Cnr Swanston St and Flinders St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
I love the concept and ethos of Mabu Mabu Big Esso – it’s an indigenous-owned diner focussed on cooking with native ingredients in a sustainable way, all whilst partnering with LGBT-led, women-led, and First Nations peoples. I feel good inside just writing that. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to love Mabu Mabu, the food was… really really not great. And that is extra painful to say because the dishes had so much potential on paper, but unfortunately fell flat in reality, and with steep pricing to boot. As weird as this sounds for a restaurant, I love and support everything Mabu Mabu does, except their food.
Rating: 8/20 – for the greater (non-food) good.
Try this instead: Bush, which is basically the way more delicious, but less socially driven of version Mabu Mabu. They do however also have a big focus on sustainability. Only drawback? They’re about 800km away.
The Emu Liver Parfait ($24) was a cool idea in theory, but turns out there’s a reason why it hasn’t been done before – the resulting paste is dense and gamey, with none of the characteristic rich smoothness of pâté. The pickled muscat grapes brought it back a little, but the brittle, stale lotus root chips were the nail in the coffin.
I was promised that the Sweet Nutty Goolwa Pipis ($28) would be full of flavour, but despite the bold ingredient list of tamarind, garlic shoots, and macadamia chilli, this was still very much bland.
The Cassava and Warrigal Greens Croquette ($16, 2pcs) was the first win of the night, with its light purple centre and unexpected nutty sweetness. The accompanying black garlic aioli was fragrant and tangy.
The other good dish was the Yellow Squash, Celeriac & Macadamia Cream ($26). The squash was really allowed to shine in this one, its delicate sweetness brought out by a light char, and brought out deftly with the rich yet mellow cream.
How can anything called Pulled Wild Boar ($40) be disappointing? Yet unfortunately it was very much the case here; although the pork itself was decent, and the yoghurt sauce an inoffensive if odd choice, the enormous bitter melon gourd everything was stuffed into ruined the entire dish. Not only did it leave a watery ooze on the palate, the amount of bitter was way too much to be enjoyable.