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Mamasan Eatery: Melville's Cape Malay nook that is bursting with potential

This article first appeared in City Press.

by: Grethe Kemp | 16 Apr 2017

Four months after the opening of Cape Malay restaurant Mamasan in Melville, I finally got my butt in gear and visited the quaint little spot.

With images of all sorts of ingredients used in Cape Malay cooking – cinnamon sticks, onions, peas, cherry tomatoes and cumin seeds – on its glass front, the restaurant sports a Bo-Kaap-home-meets-hipster feel that is rather charming.

Think pot plants hanging from the ceiling, a wonderful painting of a six-breasted woman by Cape Town artist Lady Skollie, kitsch pink fur on the macramé chairs, cushions with exposed foam, plastic candle holders and vibrant colours on the exposed beams.

To start off, our table ordered all three starters – the gesmoorde chilli and peach snoek pâté (R65), lamb denningvleis (R80) and sticky sour-fig chicken wings (R70). The lamb took the gold and was wonderfully presented in a stack with rounds of butternut and tameletjie pieces (that nostalgic traditional snack of caramelised sugar) broken on top. The snoek pâté was almost as delicious, with lovely crispy paaper bites to dip into it. Unfortunately, the chicken was a miss – the wings were dry and the coleslaw side was pretty bland.

Ah, so two out of three so far.

We forged ahead, appetites piqued, and for mains ordered pineapple and piri-piri chicken on spinach-apple waffles (R100), seared tuna with corn off the cob (R120), pan-fried masala hake (R90) and tripe curry salomi (R85).

My masala hake, which came on a wonderful green bed of cos lettuce, halved grapes, green beans, apples and gherkins, was a little disappointing. When I think masala, I think flavour, flavour, flavour – this dish lacked it. The tripe and sugar bean curry salomi was nothing to write home about, and the chicken waffle was pretty dry. Luckily, the seared tuna was gorgeous and complex.

There’s nothing wrong with the food per se, but I wish the chef would crank that taste dial up a little. Although Cape Malay food is not meant to be spicy – it incorporates a lot of sweet flavours in the form of chutneys and fruit – it’s not meant to be bland either.

This little restaurant is bursting with potential and has the vibe down pat. All it needs is a little more spice and everything will be nice. Give it a go.

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