Saturday, 1 March 2014

Melbourne Series - Mamasita

There has been a restaurant that I've tried to get to a couple of times during visits to Melbourne and in fact, I had already tried unsuccessfully to get into it during my Melbourne food safari (see post here).  I've always had a problem with queuing at restaurants and on the whole object of the concept, which is why I've had trouble getting to Mamasita.  When it comes to queuing at restaurants, Mamasita has a unique reputation in foodie circles - it's just accepted that you will get along and spend time watching the back of someone else's head while waiting to get in (or if you are more industrious, make new friends).

After our failed attempt on Valentine's Day to queue and get in, we decided that we would try again the following day and get in for a Saturday lunch.  Mamasita opens from 12:30pm on a Saturday and to avoid queuing for a long time, we thought we would get there around 12pm and hopefully get towards the front of the queue.  No such luck, there were already about thirty people ahead of us in the queue and some of those were single people propping up the queue waiting for their friends to join.  Thinking that it would be 'now or never', we set in for a wait with the hope that we would score a table (like we did at Momofuku Noodle bar in NYC - see post here).

While we waited in the queue, we did strike up a conversation with some people in front of us, just to see if they had been before and what they thought about the wait - clearly not too impressed either.  I could hear lots of comment from people in the queue - in particular a hope and desire that the food at Mamasita would be worth the wait, thoughts echoing through my own mind.  12:30 came and the queue slowly moved forward and up the stairs that led to the dining area.  As we slowly shuffled forward, we wondered how big the restaurant was and if it would fit us all in before we were told that there would be another wait.  Inexorably the queue move forward and all of a sudden we were standing at the top of the stairs and we could see that we would definitely be getting a seat.  Things were looking up.

Mamasita was a bit bigger than I had envisioned, with room for about eighty customers.  There were a few different seating styles, with normal table and chairs, bar and bench seating as well as some people squeezed near the back of the restaurant in stools and extra benches.  It was quite a simple looking dining area, with a biggish bar area taking up a lot of space and a smallish kitchen right down the back of the restaurant.  It had taken us about twenty minutes since the doors first opened to be seated and given some menus to look over.  The people at the start of the queue had already been seated and food was steaming out of the kitchen at a rate of knots.

There are a lot of yummy looking options available on the Mamasita menu, which has a very diverse range of Mexican foods on offer.  So many options in fact, that it was hard for us to pin down exactly what we wanted to eat.  There were a couple of items that we simply had to order, if for no other reason than our friends had declared we must, but also because of the iconic status of some of the Mexican cuisine.  We had quite a while to think about our options as the restaurant was still in bedlam trying to seat all the queuing customers and get drink orders in, including SC waiting for her sangria to arrive.

A little while after SC's sangria arrived, we finally were able to get our orders in, which lead to another somewhat long wait for our starter to arrive.  Practically everyone we have ever spoken to about Mamasita has told us that we absolutely must get the Elote callejero - “Street Style” chargrilled corn with queso, chipotle mayo & lime.  We'd been hearing about the corn for so long that there was never any chance of not ordering that dish.  It took quite a while, but the chargrilled corn finally found it's way to our table and it looked pretty good.  A couple of ears of sweet corn grilled and covered in Mexican flavouring sounds simple, and it is, but this is the beauty of the dish.  There was a bit of heat coming from the queso, which is chilli cheese, that worked nicely with the natural sweetness of the corn.  Both SC and I ate this the old fashioned way with our fingers and eating the corn directly off the cob, but I did see other people cutting the corn off the cob with a knife, before adding extra hot sauce!

The corn had been a good starter, but it wasn't very substantial, so I was keen to get my next course of Pulpo a la barbacoa - barbecued guajillo-braised octopus with jicama nopales salsa.  The only problem was that we had to settle in for another quite long wait for our entrees to arrive.  When my octopus finally hit the table, I was quite excited by the large tentacle that looked as if it had been cooked perfectly, a fact that I confirmed with my first cut.  The tentacle was quite tender and had just the right amount of chewy texture that signified that it was expertly cooked.  There was a lovely char on the octopus that added to the flavour of the sweet flesh.  I really enjoyed the octopus and even enjoyed the salsa, which was made from a root vegetable that I'd never heard of before - jicama.  Ahh, new experiences and flavours - love it.

I thought SC's choice of starter was a little weird for a Mexican restaurant and I couldn't quite picture how the Coctel de Camarones - Prawn cocktail with pico de gallo, clamato, valentina and avocado would be presented. It came in a tall glass with a couple of prawns sitting atop with a liquid concoction that was pure Mexico. There was a tomato based salsa which was mixed with clamato, a clam based tomato juice that had a bit of a kick.  SC was able to get through the prawns and much of the tomato salsa but had to give up towards the bottom with the heat becoming just too much.  It was interesting but not something that I would order and I'm not sure that SC would if given her time again. 

We'd ordered some traditional Mexican tacos for our main course and of the options available at Mamasita, we limited ourselves to the prawn, beef and pork varieties.  We both wanted the de Arrachera - grilled flank steak with guacamole, tomatillo salsa and red onion as one of our tacos, but we diverged for our second choices.  SC went with the de Camarones - marinated prawns, red chilli and chipotle almond salsa and I went for the de Puerco - Al Pastor-style pig’s cheek with fiery apple & white cabbage.  For something as simple as a taco, you'd think they would come out pretty quickly, but we settled in for another quite long wait before they were delivered.  We'd been getting a little frustrated by the waiting and it may have impacted our view of the tacos, which had ok flavours but certainly didn't set the world alight.  My favourite was the grilled flank steak but yeah, it just didn't rock my world.

Unbelievably, we had been at Mamasita for almost two hours for our corn, starters and tacos - which for a Mexican restaurant where the food is quite simple seemed like a long time.  We decided to pass on dessert, mainly because we didn't want to wait another half hour to get them delivered, we were actually heading over to Cutler and Co in four short hours and didn't want to ruin our appetite for another of Melbourne's great restaurants.

If I had to label our time at Mamasita, it would be with the word 'wait'.  It seemed that was pretty much all we did when we were at the much loved Melbourne restaurant.  Wait in the queue and then wait for the courses and to be honest, the food wasn't that good, in fact, I'd go so far as to say that the food was not really worth the wait at all.

Look, it was a cool restaurant with a definite vibe and friendly staff, but at the end of the day, it's just Mexican cuisine.  I'm a little staggered to be honest as to why it's one of the most popular restaurants in Melbourne and why people seemed so happy to queue up for hours to get a seat.  It's one of those places you absolutely need to check out at least once, just because its a Melbourne institution restaurant, but I think once would be enough for me.  I just don't like waiting at the best of times and there is nothing at Mamasita that for me warrants the long wait.

The hot sauce - unbelievably I saw people adding this to already hot stuff!
The bar took up quite a bit of space in the dining area
Perhaps the wait at Mamasita was due to the small kitchen?
Everyone raves about the sweet corn at Mamasita and it was pretty good
The tacos were not too bad - but they didn't rock my world
Very quickly all seats were taken and the queue started to form
Space is at a premium at Mamasita and people sat everywhere
Mamasita on UrbanspoonMamasita

1 comment:

  1. I'm going there in May! Looks like we will have to be extra, extra early, and then order enough to feed five Mexican families so that we would be continuously fed. :P


Thanks very much for your comment, I really love and appreciate feedback and your thoughts


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...