Mamak is a big, bustling no-bookings place. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
Melbourne is quiet, but some restaurants don't know how to take a holiday, and those of us who are town-bound in January are glad about that. The diners' part of the deal is to hit these restaurants hard to keep the wheels spinning. For a busy Malaysian hawker restaurant like Mamak, slowing down might feel like a space-time glitch and we don't want that to happen - rotis are at risk here, people!
The Mamak crew started making rotis (flatbread) at a Sydney market; they then spun their popularity into a restaurant in Sydney's Chinatown in 2007. In September, they brought their happening hawker style to Melbourne.
Nasi lemak served with an addictive hit of sambal. Photo: Ari Hatzis
Mamak is a big, bustling no-bookings place that often has (fast-moving) queues. While you're waiting, watch a roti master stretching dough, splashing it with more oil than you should probably witness, folding it, grilling it, and fluffing it up with savage dexterity. Or watch them make the roti tisu, a crisp clown's hat of golden roti that's served with curry or ice-cream. It's mouth-watering theatre, especially when coupled with the wafts of shrimp paste, chilli and coconut rice that whack you in the face like a glass door.
It's OK if you're starving when you finally sit down because ordering is done via telepathy. Yes, you do tell a brisk but friendly server what you've chosen from the short menu of rotis, curries, rice and noodles, but it arrives on your table faster than you can imagine them delivering the order. The flavours are big and shouty; the napkins and bills small.
I love the rojak salad, a big, satisfying pile of shredded yam bean and cucumber, tossed with spicy peanut sauce and scattered with juicy prawn and coconut fritters, fried tofu and boiled egg. It's probably big enough for two so come with a crew so you can try more dishes.
Mamak's rojak salad is big enough to share, so don't come alone. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
The sambal udang - stir-fried tiger prawns - comes with a spicy sambal that's addictive at first hit. The mee goreng is a good rendition of a classic, with adequate wok heat and fresh bean-shoot crunch.
There's roti for dessert, but in summer, I like the cendol - green noodles, coconut milk and shaved ice. It's a race to eat it before it turns to sludge but Mamak isn't for lingering. Wait, eat, swoon, roll home.
Chin Chin, 125 Flinders Lane, city, 8663 2000. Daily, lunch and dinner.
This might be the best week of the year to rock up to the double Chin at a sensible meal time and be seated for fresh, feisty Thai food.
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Gami, 100 Little Lonsdale Street, city, 9671 3232. Daily, dinner.
The tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cake) is great, but you come to Gami for the fried chicken in crunchy batter. Thirsty? Install a four-litre oak cask of beer at your table.
- 03 9670 3137
- Cuisine - Malaysian
- Prices - Roti, $5.50-$11.50; Mains, $8.50-$19; Desserts, $6-$9.50
- Features - BYO, Cheap and cheerful
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Cash, Diners Club, EFTPOS, Visa, Mastercard
- Opening Hours - Daily, 11.30am-2.30pm; Sun-Thurs, 5.30-10pm; Fri-Sat, 5.30pm-2am
- Author - Dani Valent