466 Swanston Street
Carlton VIC 3053
+61 3 9347 2656
My friend Pete used to talk up this Japanese/Korean restaurant on the Carlton end of Swanston Street back when he was still living in Melbourne. Big Mama, it’s called. I never got the chance to visit on my own but Pete and I just happened to be in the city one early Saturday evening. He had time to kill before he was due to meet his twin sister so he suggested dinner – at Big Mama.
Now, I’d normally show some resistance to being taken to a place called Big Mama if a guy asked me to dine there with him. However, I was also hungry and not really in the mood to go home and cook something from scratch. So we went.
Banchan. It’s always good to have banchan.
We started off with some takoyaki. They were okay, but could have done with a bit more sauce.
We then shared two main dishes. First up, the Korean BBQ beef which was, let’s face it, bulgogi but stir-fried rather than grilled. Taste-wise, it did the job – the beef was tender and the marinade was sweet without being too overpowering. At $15, it’s not the cheapest serving of sweet marinated beef in the Melbourne CBD region but the portion size was generous. I think I would have preferred to pay less for a smaller portion though because we struggle to finish the whole thing. (this was in addition to the second main we had, mind you)
The chilli chicken karaage was amazing. The chicken pieces were marinated in a lovely soy and garlic sauce before being deep-fried then coated in a special sweet chilli karaage sauce and sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds. Although the chicken wasn’t overly spicy, there was still a lovely balance of sweet, salty and nutty that kept me happy.
I can see why Pete loved the place – the food is pretty consistent and the high turnover of patrons kept the atmosphere buzzing. The service was also friendly and efficient despite the busy Saturday evening dinner rush. I did say that the portion sizes were a little big (and the prices accordingly slightly higher than normal) – that wouldn’t be a problem for big eaters or those dining in a large group. For the two of us, however, it was a big of a struggle and we ended up wasting a bit of food.