Where: Mama Baba
What: Casual weeknight dinner for two
I dined at Mama Baba the night before this was published. It's no secret that there's no love lost between George Calombaris et al., and The Age and Dubecki's review is, as expected, quick to criticise the establishment. Readers have also jumped on the bandwagon, slamming the eatery with a one-star(?!) rating.
My experience at Mama Baba was, however, generally pleasing. Service was casual, but attentive. Drinks (especially cocktails) were very reasonably priced - $12 for my refreshing citrus and Cointreau concoction. Management should also be commended for the layout of the restaurant. The bar, in particular, is a triumph, with bottles stacked metres high (I have no idea if or how employees are expected to reach said bottles!). Likewise, the open kitchen adds to the ambiance of the sizeable, industrial dining space.
My friend and I opted to skip the "snacks" on the menu (typically "saving ourselves" for dessert!) and jumped straight into the pasta options. G. opted for the tortellini with prawn saganaki, tomato and feta ($26) from the Mama (Greek-inspired) part of the menu. I selected Spaghetti zucchini, inspired by la Conca Del Sogno, Nerano ($22) from the Baba (Italian-inspired) section.
G. thoroughly enjoyed her dish and the mouthful that I nabbed while her back was turned (just kidding!) was excellent. My meal was simple and understated and the pasta itself was cooked to absolute perfection. However, a little extra seasoning could have really augmented the dish to the next level. And here's the bit where I agree (albeit just a little) with Dubecki: the pasta could stand to be a bit more rustic and homely - a little messier and gutsier. I did, in fact, want "to eat like a peasant", but I found myself with a slightly overworked dish that was lacking a little oomph. That's not to say I didn't enjoy my meal, but felt there was certainly some room for improvement.
Onwards and upwards: dessert! Both G. and I opted for the same two scoops of ice-cream to conclude our meal - milk and Milo; and crunchy peanut butter and salt ($8). While I chose the former to simply fill up my cone (clearly more excited about the prospect of the crunchy peanut butter option), it came as a pleasant surprise and brought back tonnes of happy, milo-drinking childhood memories. The latter was, as expected, delicious - impossible to fault!
Overall, Mama Baba provided a relaxed, "Melbourne" atmosphere for a lovely catch up with a close friend. Yes, there is room for improvement, but give the establishment a break - with only 6 weeks of operation under its belt, I see good things for its future!