‘Authenticity’ can be an over-rated ideal. There are times when it’s a good idea to shake up time-worn dishes with a healthy dose of innovation. After all, being an ‘authentic’ dish embodies not only a sense of place, but also a time and social context which cannot be replicated.
As diners, if it’s flavour and surprise that we’re after, then our best chefs are the ones who not only understand the origins of each dish, but coax us out of familiar territory, luring us into unexpected flavours and textures using invention and surprise. That is exactly the experience that we’d been anticipating as we awaited the opening of Mamasan under the Oracle in Broadbeach.
Exotically alluring and sumptuously clad, she watches us from the far end of her restaurant, hovering, waiting for our response.
Mamasan Kitchen & Bar is a sophisticated, upscale eatery serving modern Pan-Asian food, with particular influence from China. While there are some influences from Southeast Asia and even Europe, many of the flavours and inspirations come from East Asia. Eastern cuisine, which has had a quiet revolution in Sydney particularly over the last decade, has been slipped quietly into the Gold Coast by JP Duitsch and partner Lauren Mitchell (also owners of Moo Moo’s).
To perfect their vision, the pair chose Chef Ray Choi to head the kitchen – his first venture into the spotlight. Having spent six years in the kitchens of the ground breaking China Doll and China Lane in Sydney before being lured to the Gold Coast, it was inevitable that Ray’s cuisine would be compared to China Doll. Yet it’s evident that he has created bespoke dishes for Mamasan – the same techniques as China Doll, similar flavours, but different combinations of ingredients and cultural nuances.
Ray is a stickler for detail, trying recipes over and over again to perfect them, the Bangalow pork belly in the bao being one example – it shows the love! His hand has reached into the cuisines of Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia and Korea to gather flavours to round out this pan-Asian menu. Yet it’s thoroughly modern as well, with gluten-free and vegetarian options clearly marked. In fact, over half the dishes can be adjusted to suit diners with food intolerances.
Dining at Mamasan on two occasions, we begin our meal with dumplings (12 – 22), yet they’re not all in the form we might have expected. King crab dumplings are the lightest melt-in-your-mouth ravioli, delicately floating in a coconut sambal bisque – simply sensational! Prawn and bamboo shoot dumplings are housed in a crispy skin, perhaps a take on taro pastry-clad dumplings. The Pork bao is the best we’ve tasted. Inspired by the original street food of Asia, the pork has been Sichuan salt cured for three hours before being cooked for ten hours in the sous vide. What a dish this is: a well-balanced little bundle of bold, spicy and flavour-filled meat accompanied by its own pickled salad and hoisin, enveloped in a perfectly pillow-like bun. Perfect! So perfect, in fact, that we’re in grave temptation of stopping at the dumpling section! But there’s more…
On the second occasion, we sit at the chef’s bar overlooking the kitchen. It’s a bird’s eye view of consummate professionals at work. Five or six chefs move wordlessly around the kitchen, as graceful as ballerinas, each one concentrating on tasks at their allotted station, prepping ingredients, flash frying beneath huge extractor fans, plating up and garnishing ready for service. With the kitchen in full view of the dining area, there’s not a word out of place, let alone a morsel of food. The place is spotless.
In a modern menu packed with unexpected twists of exotic flavour, traditional dishes are turned on their head and given new inspiration. While pig’s ear, a famous Sichuan delicacy, is usually boiled and served with Sichuan red oil, in Mamasan’s kitchen it is sliced finely, cooked, then flash fried, rendering crisp slivers of crackling pork to be tossed through a salad of shallots and coriander leaves. Sichuan salted duck, a specialty street food, is a dark and moody dish, dressed in five-spiced plum sauce and lemon, best shared with a plate of greens. Peking duck pancakes, on the other hand, are given new zest with a touch of lime and coriander biting through the hoisin.
Although we choose cocktails to accompany our meals, the desserts are not too sweet to go alone. To accompany you on the journey, try the Big Boss – a chilli-infused Don Julio Tequila whose kick is balanced by pineapple, agave and lime (20). Smooth and sassy, this cocktail complements the pepper dishes on the menu perfectly, or it could be enjoyed alongside a Mamasan Chocolate Brownie with toasted sesame ice cream.
Another favourite is the My Thai, an oriental take on a classic. With its cutting edge of Kaffir lime leaf infused Pampero Blanco rum, the solid depth of coconut liqueur sweetened off with pineapple juice and lime, this cocktail slides down far too easily. Try it with the heavenly Passionfruit tart with Persian floss, mango coulis and salted caramel fudge cookie.
Food is an evolving, changing medium through which we express our identity and creativity. Like many of the arts, it’s both created and received, with the person who is eating the meal completing the experience. As salt adds flavour to food, so Mamasan’s menu brings the oriental spice of new life to favourite dishes that needed a good spring clean.
Whether you visit Mamasan for bao and beer, dessert and cocktails or a full three courses, your taste buds will be challenged. For us, there’s sheer delight in being lured out of preconception into expected flavours and textures. It’s a joy to be surprised!
Oracle Boulevard, Broadbeach Ph: 07 5527 5700
NOTE: This review has also been published on More Gold Coast.