Satisfy your Vietnam-eeds with this cheap and casual offering from the Roll'd crew.
When it comes to choosing a restaurant, it all comes down to criteria. And if you're looking for a casual Vietnamese joint in the city that's cheap and cheerful (but not too chaotic) any night of the week, Mama's Buoi fulfils the brief. Tucked in behind the GPO, it's a cosy, yet casual place to get fed in the CBD, specialising in accessible Asian food and some killer cocktails.
It comes from the people that bought you Roll'd and it joins a Sydney venue of the same name, but don't let the fact that it's part of a chain keep you away. Mama's Buoi is good. It's the crowd pleasing, light, Westernised Asian food that can be downed at lunch or grazed on over a cocktail. Sort of like a new-model Misschu, it finds that sweet spot between Chin Chin and Don Dons — pleasant enough to linger over dinner, but still cheap enough for a midweek feed — and creates a casual crib you'd feel pretty comfortable taking your colleagues, a date, or your mum to.
You'll be able to satisfy your Vietnam-eeds with all the standard players. Fresh rice paper rolls, five variations of vermicelli salad ($14) and bowls of six-hour broth pho ($9 small, $14 large) — predictably, they're all there. But if you're in for dinner, go for some of the dishes that haven't been done to death.
A favourite comes out early: the banh cuon ($13). The slippery rice pancake is stuffed with pork mince and traditional pork sausage, and covered in specks of fried shallot. The smoky eggplant is a nice accompaniment to the beef stir-fry ($18) or the pork belly hot pot: the thick, caramel-y pork belly ($16) is, at first taste, rich and moreish, but quickly turns sickly sweet. Balance it out with the freshness of a papaya salad. Like all good Vietnamese, the food manages to fill without overstuffing. Mostly you'll get away with a meal for less than $20.
When Vietnamese food is on the table, drinks tend to be an afterthought. Not here. The cocktails are fun, but not flippantly so — and each one features flavours that lend themselves to the food (all $16). The Pho Cocktail is a good one to start, with its flavours of lime, mint, cinnamon and star anise; the espresso martini is (as always) a nice finish. The passionfruit sour stole the show, though. Vodka-based, the cocktail is perfect parts sour and sweet, and is topped off with an amazing bruleed half passionfruit.
We'd pay whatever Mama asked for that bruleed passionfruit again, but if you're not quite convinced, make sure you're there Monday-Wednesday 5-7pm for Bia Hoi Hour. During this two-hour window, pho and noodle salads are $10, there's $5 beer and house wine, and cocktails are just $10. Yep, $10 for a real-life, real yum cocktail. It's just another reason to consider Mama's Buoi — we're not saying it's revolutionary, but if you're looking for a tasty post-work feed with change for a $20, it certainly fits the bill.