I’m sure everyone has by now heard the story about Harlan Goldstein and how he abruptly exited his four-restaurant venture in Central after barely opening the third restaurant. Thankfully, ZS Hospitality, the group that owns these restaurants, along with my current favourite healthy spot, HOME Eat to Live, decided to go ahead with Mamasita’s Cantina, the one I was most excited about!
This vibrant restaurant and bar takes over two floors of 8 Lyndhurst Terrace. On the sixth floor, which was formerly BLCKBRD, is the Cuban-inspired bar that focuses on Latin-style cocktails made predominantly with rum, tequila and mezcal. This floor features quirky, colourful murals depicting a Cuban street scene, as well as a gorgeous, comfortable terrace.
Head down the colourful tile-lined staircase to the restaurant on the fifth floor. Headed by Mexican Chef Edgar Navarro, the menu focuses on authentic Mexican-style street food as well as larger dishes. The space definitely has a ‘cantina’ style vibe to it, with mis-matched chairs, colourful plates and rustic stone walls.
I can’t help but judge a Mexican restaurant on its guacamole. Mamasita’s Cantina’s version is a sizeable helping that’s beautifully presented in a hollowed out tree stump, served with homemade, extra-crunchy tortilla chips. Chef Edgar proudly announced that his guacamole is made with Mexican avocados, “not Australian ones!” The guac had a perfectly creamy, yet satisfyingly chunky texture, mixed with cherry tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, cotija cheese and a subtle drizzle of white truffle oil to give it a little something extra. Mamasita’s Cantina definitely passed the guacamole test!
The beef cheek sope reminded me a little, in texture and flavour, of an arepa. The base was made with corn and fried until just slightly crisp, topped with slow-cooked beef cheek and black bean purée, sprinkled with cotija cheese. I could eat these all day.
Another thing I judge Mexican restaurants on is their corn esquites, or Mexican street corn. This version was pleasingly generous on the chilli and the cotija cheese, which all melted into the warm corn to create something wonderful.
The empanadas Cubanas contained a perfect medley of flavours. Stuffed with corn, prawns and chorizo, they came topped with sweet, sticky black garlic aioli and a cactus salad.
Tacos here are usually served individually and the homemade tortillas are usually about twice the size of your palm. So that we could try a wide range of dishes, Chef Edgar prepared some bite-sized versions of the pork carnitas, the beef and the fish tacos, all of which were utterly faultless. I particularly liked the fish tacos, made with Sol beer battered fish, creamy avocado and chipotle mayo, on a homemade flour tortilla.
Moving on to the larger, sharing dishes, we began with the carne asada with “manchamanteles” (literally: tablecloth stainer) sauce. This is a version of a mole, but a little more mild and fruity, since it contains smoky pineapple. The beef was incredibly tender and nicely infused with the rich flavours of the sauce, whose name is pretty self-explanatory.
I loved the BBQ pork ribs “pibil”. The pork, having been slow-cooked for 16-hours, fell instantly off the bone and tasted divine, particularly when paired with the accompanying green apple slaw and achiote BBQ sauce.
Chef Edgar announced that the roasted chicken Cubano was the star of the show, but I think we had already met the star in the preceding dish. The chicken was fine, but nothing particularly special and probably not worth its $368 price tag.
Pescado sarandeado is a typical Mexican dish where the fish is cut in half along the backbone before grilling. The bones in the red snapper were all removed, for ease of eating, and Chef Edgar prepared it two ways – one with adobo, and one with coriander, of which I think I preferred the latter. The accompanying refried black beans were also delicious.
To finish, Chef Edgar presented us with his version of a torta tres leches, spiked with tequila, topped with corn foam, milk ice cream, rum granita, and caramel-coated popcorn. That clever second stomach of mine opened up just in time to gladly receive the comforting, sweet, yet not overwhelming flavours of this dish.
As is to be expected with all restaurants that offer sharing dishes, prices can creep up and catch you by surprise. Most starters here are around or less than $100, whilst mains are between $228 and $388.
I was seriously impressed by Mamasita’s Cantina and will definitely be back – with frequency. One thing we did note is that the restaurant doesn’t have much of that fun, lively vibe that you’d expect to go hand in hand with this sort of cuisine, but it is still early days, so hopefully in time it can be the go-to spot for anyone looking for some Latin vibes and legit Mexican cuisine.
5-6/F, 8 Lyndhurst Terrace
Tel: +852 2896 6118