Given Hong Kong’s easy connections with the whole of Southeast Asia and the fact that it is a melting pot of cultures and flavours, it isn’t difficult to find a wide range of Southeast Asian flavours across the city. Chef Will Meyrick, famous in Bali for his restaurants Sarong and Mama San, as well as E&O in Jakarta, has just teamed up with Dining Concepts to launch a second branch of Mama San on our very own Wyndham Street.
Mama San combines flavours from all over the region, to which Chef Meyrick and his Thai business partner and chef Palm Amatawet have added their own spin. The Hong Kong menu has been adapted slightly to suit the expat culture, given that there are already a number of authentic Thai and Vietnamese restaurants here. The idea is that it should all be fun and casual, using traditional ingredients sourced from across the region, without taking anything too seriously.
The spacious restaurant immediately gives off an air of elegance, with its dark wooden tables and Chesterfield sofas. It’s a cross between 1920s style Shanghai colonialism and industrial chic. Mama herself is painted on one wall, overlooking her diners, whilst other walls are dotted with black and white photographs of Indonesia.
We began with the “Ginger and shallot” sashimi with snapper and tuna, an incredibly fragrant and delicious dish. The fish was wonderfully fresh, whilst the thin strands of ginger and shallot added an unexpected burst of flavour that brought everything together. I say unexpected because they looked similar to Vietnamese pickled vegetables, so I was taken by surprise, but pleasantly.
The Chilli harbour prawns with deep fried garlic, iceberg lettuce and lemon were, again, incredibly fragrant. Served with a dipping pot of chilli salt, I actually found them a little too salty, which is where the shredded lettuce came in handy to add a touch of freshness. The prawns were so crispy that you could simply eat the whole thing, without the hassle of removing the shells.
Having seen a plate of Tuna betel leaves being delivered to a neighbouring table, we decided to order one each. They sounded amazing, with lemongrass and green tomato, yet in actual fact were easily the worst dish of the night. The Balinese style sambal matah had far too much shrimp paste for our liking, which overpowered everything else.
The crispy whole snapper with three-flavour sauce, however, was divine. It wasn’t so much the flesh of the fish that was crispy, but the basil leaves and shallots that added not only a delicious flavour, but also a lovely texture. The tamarind obviously gave it a sweet, intense flavour, whilst the pineapple added a sharp contrast.
I can see why the “dendeng balado”, or caramelised short rib, is one of the signature dishes at Mama San. The beef fell apart at the slightest touch and was, again, intensely flavoursome, with pounded chilli, kaffir lime and crispy lemon basil.
A side of slow-cooked beetroot with garam masala, coriander and grated paneer was wholesome and interesting, whilst a bowl of shallot-topped steamed rice was essential to balance all the strong flavours from the above three dishes.
To finish the Vietnamese crème caramel with coffee granita and tapioca pearls was sweet yet light, but you’d probably have to be more into coffee than I am to fully appreciate it.
The lemongrass panna cotta, however, was excellent. Panna cotta is never my dessert of choice, but this one was probably one of the best panna cottas I have ever tasted, particularly with its toppings of cucumber lime jelly and lemon basil sorbet that were wonderfully refreshing after so many strong flavours.
Service was friendly and efficient throughout the early part of our meal, but we then waited over half an hour for our desserts. This suggests that there must have been a miscommunication between the staff and the kitchen, given that both of our desserts would have to have been pre-prepared. Including a glass of very good Pinot Noir each, the total bill was a little over $1200, which isn’t bad for Wyndham Street or Dining Concepts. Mama San is a cool new spot that may not serve 100 percent authentic food, but brings together Southeast Asian flavours with a fun, modern twist. It could still do with perfecting a few things here and there, but I think it’s on its way to being a huge hit amongst Hong Kong foodies.
Mama San, 1/F, 46 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, 2881 8901, www.diningconcepts.com/mama_san