Restaurant review: Mamafri Abu Dhabi, notes from an Asian food rave cave

Can this cult Dubai restaurant recreate the magic in the capital..?

2019 feels like a lifetime ago. Trauma will do that to you. It’s been three years of constantly reevaluated restrictions, rules and what we could reasonably expect ‘normal’ to look like in the near-to-distant future. It was also the year that the wheels of the Mamafri restaurant machine hit the tarmac, a testing time for most businesses, particularly so for new ones and a positively hostile one for new restaurants.

Emirati-conceived Mamafri seems to have gone beyond weathering that storm, it has thrived — growing from a five table Jumeirah set up, to a new location in DIFC and now, this latest feather in its legacy cap, an Abu Dhabi location at Sheikha Fatima Park.

Come to mama

The interiors are a sharp contrast to the urban oasis outside, a segmented cocoon-scape of mandoline soundwaves hangs from the ceiling — ignore a few decorative details and we could be in the belly of a blue whale, or the hull of an intergalactic spacecraft. Fortunately for our rumbling stomachs we are, in fact, in a restaurant.

We opt for a table at the foot of the glass fronted restaurant, sit down and pick through the menu. It’s bijoux but varied, there are curated specimens from a variety of Asian culinary stories. It’s an ensemble cast of Malaysian, Thai, Cantonese and Japanese dishes — of which, we’re told, “the Wagyu sando and ramen, are probably the most popular”.

We pick ramen (Dhs54) off the back of a mental coin flip. To go alongside it, we order a ‘spicy boy’ chicken bun (Dhs54), with the understandable expectation that we’d soon be taking a bao. Along with the Japanese noodle soup, the waiter returns however with what is, unmistakably, a chicken burger.

Mamma mia

After cramming an ambitious wedge into our mouth, there’s an almost immediate mid-chew urge to evangelise about just how good it is. This is burger physics #101. The unstoppable force of a crisp-shelled, juicy-cored chicken fillet smashing headlong into the immovable object of a spicy pickled chili relish. A rare and genuine eureka moment.

The ramen is a worthy second study. It’s not the most authentically Japanese version of the meal you’re likely to find in Abu Dhabi, but it is amongst the most exciting. There are familiar nutty notes from the sesame and miso, but there’s more complex, swirling earthy stock to explore within the broth. It feels wholesome and restorative, forget chicken soup, this is our future cure for any acute cases of the man flu.

Verdict: Both the food and the ambiance at Mamafri really wrestle with conformity, it’s not fine dining, it’s not a casual eatery — it’s not really between the two either. It’s cool, an outlier, a sigma with a tech house soundtrack and a stubborn refusal to deliver what’s expected. Securing a Mamafri location amounts to a huge win for Abu Dhabi’s Asian food fans.

Mamafri, Sheikha Fatima Park, Al Bateen, now open. @lovemamafri

Images: Provided