330 George St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Lunch and dinner Tue-Sat|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Groups, Licensed|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9114 7393|
I first encountered prahok ktis in a sunburnt backstreet of Siem Reap eight years ago. The Cambodian fermented fish dip, pungent almost to the point of being other-worldly, was served with pea eggplants for pop and crunch, and cold cucumber batons for scooping. Equal parts intense and refreshing, it could pump you up with the power of a thousand iced coffees.
It certainly wasn't a dish I ever expected to find in the Merivale hospitality group's sprawling Ivy precinct, long home to solid but safe-bet dining options in the Sydney CBD such as Felix and Bar Totti's. However, in 2022, thanks to MuMu, here we are.
There's even durian ice-cream showcasing Asia's most divisive fruit. Fans claim it tastes like sherry-spiked custard; others (including myself) say the durian's odour reminds them of surgical swabs and old onions.
"You either love it or hate it," says Oliver Hua, in charge of helming the MuMu kitchen day-to-day under Merivale's star executive chef Dan Hong.
Not that MuMu is all pickled fish and smelly fruit, mind. Located in a soaring space once home to athleisure store Lululemon, the six-week-old restaurant is fundamentally south-east Asian with global ingredients borrowed here and there for the sake of deliciousness.
The George Livissianis-designed room is bright and energetic, with plenty of bar seating for couples to escape La Niña with a yuzu vodka slushie ($20). Meanwhile, large groups can gather around a lazy susan and fight over zippy Phnom Penh fried chicken marinated in galangal and lemongrass ($32).
It wouldn't be surprising to see another MuMu or two open at Merivale's other venues.
Spruiking more than 30 designed-to-share dishes, MuMu is not for the choice-phobic. However, if your jam is geometric art, 1980s hip-hop and more tangerine than a vintage Crockpot convention, then come on down: your Bauhaus meets the Beastie Boys prayers have been heard.
Importantly, the food is bloody good, too, with riffs on street food from Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan comprising a chunk of the menu.
Hua, however, seems most excited for guests to experience that deeply savoury prahok ktis ($22), featuring pork-belly mince wok-fried with red curry paste, garlic, galangal and headline ingredient prahok – a salty, fermented mudfish paste that has been at the heart of Khmer cooking for centuries. Spoon it onto ice-crisp endive from an accompanying crudites platter.
"My wife is Cambodian and I've used her mother's recipe as inspiration," says Hua, who grew up in a Vietnamese household in Marrickville. "After cooking Cantonese for the past eight years [at Mr Wong and Queen Chow Enmore], I jumped at the chance to serve food more aligned with my cultural background."
Kudos for promoting Khmer cuisine, I say. In a city with some of the best Thai cooking outside of Thailand, myriad Malaysian eateries and Vietnamese soups worth crossing multiple postcodes for, Cambodian food in Sydney – to say the least – is a little under-represented outside Cabramatta.
Sure, MuMu's ktis isn't as pungent as versions found in its homeland, but Hua and Hong aren't too concerned with the restraints of authenticity.
Case in point, grilled Hawkesbury calamari ($28) topped with shallot-loaded sambal matah and bedded on brick-red sambal belacan with Lebanese garlic sauce. It's a compellingly flavoured dish made even better by a poised 2017 Hofgut Falkenstein "Niedermenniger Herrenberg" Riesling Spatlese ($125).
Sommelier Robyn Fisher's list also includes a fine showing of white and red Burgundy, but with so much spice and chilli about, the smart wine money is with the citrus-forward, off-dry German line-up.
The best-value booze match, however, might be a cold tin of Yulli's Brews Karaoke Kingu rice lager ($12.50), perfect with the must-order pipi jungle curry ($48 at market price) pulsing with green peppercorns, holy basil and ginger-like krachai.
Sticking to these lighter dishes is the right plan of attack for those keen to get across as much of the menu as possible. Grilled scallops enlivened by spring onion relish and peanuts ($8 each) are another essential. Ditto sweet pork wrapped in betel leaves bolstered by dried shrimp and macadamia ($7 each). I'm saving the glazed short-rib served ssam-style with mint, lettuce and sambals ($88) for a return mission with more mates.
For now, the 200-seat restaurant is trading until midnight five days a week, with a 2am closing in the pipeline. Bring on the late-night slushies and noodles. It wouldn't be half surprising to see another MuMu or two open at Merivale's other venues, either; it's a strong model led by chefs who love cooking the food.
Sydneysiders, in the meantime, can make a beeline for the most exciting south-east Asian dining to grace George Street in years. Heck, with a few more visits, I might even be turned on to durian.
Vibe: Bright and boozy with bursts of 1970s New York street glam.
Go-to dish: Prahok ktis with pea eggplants and seasonal crudites.
Cost: About $190 for two, excluding drinks
Drinks: Lots of spice-friendly wines, plus a few French heavies. Former Bulletin Place bartender Jeff Santony is mixing tart and zippy cocktails
This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine