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Saturday, November 01, 2014

Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills

Goi cuon at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills

Bao Hoang doesn't care if you call him a Mama's boy. He's so proud of his mother's affections, he named his restaurant after it. The buoi isn't just a fancy way to write "boy" either. In Vietnamese, it's the word for pomelo, a type of large grapefruit that his mother used to grow in their back garden and cook for family meals.

Hoang's family story is embedded in the experience at this new Surry Hills eatery. The story of his parents and relatives "in the rag trade working 16-hour days in the garage to make ends meet" is unravelled beautifully on page one of the menu.

Menu with family photos at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Mama's Buoi menu with family photos

The menu itself feels like you're flipping through a family photo album. It's set up like one of those old skool photo binders, complete with yellowing glue markings on every page. In amongst the dish descriptions are personal photos from Hoang's childhood: of family snapshots, fashion flashbacks and growing up in Australia.

Diners at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Diners beneath the phrase that translates to "Do you love mother?"

There's a cool slickness to the restaurant itself, put together by Giant Design. That means an eye-pleasing palette of olive greens, blues and timber hues throughout the bright and light-filled restaurant. The seating is a mix of booths, tables and stools at the open kitchen counter. The wrap-around larder shelving around the kitchen is both practical and artistic too.

Bar counter at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Bar counter

There's a proper bar with a substantial wine list too, not often found in your average Vietnamese joint. That means two sparklings, ten whites and ten reds on the menu - nine of which are available by the glass. Cocktails are all $15, including a Vietnamese caipirinha that uses palm sugar and lemongrass. They haven't forgotten the beer drinkers either. They've got Singha beer on tap, Beer Lao from Laos and the Vietnamese classic 333 beer. That's a total of 7 different beers plus 2 Steps cider from Victoria.

Fried chicken ribs at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Fried chicken ribs with five spice and a chilli lime glaze $10

The menu is weighty with options, so much so that we took ages to decide on what to order. The share plates menu is a good place to start, including fried chicken ribs that are dressed up with chilli, shallots and thin shavings of radish. The batter has a fantastic crunch, laced with five spice.

Goi cuon rice paper rolls at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Goi cuon rice paper rolls with prawn and pork $8

Goi cuon rice paper rolls are probably one of the more expensive items on the menu for what you get. $8 will net you two rolls, freshly rolled and cut in half for easier eating. They're a little light on the herbs, tasting more of noodles and carrot, but you can have fun choosing the filling inside. In addition to the usual prawn and pork combo, you can switch to roast pork and crackling, barbecue chicken or tofu and mushroom.

Kitchen counter seating at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Kitchen counter seating

Lemongrass pork and spring roll vermicelli noodle salad at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Lemongrass pork and pork spring rolls vermicelli noodle salad bowl $14

The vermicelli noodle salad bowls are hugely popular at lunchtime. They're always a favourite in summer, the cool huddle of vermicelli noodles topped with grilled meat, bean sprouts, herbs and pickled vegetables. In most Vietnamese restaurants you get a small bowl of nuoc cham on the side, so you can drown everything in sweet fish sauce dressing at the very last minute for maximum crunch.

There's a lot less interactivity here, so the salads already come with dressing, much of it collected in the bottom of the bowl. It takes a little bit of work to get everything tossed through evenly, and the dressing isn't as punchy with fish sauce as the ones you'll find in Cabramatta. However there's a great char on the lemongrass pork, and two miniature spring rolls are full of crunch.

BBQ chicken vermicelli noodle salad at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
BBQ chicken vermicelli noodle salad bowl $15
and 333 beer (Vietnam) $8

They've got all kinds of vermicelli noodle variations here. That includes a BBQ chicken version, shredded sirloin steak and roast pork with crackling.

Mushroom and silken tofu vermicelli noodle salad at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Mushroom and silken tofu vermicelli noodle salad bowl $13

Vegetarians get to revel in a medley of mushrooms as well as two giant squares of deep-fried silken tofu.

Chefs checking dockets in the kitchen at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Chefs checking dockets in the open kitchen

Pho dac biet at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Pho bo dac biet $9 small
Special pho with thin rare slices of beef, beef balls and tripe in a six-hour broth

There's only one type of pho on the menu, the pho bo dac biet or special beef noodle soup. A small one will only set you back $9 (it's $14 for large), served in a ceramic bowl that feels oddly heavy when you're used to having them served in giant melamine vessels.

