Monday, October 1, 2012

Melbourne's best roti at Mamak

Queues.  With the rise of internet banking and self-checkout at the supermarket, they're slowly becoming a thing of the past.  As a teenager, I remember sitting on the pavement outside the Arts Centre quite literally all night in the queue to get Grand Final tickets, legs wrapped up in a tartan blankie and sipping on a thermos of hot chocolate, chatting with excited fellow footy fans all around.  I'm sure these days it's all done by some extremely efficient and boring electronic ballot process.


But queues are making a comeback at Melbourne's hottest restaurants, and new Malaysian eatery Mamak is no exception.  As Nina Rousseau wrote in Epicure last week, this Sydney export is already winning hearts and tummies left, right and centre.


If you have to wait, you will get some street theatre of sorts to whet your appetite - Mamak specialise in roti, made from scratch and expertly stretched until almost translucent.  On a Monday night, we only had to wait five minutes for a table of six, so it's definitely worth trying your luck.


It's functional inside but still pleasant.  The "mamak" in Malaysia are Indian by ethnicity and often Muslim by religion, their forebears having been brought to Malaysia from southern Indian by the British (who colonised both India and modern-day Malaysia).  Now, mamak street stalls are popular across Malaysia and Singapore, specialising in roti, satay, mi goreng noodles and more.  See Bryan's delicious post about "roti prata" in Singapore.  (My secret:  Sometimes if I am having a bad day, I find this post and look at the roti man's face.  There is something about him that is so purely, simply happy.)

I love Mamak Melbourne's tiny, specialised menu.  If you're looking for laksa, you're in the wrong place.  Mamak knows where its strengths are and knows how to work them.

Chicken/beef satay, one dozen for $16

Fantastic satays!  Bite sized morsels of tender chicken and beef, threaded onto long, dainty skewers and with the most delicious satay sauce for dipping.  Seriously, I could have eaten this with a spoon by itself.  I'll guess that it featured lemongrass, ginger and tamarind, with nary a spoonful of commercial peanut butter in sight.  Awesome.

Roti canai, $5.50

If some roti is like puff pastry, this was like filo - almost impossibly thin, elastic dough cooked on a hot grill and gently curled on a silver tray.  I could happily eat it on its own, but it comes with a traditionally thin lentil dal speckled with nigella seeds, a creamy curry gravy, and a dot of dried anchovy-rich, full-flavoured chilli sambal.



Teh tarik, $3.50

This is tea sweetened with condensed milk and "aerated" by pouring in long streams between two mugs.  I liked this, which might mean it's not authentic - it's supposed to have a very bitter, tannic edge that doesn't appeal to me.  Bryan is kinder than me - when I described it to him, he said, "Maybe it's gently authentic".  :-)

Roti telur bawang, $7

I didn't mind this roti filled with egg and sweet onion, but really, I'd be more than happy to stick to the original, feather-light version.

Kari ayam, $16

Next up were curries - first a fantastic, full-flavoured chicken curry with whole cloves bobbing in the rich, thick sauce and big, tender taters.  The chicken is on the bone, so if you're having a bit of a bone wuss moment, you might not fully appreciate it.

Kangkung belacan, $14

This is kangkung, also known as morning glory, water convolvulus and other less rude other names.  When eating Vietnamese, next time you want a vegie, don't get the Chinese broccoli and oyster sauce - try one of the kangkung options, maybe with just garlic or my favourite, "stinky" preserved tofu.  This version was cooked well but the belachan or fermented shrimp paste was almost imperceptible.  As my dad put it - "Not enough old underpants".

Sambal sotong, $17

"It's very hot," warned the edible young waiter.  "Yes, we love hot," we replied.  Fresh leaves of squid came luxuriating in thick, jammy sambal.  Sambal is a chilli-based sauce that can be anything from just pounded fresh chillies with a little lime to an intense blend of shrimp paste, sugar and citrus.  While at first bite the sotong tasted sweet and tangy, the addictive chilli rush crept up slowly afterwards.  Delicious.


Much rice for soaking up all the sauces...


...and salad to cool the burn.  While the ingredients were good and fresh (cucumber, fried tofu and jicama) , I wasn't a huge fan of this rojak - the dressing was very sweet and somewhat one dimensional.  I'm not very familiar with Malaysian-style rojak though so this could be authentic.

