MELBOURNE | Mabu Mabu is one of my favourite, and to my mind one of the most unique and interesting cafes in Melbourne. When I discovered that owner Nornie Bero was opening a spinoff restaurant, Big Esso, in Fed Square, I was excited about what it was going to bring to the Melbourne dining scene.
Big Esso is slang for ‘the biggest thank you’ in the Torres Strait Islands, where Nornie grew up. The thank you extends to the customers who have supported Nornie from her South Melbourne market stall, through to the Yarraville cafe, and now this restaurant. It also extends to the Australian continent, for its abundance of native produce and ingredients.
The offering at Big Esso is an expansion of what is happening at the Yarraville cafe. The focus is still on indigenous ingredients and cuisine, but expanded to dinner dishes and bar options. There’s more of an exploration of seafood, and the dishes that Nornie grew up with. Where possible, produce is sourced from from First Nations, queer-led, women-led, and environmentally conscious producers.
Expect dishes like kangaroo tartare with smoked oyster aioli, and taro crisps, Namas (Island style coconut cured kingfish, chilli, and coriander), and charred emu flat fillet with molasses, and fried sugar cane. Drinks wise, it’s a similar theme, with a great assortment of local sodas, beer, and wine. Cocktail drinkers should try the Island Spiked Tea. It’s made with wild hibiscus flowers, strawberry gum leaf, lemon and cinnamon myrtles and Axel vodka.
The space is located beside the Koorie Heritage Trust, on Wurrundjeri land. It’s open, bright, and welcoming. Artwork by artists like Gumbaynggirr woman Aretha Brown, and Gunditjmara and Torres Strait Islander woman Lisa Waup adorn the restaurant’s walls and tables. Beyond the menu, there’s also a retail pantry selling take home goods like house-made hot sauces, seasonings, spice mixes and teas. I highly recommend grabbing some of the spice mixes. They’re all great, and I’m particularly fond of the Desert Herbs mix, which I often use as a dry rub when I’m doing low and slow BBQ.
Big Esso opened the week that we went back into lockdown, so unless you were lucky enough to visit during those first few days, you won’t have been able to have had the full experience yet. In the meantime, the restaurant has been operating as a take away operation, offering the full range of pantry items, along with take home meal kits and drinks to go. Grab a taco kit grazing platter (the platter is great for picnics) while restrictions are being eased, and add Big Esso to your list for when in venue dining reopens.
Big Esso by Mabu Mabu
Tue – Thu: 11:00am to 10:00pm
Fri – Sat: 11:00am to 11:30pm
Sun: 11:00am to 10:30pm