Pretty Mama

Two of Pretty Mama's owners, Michael Cotter and Shae Silvestro.
Two of Pretty Mama's owners, Michael Cotter and Shae Silvestro. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Watertank Way, 220 Spencer Street Melbourne, Victoria 3000

View map

Permanently Closed

West of the CBD has always been more the Detroit end of town than the Paris end. Dominated by hastily built apartment towers, office hives and Southern Cross Station ("the gateway to the country"), it's a wasteland for quality eats and creative cocktails.

Enter Pretty Mama, a JV between Po' Boy Quarter's Michael Cotter, bartender Shae Silvestro (ex Brooks) and chef Clinton Gresham (ex Mamasita). If anyone can breathe some life into this dead zone, it's them. 

The pitch is Caribbean Grill, and the cultural influences swerve all over the road – witness the enthused staff dressed in Hawaiian shirts and French Breton striped tops pushing Venezuelan rum while the Beach Boys croon Kokomo.

Pretty Mama.'s cocktails are inspired by fruity ingredients.
Pretty Mama.'s cocktails are inspired by fruity ingredients. Photo: Paul Jeffers

The sparklingly new venue sits at the base of the looming Upper West End apartment development, the first opening in a rather breezy shopping arcade that's mostly empty but has destination potential (Top Paddock's new one Higher Ground is opening nearby soon).

The fitout looks expensive, with a long, stylish bar, high stools, vivid blue tiles, beachy linen banquettes, and details of colourful recycled wood.

Most of the single-page menu is made up of excellent drinks, including a column of cocktails coded by central ingredient – banana, say, or pomegranate.

Twice-cooked plantains are an exotic drinking snack.
Twice-cooked plantains are an exotic drinking snack. Photo: Paul Jeffers

The "Coconut" is a creamy and balanced tumbler of Oro rum with a bite of pineapple, lime and bitters shaken over frosty ice pellets, and the "Ginger" is a refreshing take on spicy ginger beer fizzing with soda, pimento dram (an allspice liqueur) and black rum.

There are more old-fashioned cocktails (mojitos, daiquiris, pina coladas, yes, yes, yes), a limited splash of Victorian wines, Red Stripe beer, international rums and a few fruity sodas.

A hulking open grill fuels a punchy selection of food that transcends mere bar snack. Plucky plantain chips make exotic drinking food, and the ropa vieja (Spanish for "dirty laundry") is a generous Cuban stew of pulled beef amped up with "mint mojo" (a vivid Puerto Rican salsa verde).

Ready for a party: Pretty Mama's coconut cocktail.
Ready for a party: Pretty Mama's coconut cocktail. Photo: Paul Jeffers

An order of jerk chicken is non-negotiable – juicy Milawa chook fresh off the flames, encrusted with peppery jerk seasoning – offers plenty of sticky heat.

You'll need extra napkins and a few starchy sides, such as rolls of grilled roti bread, or steaming wild rice and beans, which were both slightly bland and made me wish I had some hot sauce in my bag, Beyonce style.

Pretty Mama is ready for a party, and deserves to be swarmed by worker bees and train commuters immediately. It might even do what Mamasita did for Mexican food almost a decade ago, and turn the Detroit end of town into our own Caribbean quarter.

Eat this
 Jerk chicken, half serve $27.
Drink this Coconut cocktail, $18
Know this There's a huge courtyard for sunny after-work sessions.
Say this "I've got hot sauce in my bag."