George Calombaris has created a restaurant that begs you to come back for more. The cuisine is influenced by Georges parents: his Greek Cypriot Mama and half-Sicilian Baba. The venue, discreetly tucked away at the end of Daly Street (just off Chapel, South Yarra), lures you down a small staircase into a cool space that opens up to reveal an open kitchen, concrete floors, high ceilings, a long bar and a very warm and friendly ambience.
The staff are super happy and attentive and have a solid knowledge of the menu which is broken up into snacks, entrees, salads, pasta (mama), pasta (baba), mains, sides and sweets. We were keen to experience a little bit of everything so chose the mama menu, 4 courses for $55 per person. This turned out to be a great introduction to MamaBaba and very good value.
1st course: House-made ricotta with pickled grapes, Sopressa with caperberries, Sashimi with radish and pistachios and two types of house-made bread. The bread was regularly replenished during the evening to help mop up the gorgeous juices from the different dishes.
2nd course: Prawn tortellini with roasted tomatoes and feta and orecchiette with braised wagyu and lemon.
3rd course: Pan fried snapper with a very fresh salad of apple, zucchini and hazelnuts, braised beef cheeks, tender and juicy which just melted in your mouth with a pesto dressing and mustard mash and a simple fresh green salad.
4th course: strawberry semifreddo and The Italian Mess (meringue, marscapone, apple, almond and watermelon).
I’ve already decided what I’d like to try on my return to MamaBaba. Zucchini flowers with haloumi and ricotta or maybe the goat ragu papadeles with tomato, olive and parmeasan are a must. I probably can’t go past the prawn and fennel risotto or the braised lamb shoulder. I’d also like a side of the cauliflower, raisin, parsley, caper and almond salad and the asparagus, caper, tarragon and egg salad. No doubt Al will want to try the chips with rosemary and garlic salt.
I’ll probably just have room for the passionfruit tart or the frozen tiramisu on a stick. MamaBaba also serves ice cream and gelato in a cone (2 scoops for $9). The flavours make me want to book my flight to Melbourne right now. House-made lemonade, milk and milo, vanilla splice, inspired by Fanta and crunchy peanut butter and salt.
During the summer months, MamaBaba is offering a signature pasta dish and a glass of Pimms and lemonade for $18 between 5pm and 6pm. Perfect for a quick bite on the way to the theatre or after shopping in Chapel Street.
The wine (pages and pages of Italian varieties), cocktail and mocktail list is quite extensive. I enjoyed a Virgin Mule before dinner and we had a very nice Italian red with dinner which was suggested by the sommelier. I really enjoyed the relaxed, casual feel of MamaBaba. The fit-out is urban and funky and the kitchen is quite open so you can check out the chefs doing their thing and like us, you might find George even makes an appearance, pressing the flesh of celebrity chef stalkers.
We dined with our friends and their two gorgeous little daughters. MamaBaba were very accommodating of our table supplying a high chair and a gluten free bread and pasta option for one of our tiny guests.
Verdict: When in Melbourne, definitely check it out.
Opening hours: Lunch: Fri & Sun 12pm – 3pm. Dinner: Mon-Thurs & Sat 6pm – late, Fri & Sun 5pm – late
p: 03 9207 7421
21 Daly St, South Yarra