When you think of Melbourne's GPO, you tend to think of the impressive façade on Elizabeth Street and shopping at H&M. Perhaps your first thought is the impressive queues that spilled out when the retail store first opened in 2014. But squirrelled away between the GPO and Myer is Postal Lane, and located there is the phenomenal Mama's Buoi.
This restaurant is one of two on Postal Lane, and is a slice of solitude within Melbourne City. The outdoor seating is intimate and private, a stretch of candlelit tables along the side of the narrow alley. A quiet soundtrack murmurs through the speakers dotted along the side wall, and it's easy to forget that the hustle and bustle of city traffic is just around the corner.
Mama's Buoi has a feeling of more than 'just' a restaurant. The menu opens with a statement by the director, Bao Hoang. It contains a short description of his family's experience as Vietnamese refugees and, more importantly, how his mother used to cook for him and his family. As you continue through the menu, it's dotted with family photos and comments about how some meals 'conjure memories of… mum's cooking, family [and] home' or how they're 'just like home'.
It's not hard to realise that this Vietnamese restaurant was inspired by something (or someone) special.
The A.K. Sour, The Viet Express and The Evening's Special
The twenty-one page menu opens with eight pages of drinks alone, a variety of beers, wines and spirits. But the double page spread of cocktails was what drew my attention. I'm not usually one to drink, but resisting the allure of the Vietnamese inspired cocktails was practically impossible. Each cocktail was a well-priced $16 and the waiter was quick to explain to us which drink he'd recommend for the sweet tooth of the group, as well as the night's special. With roughly twenty speciality cocktails as well as the traditional ones and mocktails, there's a wealth of choice for everyone.
To say that the rest of the menu was vast would be an understatement. My go-to Vietnamese meal has always been pho, a soup noodle dish, and for the first time in my life I had difficulty deciding if I should go with pho or try something new. I did, in the end, stick with tradition, but that didn't meant I wasn't entranced with the various meals options available to me and my friends.
There were curries and salads and stir fry dishes listed, each sounding better than the last. And what was perhaps was most impressive was the breadth of vegetarian options they had available on the menu. We ordered two of those, and they were certainly the highlights of the night.
The pho was lovely, with the perfect amount of sweetness in the soup and filling in the way that left you satisfied at the end. Matched with the atmosphere, there was something that was relaxing about eating this pho at Mama's Buoi. The lightly fried silken tofu, the stir fry dish, was phenomenal, slightly spicy from the chilli and incredibly smooth. The final dish, a coconut tamarind curry, was a lovely light curry served with vegetables with a well-rounded flavour. Although we ordered rice, it was probably best we only ordered one dish, as the tofu was best without it, heavy enough to eat on its own but light enough to practically melt on the tongue.
On top of the regular menu, there are also two banquet options available, with a variety of entrées, mains and desserts, at either $45 or $55 a person. The dishes themselves were relatively inexpensive, at roughly $16 a dish, and were beyond satisfying even without starting with an entrée.
Mama's Buoi's food was good, but it was the atmosphere and service that made the restaurant stand out. The lighting and the rustic, bare wood tables brought a hominess to the evening whilst the helpful and attentive wait-staff made sure to keep us happy. All in all it was a lovely little restaurant tucked away from the bulk of the city and is well worth checking out if you're looking for somewhere new and a bit different for Vietnamese cuisine.