Mabu Mabu started as a pop-up stall at South Melbourne Market in 2018 and shifted to cafe premises in Yarraville in 2019. Now Torres Strait Island-born Nornie Bero is expanding her Indigenous-owned food business to the CBD with an ambitious new restaurant at Federation Square.
The 130-seat dining room and bar, next to the Koorie Heritage Trust on the southern side of the square, is slated to open in early July.
"It will be called Big Esso by Mabu Mabu," says Bero. "Esso is how we say 'thank you' in the Torres Strait and Big Esso is slang for 'the biggest thank you'
"We are thankful we have such a great country with great produce. The restaurant will be all about generosity and good times and celebrating."
Bero is excited to showcase Islander food she remembers from her childhood.
"We will continue to do a lot with game meats," she says. "Now we are also going to head more into seafood with the shellfish I grew up with."
Among the dishes will be Bero's take on chilli crab, a share plate of blue swimmers in a hot pepperberry sauce with karkalla and seaweed, along with vegan dishes using purple yam.
"It's going to be tropical with a lot of island flair. We're going to brighten the place up a bit."
Bero's mission is to make Indigenous foods accessible to a wide audience. "You don't have to have a degustation menu (but we will feed you if you ask). It's a place anyone can go to and try something uniquely Australian for under $20."
Indigenous artwork will be a strong feature, with works by artists including Gumbaynggirr woman Aretha Brown, and Gunditjmara and Torres Strait Islander woman Lisa Waup.
The Yarraville cafe will continue, with a greater focus on retail and catering. There will also be a shop at Big Esso, initially selling pantry goods then delving into fresh produce, and Bero will plant a native garden.
She can't wait. "It's a big step but I've been waiting a long time to showcase what we can do, to really welcome people to sit down and enjoy an evening with us," she says. "You have no idea how excited I am."
Big Esso by Mabu Mabu will open at Federation Square, Melbourne, in July. mabumabu.com.au