"There's no point opening a restaurant if you're not going to have really good food." Obvious, but this ethos can be surprisingly absent in the post-MasterChef space of microtrends and home restaurant wannabes. Adam and Gemma, of Bondi favourite Mamasan, make the point about good food cocktail in hand, at their new outpost in Surry Hills.
And there’s top nosh aplenty at their inner-eastern joint, taking inspiration from their travels through Taiwan and Japan. A long sashimi bar greets you on arrival, and a ceiling installation of 500 cherry blossoms glitters gloriously above.
Heavy on recycled timber and steel, the place is packed with found curiosities, art and Asia-sourced intricacies. The chaos is seductive; all the eye candy and tactile finishes invite respite in a way a slick white space never could. It’s this, with the moody music and breezy, louvered wall, which make Mamasan a seriously good spot for grazing, drinking and conversing — the holy trinity of a Good Night Out.
Gemma’s first foray in hospitality was an izakaya in Japan, and she wished to recreate something of the Eastern approach to drinking here — that is to slow down, chat lots and nibble throughout the night. Expect a broad selection of craft beers, Japanese whiskey and pan-Asian inspired cocktails. Alongside garlicky edamame ($9.50), hot chips with basil ($9.50) and a good sashimi spread, these paired nibbles would suggest Mamasan is first a watering hole, second an eatery. But the tapas-style menu is such that you’ll come for a snack and stay for supper.
The miso soup ($7) is rich with homemade sashimi stock, scallops and mushrooms and will have other misos you’ve had pale in powdery comparison. A generously big whole squid ($18) is served with Taiwanese satay sauce, fennel and duck, and sings with smokiness. Nose-to-tail points for the popcorn fish ($17) which uses the offcuts of Mamasan’s sashimi, tempura fried and served with fresh dill and a homemade mayonnaisey sauce.
Bloodlusty? The tender one bite beef ($31) is worthy of its signature dish status, cooked simply with pepper and soy and practically quivering with tenderness. Like Adam says, a good fillet of meat doesn’t need to be messed with. But it’s hard for me to commit monogamously when there are Mongolian chilli lamb cutlets ($25) on the table. They are super spicy and aromatic with cumin seeds, coriander and masses of peanuts and garlic cloves.
Mamasan is full of stories, from the large Astro Boy figurine and dinghy-clad bar to Gemma’s childhood memories of Taiwanese night markets. Grab a friend and an old-fashioned and create some of your own.