Chaotic but fun ... Mamak Chatswood is a family-friendly hit. Photo: James Brickwood
There are few measures of success for a family restaurant meal: speedy service to satisfy small, hungry tummies fast, a bill that doesn't break the bank and food good enough to make it worth the effort for parents, too. And if your visit ends up as news at school a few days later you've really hit the jackpot.
Mamak Chatswood ticks all the boxes. Tucked behind Chatswood station among characterless office buildings, Mamak is part of a self-styled Eat Street of which the local council is rather proud. To be honest, the street-side atmosphere is about as far from the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur as it gets, but once inside you don't give a toss. The little sister of the Chinatown original (there's a cousin in Melbourne, too) offers feisty, fabulous Malaysian hawker-style food.
On our Sunday evening visit, we snaffle the last empty table. Service is swift. Our waiter warns us that the satay might take 10 minutes. This turns out to be a good thing; other dishes arrive in a rush, and the table is barely big enough to cope. Rice is scattered, drinks are spilt. It's chaotic, but fun.
Go-to dish ... chicken satay with spicy peanut sauce. Photo: James Brickwood
Roti canai, one of Malaysia's great gifts to the world, comes as a crunchy, flaky disc on a metal tray with curry gravy, spicy dhal and a fiery, jammy sambal. It's there for a mere nanosecond before Lulu, 5, tears the folds apart and almost scoffs the lot. Luckily we've also ordered another roti, the rustic and comforting murtabak, where the flaky pastry encases spicy lamb, cabbage, eggs and onions.
Mamak's not necessarily the best place for those who are chilli-averse, and eyeing the kids, our waiter steers us away from the hotter curries. I ask Archie, 7, to give me his verdict on the mee goreng, hokkien noodles wok-tossed with prawns, nuggets of fish cake and bean sprouts. On a scale of one to 10 for spiciness, he gives it a score of ''1 million thousand hundred'' but powers through regardless.
Only the kari sayur, a vegetable curry with lentils, disappoints. The eggplant was still squeakily undercooked, and all the veg on the stiff side of al dente.
No complaints, though, with the satay, when it arrives. Six elegant batons of lemongrass-scented chicken are smoky from the charcoal grill. The children polish them off in seconds. The accompanying peanut sauce is so delicious that we end up slathering it all over our steamed rice.
I'm not normally a fan of Asian desserts but Mamak does them well. Cendol is a huge hit for the kids, creamy coconut milk sweetened with gula melaka, poured over shaved ice and studded with ''GREEN WORMS!'' For Archie and Lulu, the bright-emerald, jelly-like pandan noodles take on a life of their own. The moment is recorded for posterity with an iPhone video, and news is sorted for school the next day.
We're in and out in just more than half an hour. The bill's $75, the food great. A successful night, all round.
Do … Go early or late to avoid having to queue.
Don't … Expect a leisurely meal. This is fast, furious and fun.
Dish … Chicken satay with spicy peanut sauce. Order a dozen. And roti. More than one.
Vibe … Not quite a Malaysian street market but with enough noise and atmosphere to drown out any tantrums or sibling spats.
- 02 9411 4411
- Cuisine - Malaysian
- Prices - Roti $5.50-$11.50, curries, stir-fries and noodles $8.50-$19, satay $9, desserts $6-$9.50.
- Features - BYO
- Author - Sally Webb