Monday, 18 March 2013

Mama Roots (Vegetarian and Vegan)

599, High St, Northcote, VIC 3070

 Mama Roots on Urbanspoon
Asian inspired fusion vegetarian meals are not my first choice. So, perhaps my expecations were low but I was really pleasantly surprised by some of the Asian themed dishes. This is a great find in Northcote and its a relatively new place. Some of the initial harsh comments on Urbanspoon from diners seems no longer relevant as I didn't have any of the problems the initial diners had. The food was well balanced and the one thing that most people agree on, is the warm friendly service, with a smile.

The Place
This is not a huge place but tastefully decorated with a variety of seating arrangements. Lovely little cafe style dining joint with a friendly atmosphere. Parking is great across the road. There were quite a number of diners there when I went with a small group of friends but the sound level was just a small murmur.

Things to do nearby: There's not a lot nearby though about 10 minutes down the road is the High Street, Northcote shops.

The Food
There's a range of dishes here including non-Asian ones. So, I am just going to focus on the Asian-inspired dishes. When I say Asian - I mean South Asian mostly here. It's true that one would not leave this place hungry. The serves are generous and if you order the banquet as we did - there's plenty to go round. The highlights for me include:

Firstly, the starters...
The humble Curry Puff was tasty and light to start with. It was not greasy like some places and could be seen as really simple. However, the balance and lightness was just light for a starter.
The Tofu Balls are sweet and light, not too heavy and a nice way to begin the meal.
I am always partial Corn Fritters and the ones here are moist, light, tasty and well balanced as a starter.

The Tofu Burger here is simply delicious. I am already thinking about when I can go back there to have it again. It's is wonderfully well balanced, moist, and just tasty. Delicious and nutritious... yummy.

I also has the Laksa which looked like a deceptively small serving. This is fusion laksa at its best because it wasn't overpowering and just the right level of coconut milk. It did have spice and some of my friends, Deb and Robbie found that it had a bit of a kick to it. The only problem I had with it is the bits of lemon grass in it. The old style of leaving everything in the soup could be annoying for some.
Lasksa in a Claypot
There were other non-Asian inspired dishes here that I haven't reviewed but suffice to say, I think there's enough of a range to inspire most people but - when you go to a place such as this - you have to be a bit adventurous.

The Service
This place has really friendly service and I felt really welcomed coming here. They are pretty accommodating. They will take time to explain their menu which changes from time to time. I think this is an important thing because many of the dishes, as described on the menu are not familiar ones. They are innovations and with any innovation, it's always good for a diner to ask questions if they are not sure. So, ask, and they will explain what you could expect. One of the friendliest places to dine in Melbourne and my fellow diners agree on the personal touch this place offers.

What a great find for a local restaurant. I never thought I'd find a vegetarian restaurant that I would rave about (other than the Moroccan Soup Bar) but I do like this one and will likely go back again and again. A real delight.

Cultural Moment
Fusion cuisine can be tricky. Not only is it tricky because it's trying to bring different cuisines together, it is also tricky because you are possibly introducing new tastes to set tastebuds, and not serving anything that's expected. This presents a challenge especially when you are crossing cultural food boundaries - spices in salads, tang to dishes, new combinations of ingredients, unexpected twists in flavourings and textures. I honestly think this is a niche market. Most people know what they like and tend to go for their traditional favourites and their well known dishes. Even those who like contemporary cusine tend to favour particular flavours. Only a small group would put up with real fusion dishes. It's a brave neighbourhood restaurtant that does that, and I applaud Mama Roots. The good news is that they have a range of innovative dishes but also the more expected traditional ones. As I always say when it comes to dining across cultures - know your own tastes, ask the right questions and order accordingly.

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