At Mamasita, Mezcal Makes Everything Just a Little Better

By Brad French

I didn’t feel drunk, to my surprise, after the “Comunidad” six-course degustation meal at Mamasita on Sunday, a Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event featuring Australian indigenous ingredients prepared in a Mexican style with matching mezcals, but I did feel the need for a traditional siesta before tackling this review.

Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic drink made from the agave plant native to Mexico, mainly around the state of Oaxaca where a local saying goes: “For everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good, as well”. This saying, to me, feels like the Mexican equivalent of Madame Lily Bollinger’s famous quote about champagne: “I only drink champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory.” But this alcoholic drink was slightly different: It came with the addition of a small wedge of orange sprinkled with a smoky, chilli-salt that was laced with ground agave worms.

Mamasita chef Michael Smith was tasked with sourcing the ingredients and planning the menu for the “Comunidad” feast around the theme of community and sustainability. There was no better example of this theme than the paperbark encasing the Mooloolaba prawns (supplied by a Wadi Wadi elder), crispy fried saltbush and dark-smoked Morita chipotle chili peppers ground with confit garlic oil. The whole-peeled prawns were perfectly cooked with an incredible depth of flavour from the paste and were paired with an agave cousin of the mezcal, an Estancia raicilla from Lechuguilla, Jalisco, Mexico.

Smith is a protégé of Jaques Raymond, where his cooking and organisational skills elevated him to the position of head chef. He then worked under Adam d’Silva at Tonka, where his love of Indian food helped him develop the skills needed in his current position at Mamasita, cooking excellent, balanced, subtly spiced dishes.

Highlights of Sunday’s lunch included succulent grilled corn on the cob, coated with Kakadu plum mayo, smoky paprika and a funky-smelling, grated hard cheese; rockling ceviche with native blood lime, fig, raw shaved fennel and crunchy blue corn tortillas; Tasmanian mountain pepperberry-crusted quail with quandong and tomatillos; a cleansing baby pepino cucumber granita; rare-roasted and rested kangaroo with a native tamarind and riberry salad; and to conclude, what could best be described as a vanilla dusted crème caramel of agave syrup, finger limes and other citrus accompanied by a crisp almond tuille.

Mamasita was a revelation not only for the quality of the food and mezcals, the ethics of the organisation and professionalism and knowledge of the staff, but for how the restaurant embraced the theme of this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in a considered and caring way.

I did not feel drunk, but on leaving the premises, I had to return to collect my jacket, and then go back yet again to retrieve my Ray-Bans when the sun nearly blinded me as I looked towards Parliament House. Each time, I was greeted like an old friend.

This story was produced as a part of "Eat Your Words by Le Cordon Bleu," an immersive workshop on food and wine writing for new writers.