eggs popular in Malaysian cuisine), this is a good place to start. They also do a cracker chicken curry and some of the city’s tastiest satay. Make your way down to Chinatown crack snappity.
Time Out Sydney
Myffy Rigby, November 21, 2007
Time Out Sydney Hot 50
The roti is what it’s all about at this brand new Malaysian restaurant. You can have them sweet or savoury, thick buttery or thin. Or not all – they also do an exceptional nasi lemak with chicken curry, respectively. The satay sticks are great; order twelve and get a mix of chicken and beef.
The Sydney Morning Herald, Good Living
Simon Thomsen, November 6, 2007
The spicy aromas of Malaysia arrive at the table fast and furiously good.
This is my kind of fast food. Five minutes after ordering, we've run out of room on the small laminate table in this bustling, spice-laden nook of Malaysian street food. At Casey Stoner speeds, Mamak's kitchen has assembled lamb curry, chicken satays, mee goreng noodles and steamed rice. By the entrance, the diners queueing for a table are entertained by roti cooks who knead and stretch dough with artisan flair. They spread the flatbread thinly before folding it and tossing it on to the griddle, smothering it with oil.
The results are close to Sydney's finest. An entry-level roti canai ($5) is crisp-edged and flaky, yet soft and stretchy. After cooking it's quickly scrunched, then served on a silver platter with two curry dips, including a spicy dhal, plus a dollop of jammy sambal. It's unexpectedly rich and filling. The menu features five savoury and four sweet versions, plus murtabak ($8.50) filled with spicy chicken or lamb. I order a murtabak but what arrives seems to be the roti telur bawang ($6.50) with an omelet-like filling of egg and sweet red onion without a whiff of meat. It was appealing enough to allay complaints.
Mamak was a highlight of last summer's Chinatown Friday night food market but now it has a permanent home - a long, plain, skinny, yet already slightly scuffed red and white room with bench seating stretching down one wall. The waiters, clad in black T-shirts, are young and funky. It's crowded, loud, doesn't take bookings, is BYO (water glasses for wine) and the paper napkins, smaller than a Bondi bikini, are pretty useless. I love every minute of it.
This is Malay food that pulls no punches, ripe with the peninsula's melting pot of Indian, Chinese, Indonesian spicing.
Sometimes, it reeks of belacan, the fermented shrimp paste, at others, it's perfumed with coconut and lemongrass. And then there are the teas and coffees ($3): lush, sweet and spicy, made with condensed milk and designed to withstand the assertive flavours. They're an acquired but potentially addictive taste and the theatre of teh tarik (pulled tea) as it's "stretched" - poured between glass and cup to create froth - is a joy to observe.
Meanwhile, six chicken satays ($6) huddle together as waif-thin strips of meat beside a rubble of chunky raw red onion and cucumber. Their size makes them whimsically ephemeral. The taste is unbelievably authentic - slightly sweet with a perfume that's both lemongrass floral and charcoal smoky. The satay sauce is equally agile and attractive.
Mamak, Tamil for uncle, is also the name for the Kuala Lumpur stalls serving cheap, fast Indian-Muslim inspired dishes. Owner-chef triumvirate Julian Lee, Alan Au and Clement Lee capture an authentic spirit, both in the bustling atmosphere and what's on the plate. They did it the hard way, giving up corporate jobs in Sydney to head for Malaysia and learn how to cook the real deal.
Ayam goreng ($3 each, $10 for four) is deep-fried chicken so perfect the Colonel would cry tears of envy. Golden pieces of crisp-skinned leg and thigh are gently spicy, the marinated flesh bristling with flavour.
The two curries ($12) I try have vastly different personalities. Lamb curry, full of large just-soft-enough meat chunks has a slight sweetness, spurred on by the notes of clove. Fish curry, studded with oily Spanish mackerel, still on the bone, plus tomato, okra and eggplant, is pleasantly sour with tamarind and electrified by chilli.
I'm less impressed by sambal sotong ($14), since the stir-fried squid is an unappealing grey amid the marvellously complex chilli sambal. The thick slices, all finely scored to increase their tenderness, nonetheless seem weary and the texture is nondescript.
Kangkung belacan ($10) is a thrilling blend of nutty, stir-fried water spinach, chilli and shrimp paste, with heat, sweetness and gentle bitterness. It's funky, confronting and a little lascivious.
Malaysians lift the bar on sweetness when it comes to dessert. Ais kacang ($5), a lurid combination of red bean, minty grass jelly, sweetcorn, rose syrup and condensed milk, poured over a mound of shaved ice, is typical of the region but there's more class - and skill - in roti tisu ($7). Literally meaning tissue, the dough is spread thinner than a butterfly wing and as widely as pizza. It's sprinkled with sugar and lightly cooked then shaped into a giant cone. A scoop of commercial vanilla ice-cream is irrelevant beside the crisp sweetly buttery pastry, which glows translucently golden, finer than a single sheet of filo.
Mamak's not a place to linger. It's best to set a good example and let others have a turn, since you'll want to keep coming back. Despite ordering an excess of food, I was hard-pressed at each visit to spend more than $60 to feed two. The best things are life may not be free but you can do pretty well for only a few dollars more.
The Summary This authentic, Indian-influenced Malaysian street food is full of passionate flavours at low prices.
- Value: Fantastic.
- Owners/chefs: Julian Lee, Alan Au and Clement Lee.
- Service: Fast and groovy.
- Food: Malaysian.
- Wine: BYO ($2).
- Vegetarians: Enough, but check the ingredients if you're strict.
- Child friendly: A bit too challenging and crowded.
- Noise: Loud and rowdy.
- Wheelchair access: No.
- Score: 13/20