Lamb murtabak, $11.50

Bringing up the rear, our murtabak or stuffed roti finally arrived (it does say to allow extra time).  Filled with small pieces of lamb and onion, I found it unexciting compared to the unbearable lightness of the plain roti and the flavour acrobatics of the chicken curry and sambal sotong.

So get thee to Mamak!  There's a grocery across the road that sells Japanese beer and super kawaii individual glasses of choya, Japanese plum wine.  BYO is a mere $2 per head.  Service is efficient but friendly - one waitress even speaks Auslan!

Mamak on Urbanspoon

366 Lonsdale Street, City
Phone:  9670 3137
Hours:  Daily 11.30am-2.30pm, 5.30-10pm

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  1. Thanks for the review!

    If Mamak Melbourne follows pattern in Sydney, then expect queues :) especially when it opens. At least on opening, you disgorge straight away into an empty restaurant, ready to eat :)

    And don't forget to try a teh tarik with your roti

    1. Daniel!! I knew I forgot something! I've added the teh tarik we had to the post ;-)

      That is a great point - unlike other Asian eateries, it's not open from dawn til dusk so if you get there at 5.30, I would think you are guaranteed a table. Or just watch the clever roti guys in the window!

  2. Firstly ... "not enough old underpants"!!! Your father is a stitch, I haven't had such a good laugh in awhile!! Me and M have been dying to get here. Roti Prata is M's earliest and I think best culinary memory from his inaugural trip to Singapore. But he will be dissappointed with the Murtabak. Also those satays look the real deal!! Can't wait to check it out.

    1. He is definitely one of a kind! Maybe the murtabak is right - compared to everything else I found it boring, but maybe that's the way it is. Kind of like "compared to the Mars Bar cheesecake, these scones are boring". Satays are definitely autentico. Look forward to hearing what you think!

  3. Argh!! Craving roti and satay sauce now!!

  4. Oooh! Can't wait! We had Mamak in Sydney, popped in at 5.30pm for a pre-dinner snack and easily got a table for 3. By 6.30pm we were out, and the queue was LONG!! I reckon the Melbourne version would suffer the same fate, sigh!!

    1. It seems like get in early is the way to go Saz! :-)

  5. YES YES YES ! I've got a dinner planned there this week! Cannot wait.

  6. I have heard so much about this place. Must add to my list! Thanks for the review

  7. Great post and photos. :-)

    I went there over the weekend as well, but on a Sunday for lunch on my own. And, it was packed by 12 noon and people started queuing out at the front.

    Just like you, I enjoyed the satay and the sauce. The best for me so far in Australia. As authentic as in Malaysia. But, a bit disappointed with the lamb murtabak.

    Funny that I was writing a post myself on Mamak Melbourne yesterday and came across your blog which was an excellent read / review of the place.


    1. Thank you Victor! Interesting that we concurred on the satay and the murtabak. Thanks for the link to your blog too, look forward to reading more!

  8. Thanks for linking me, Lauren. :)

    Skeptical as I am about Malaysian food in Australia, your photos has made me drool. I'll visit Mamak when I have roti prata cravings. Love a good crisp roti!

    1. Seriously, I think you would like it! If you want to have an early dinner there sometime, LMK. The sambal is delicious.

  9. 'if you're having a bit of a bone wuss moment' - love this! Looks like i have another one to add to the (never ending ) list of places to go....

    1. I'm glad you like my strange brain Anna! It's so funny, sometimes I crave whole fish with ginger and soy, bones n' all, and other times I am such a sook and nothing but chicken breast will do.

  10. Am laughing at your "we hated it" photo. Glad to see this Sydney sensation has transitioned so well to Melbourne.

    1. Haha, am glad you don't mind my corny attempts at humour!

  11. Having CBA Friday a day early ... and guess where we're headed!! Super excited.

    1. I see it got your stamp of approval! Glad you liked it!

  12. Roti fiend here, very satisfied by this post :) I think I'd have to agree with you, though, that the original would trump the one with the sweet onions. The best roti for me is a flaky, savory canvas for punchy sauces and curries. I'd also love to try teh tarik - have seen it on various blogs but never had it.

    1. Yasmeen, maybe this is our next catch-up destination???

  13. "we hated it" LOL I agree I could happily eat it on its own too!


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