The broth tastes a little thin, even though the menu boasts a six-hour broth, but there's plenty to fish around for in the bowl, including beef balls, beef slices and tripe. There's also that moment when you go to reach for the hoisin sauce on the communal condiments tray and realise there isn't one, but perhaps that's the price of stripped back table settings. You do get a side platter of bean sprouts, Vietnamese basil and a lemon wedge though.

Coconut tamarind curry at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Coconut tamarind curry $15
Vibrant and sour coconut tamarind curry of pumpkin, eggplant, mushroom and sweet potato

The coconut tamarind curry is another score for vegetarians, although it's more coconut than tamarind to our tastebuds, tasting more like a Thai yellow curry. It's perfect for ladling over rice though, the thick creamy sauce swollen with chunks of pumpkin, zucchini and sweet potato.

Mixed chicken, pork, beef and nem nuong skewers at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Mixed skewers $18
Marinated chicken, pork, beef and nem nuong Vietnamese sausage

The mixed skewers works equally well as an entree to share or a main meal for one. It's a little bit of everything, with marinated chicken, pork, beef and nem nuong Vietnamese sauce skewers. You get two of each.

Nem nuong Vietnamese sausage skewer at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Nem nuong Vietnamese sausage

The nem nuong is more like a meatball than the usual flattened-style skewer, but all the meats have a pleasing sweetness, with a smoky char from the grill.

Mixed beef, chicken, pork and nem nuong skewers with rice paper sheets at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Mixed skewers with rice papers sheets

The skewers come with lettuce cups, pickles, chilli and mixed herbs, but if you ask nicely they'll bring you some rice paper sheets so you can roll your own. Usually they charge $7 for rice paper sheets, vermicelli noodles and pickles (as an addition to the whole fried market fish for $29) but they happily obliged my request for rice paper only. And didn't charge me a thing. Not sure how long this menu hack will go uncharged though!

It was a ripper of a dish though, rolling up the sweet juicy meat with mints, coriander, lettuce, pickles and chilli. I had to ask for chilli sauce too. I never realised how important that condiment tray was until now.

Che chuoi banana and sago in warm coconut cream at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Che chuoi $9
Banana and sago in a warm coconut cream

There's no che bau mau three colour drink, but they do have a raft of desserts. Che chuoi combines banana and sago in a thick slurry of coconut cream. It's terrifically sweet, with a crunch of peanuts, and guaranteed to have you rolling out the door in a calorific stupor.

Coconut and lime panna cotta at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Coconut and lime panna cotta $14
dressed with seasonal tropical fruit infused with a ginger syrup

They also step things up with more elegant offerings, although the coconut and lime panna cotta seems a little steeply priced at $14 for the serve. Next time I have my eye on Mama's affogato (Vietnamese coffee soaked tapioca with condensed milk ice cream) and banh ran taro doughnuts filled with red bean.

And if the crowds we encountered are anything to go by, the locals love it. The place is heaving at lunchtime. Welcome to the neighbourhood. We think Mama would approve.

Rear courtyard seating at Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills
Rear courtyard seating 

Entrance to Mama's Buoi, Surry Hills

Mama's Buoi on Urbanspoon

Mama's Buoi
116 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9281 9993

Opening hours:
Monday to Saturday 11am-11pm

Opening soon at
Crows Nest - 77 Willoughby Road (November 2014)
Darlinghurst - 336 Victoria Street

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Surry Hills - Devon by Night
Vietnamese - Hai Au Lang Nuog, Canley Vale
Vietnamese - Pho Pasteur, Haymarket
Vietnamese - Pho Tau Bay, Cabramatta
30 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 11/01/2014 10:30:00 pm


  • At 11/02/2014 2:22 am, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    I wanna dig into that lemongrass pork and spring roll vermicelli salad! Place looks good. I also like that they offer a small or large bowl of pho.

  • At 11/02/2014 6:23 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I wish there was Vietnamese like that in the centre of the CBD!

  • At 11/02/2014 7:46 am, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    Looks like a cool little space. Love that you can get small bowls of pho for those of us that want to fit more food choices in!

  • At 11/02/2014 9:12 am, Anonymous Bianca@forfoodssake said…

    All the food looks quite light and fresh.

  • At 11/02/2014 9:28 am, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    Everything looks so bright and colourful! Pity the prices were a little steep, hopefully the quality of the food made up for it

  • At 11/02/2014 9:29 am, Anonymous Francesca said…

    Tasty looking offerings and cheap to!

  • At 11/02/2014 10:16 am, Blogger gaby @ lateraleating said…

    Hmmm... sounds like an overpriced version of what you can find in other suburbs... I guess you pay for the convenience of the location.

