MELBOURNE | Mama Le is a modern Vietnamese restaurant tucked away in an industrial pocket of Kensington. After over two years of pandemic-related delays, it opened earlier this year and joins local favourites La Tortilleria and Bonehead Brewing, in what’s becoming quite a gem of a block.
From the street, the former office and warehouse appears, but it’s actually quite spacious. There’s the downstairs bar and dining space, mezzanine kitchen and dining room, and a spacious second bar and dining/function space upstairs. Colourful murals, neon lights, and funky tunes combine for a vibrant atmosphere.
Claims of “fusion food” and the “cool” space might ring some alarm bells and fears of style over substance. This couldn’t, however, be further from the truth. At its heart, Mama Le is a family restaurant. It’s owned and operated by mother and daughter duo Leanne and Lisa Le. Lisa loves her mum’s traditional Vietnamese cooking, and also loves the modern spots that put twists on things. So why not combine the two?
With no prior experience running a hospitality venue, Leanne and Lisa took the bold step of opening Mama Le. You’ll find Leanne leading the kitchen, while Lisa’s also on the tools, learning from her mum as she goes. At front of house you’ll find Lisa’s partner Brendan, welcoming and chatting to diners. You can tell that it’s a place that’s been operating under the radar, with a rapport between staff and customers that you only get when a place is filled with mostly returning locals.
The food at Mama Le is rooted in Leanne’s traditional home-style recipes, but isn’t held back by anyone’s preconceptions about what “real” or “authentic” Vietnamese food should be. There’s a respect for tradition, quality produce, and flavour.
Banh mi is served as banh mi bruschetta, topped with pork nem nướng, pate, pickled veggies, and sweet hoisin sauce. There’s bowls of pho on the menu but also pho rolls. The ingredients and flavours of beef pho in rice paper roll form. They’re both worth ordering.
On the more traditional side is the delicious bánh xèo (crispy rice pancakes) filled with mung beans, and bean sprouts, served with fresh salad and dipping sauce. Nem nướng (Vietnamese grilled pork sausage) served with hoisin sauce is another winner.
For larger dishes, there’s things like bánh hỏi (crackling pork served on vermicelli sheets
with fresh salad and dipping sauce), lemongrass chicken chilli ribs, and an outstanding Vietnamese curry served with a fluffy, crisp tiger roll for dipping.
Three desserts round off the menu. Be sure to try the Vietnamese coffee tiramisu. There’s a reason why it’s Lisa’s favourite dessert on the menu.
To drink, it’s a small selection of cocktails inspired by the flavours of Vietnam, plus the classics. There’s a decent selection of local craft beers in the fridges, and a mostly Australian wine list. Mama Le also has a dedicated coffee bar and serve up some very good coffee – Western-style and Vietnamese.
31 Stubbs Street
Wed – Fri: 11:00am to 3:00pm; 5:00pm to 9:30pm
Sat: 5:00pm to 10:00pm