  • At 11/02/2014 12:33 pm, Anonymous Cindy (a foodie's joy) said…

    I would have liked the nuoc cham served on the side, hehe! The fried chicken ribs look really tempting though!

  • At 11/02/2014 2:27 pm, Blogger Sherrie @ Crystal Noir said…

    The price offerings are quite steep for what they are... But the salad offerings look like there is a wide range and is super healthy!

  • At 11/02/2014 2:37 pm, Anonymous Maureen said…

    Helen, I loved this review. The family mentions through the menu give me a warm feeling of connection. Then the photos are mouth wateringly good. I wish I lived closer.

  • At 11/02/2014 4:15 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    i totally want those fried chicken ribs for a snack!

  • At 11/02/2014 4:35 pm, Anonymous Gourmet Getaways said…

    I like everything I see, OMG the glutton in me!!! I love the crunchy spring rolls and the greens and the panna cotta. All YUM!

    Gourmet Getaways

  • At 11/02/2014 4:56 pm, Anonymous Alana said…

    The idea behind this place seems super cute, looks like a great addition to Surry Hills too. That che chuoi got me hankerin'.

  • At 11/02/2014 9:12 pm, Anonymous Bec said…

    So this is the cutest thing ever. I might just fly to Sydney JUST for this. Amazing, delicioous funny. I love it! Bec

  • At 11/03/2014 1:07 am, Anonymous Padaek said…

    Great/neat looking place. And the food looks delish! Definitely would go just to have a BeerLao and try the 333. Oh no - no condiments tray, I agree with you there, lol. Love learning about your restaurant hacks. Those tofu squares look amazing!! Best wishes! :D

  • At 11/03/2014 10:32 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow that goi cuon portion really is quite miserly... same with the lack of condiments tray. The noodle salad bowls look like better value though!

  • At 11/03/2014 12:08 pm, Anonymous Amanda @ Gourmanda said…

    Looks cute, but I don't know if I could ever go past my smaller neighborhood Vietnamese restaurants...cheaper, and better value I think!

  • At 11/03/2014 9:04 pm, Blogger Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said…

    Cheaper dishes and such generous serving sizes? I am more than happy to visit!
    Great photos :D

    Choc Chip Uru

  • At 11/03/2014 9:21 pm, Blogger Annie said…

    interesting price difference between the small and large bowl of pho will definitely give this a go especially since the small bowl of pho dac biet is cheaper than most pho establishments in cabra these days.

  • At 11/04/2014 3:50 pm, Blogger Milktea Eats said…

    mmm those chicken ribs look heavenly!

  • At 11/04/2014 6:17 pm, Blogger spooncubed said…

    Wow this looks like a place worth trying! (aside from the goi cuon... $8 for 2?!)

  • At 11/04/2014 8:09 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    That place looks really slick! I want all of the bowls and plates, hehe. :)

    The coconut dessert looks great too! :)

    xox Sarah

  • At 11/04/2014 8:39 pm, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    How lovely. Can you order the dress on the girl at the bar? I love it. There certainly are some great restaurants at Surry Hills. I do love Vietnamese and I can see myself there and loving it xx

  • At 11/05/2014 9:14 am, Blogger Cassie | Journey From Within said…

    oh my, i want to have that lemon grass pork and spring rolls vermicelli bowl!! mmm~~~ perfect for summer indeed! :)
    and the menu with photos is such a nice touch :)

  • At 11/05/2014 10:44 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    A good one for the cashed up hipsters of Surry Hills then!

  • At 11/05/2014 11:14 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    So glad you made a review about this place! Saw it on Urbanlist and was dying to try and you just confirmed my next visit when I'm craving Viet food (which is always) - everything looks soooo good and I always appreciate some nice interior design. :)

  • At 11/05/2014 1:09 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Love Vietnamese food and for me, the Lemongrass pork and Spring Roll combo is a staple. I'm also a big fan of condiments though, but I dare say the snazzy decor would get me in nonetheless!

  • At 11/06/2014 10:26 pm, Anonymous Sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    I do like the look of the rear courtyard with summer coming. Smaller servings of pho are right up my alley, means I can eat more of the other things.

  • At 11/08/2014 1:40 pm, Blogger Keren @passionatelykeren said…

    I haven't had vietnamese for ages!!! This is so close to me I might pop in for a visit when I'm nearby.

  • At 11/18/2014 3:11 pm, Blogger Mel said…

    Ok, totally not related to the delicious looking food at all, but HOW AMAZING is the dress the woman standing at the bar is wearing! Do you think it's a Leona??


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