Salud! at Mamasita (After a Drink at Collins Quarter)

Last night I finally got to check out Mamasita and see what all the fuss is about. We (Jina, Penny and Cheryl) arranged to meet at 6.30pm, wrongly thinking we had a shot at walking straight in to a table on a Tuesday night. Jina left her name and number for when a table would be free at around 7.30. Already hungry, we decided to head across the road to Collins Quarter for a drink and perhaps a bite to eat, wrongly thinking (again) there would be some dips or something to share.

We perched at the bar before the friendly barman seated us in a booth despite our feeble protests that we would only be having a drink and nibble. The menu looks tempting but nothing really suitable for pre-dinner tasting so we ordered a bowl of shoestring fries to pass the hour. We ordered from Miss Attitude who was clearly inconvenienced by having to unset the dinner plates and she did her best to make us feel quite uncomfortable about this. This is not how we wanted to start the night.

Now, I will mention here my experience working in the hospitality and service industry. I have a passion for the hospitality industry and have worked in cafes, restaurants and private functions for many years. It’s a rare streak of freakish nature but I do love to serve others, doing what I can (within the professional capacity of the venue) to ensure everyone has a sensational night out, one that is remembered and talked about for all the right reasons. And so I feel I have some kind of fair and justified sense about certain situations.

We finished our drinks and chips and went to pay. One of the lovely ladies I was dining with (Jina, you’re a gem!) mentioned to the guy taking our moolah that we’d not had a pleasant experience and would have preferred our drinks without a side of attitude from the waitress (ok so she didn’t say that exactly but something along those lines). It was in a calm and reasonable manner and I closed the conversation with a ‘I’m sure she’s just having a bad day but it really did make us feel uncomfortable’. In between there somewhere we did mention we were just popping in for a pre-dinner drink and nibble before out Mamasita seating. He was terribly apologetic and genuine.

We headed back to Mamasita and were seated at the awesome table next to the kitchen. As you would expect from a Mexican restaurant the vibe was buzzing and the Spanish comida (food) aromas were wafting from the cocina (kitchen en espanol). We were feeling very cosy and excited by the selection of share plates and the delightful waitress explained the dishes and recommendations.

As we were commenting how much better this experience was than Collins Quarter we looked up and saw the guy who took our bill at Collins Quarter striding towards us. We looked at him confused, he looked at us with an apologetic grin and said, (again, I paraphrase) “I felt so bad and I’m mates with this guy here (points to Mamasita manager) so I wanted to apologise again and buy you a glass of wine each to make it up to you. You’re the kind of clientele we want in our venue and I am just so sorry you had a bad experience.”

All is forgiven! I was shocked in a good way by this level of customer care and will be back to Collins Quarter for dinner at some point as the menu did look great. Our new best friend, manager Scott (also a bit cute – bonus!), made things right. He turned a potentially bad situation around which was definitely a plus because I know the other ladies will be blogging about the night in detail too!

In fact, for me, he has managed to steal some of the spotlight from Mamasita. This blog post was supposed to be about the good food, good service and great atmosphere of the Mexican joint but it has been overtaken by this gallant gesture of customer service. This is the kind of service that gets me excited, the kind I hope I’ve shown to patrons in the past. This is an example of the kind of influence good people and good staff can bring to a business.

Now that story is told and digested, here is what we digested last night (full menu here): assortment of fish, pork, chicken and crab tostaditas; chicken quesadilla; truffle and mushroom quesadilla; cactus salad; lamb with chilli and jalapeno; sweet corn with chilli and lime.

And for dessert: mint flan with caramel, chilli chocolate pudding, banana fritter with ice-cream.

The company I was in was the highlight of the evening. It was awesome getting to know the girls better and they’re such a good blogging influence, so much so I even took more pics than I’ve ever taken before (mainly because I’ve already eaten the food before remembering to photograph it). Thank you ladies – it was an absolute joy and delight.

For me the food was good. Not spectacular but when you savour the experience as a whole – food, drinks, service, atmosphere, venue – it was a great night out. I would recommend this place for groups so you can book and so you can compete with the noise level. We enjoyed the evening but personally, I wouldn’t hurry back there or wait over an hour for a table. But do try it – so many people rave about it. I have also been spoiled having worked in a Spanish restaurant in Sydney so I’m probably not the best person to give an unbiased review.

For my next Spanish flavour I would like to try Bar Lourinha.

PS: I hope you’ll also check out the other ladies’ blogs – Cheryl’s businesschic; Penny’s Jeroxie: Addictive and Consuming; and Jina’s Urbanjin.

MAMASITA: Mexican Restaurant and Bar • Level 1, 11 Collins St • Melbourne • AUS • Open 6 Days • +61 3 9650 3821

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Casa Iberica – Spanish Supermarket in Fitzroy

As we’ve been learning Spanish, last weekend mi amiga Khara took me to a Spanish supermercado on Johnston St, Fitzroy. And it is very Spanish with lots of imported yummies from Spain and South America.

They also have a massive stock of herbs, spices, and raw ingredients which is great to know – quinoa, beans, dried herbs, pastes and more. You can also pick up giant paella dishes and smaller more house-friendly sizes, and dishes for cooking on an open flame then serving.

The aromas, sights and tastes were a delight and it was fun to remember the time in spent in Spain … if only I knew some Spanish then, the shopping would have been so much faster!

There was a long queue – we went at around 2pm – but worth waiting for the beed empanada which they heated up for me. I will be going back to stock up on some olives, cheese, hams and other delicious morsels.

Worth checking out.

Cafe Tango – Argentinian cuisine at 107 Hoddle Street, Richmond

Last night I met Khara (my “offline friend” whom I oft refer to!) at Cafe Tango for some empanadas and Spanish practice. Since finishing Beginner 1 at The Spanish Cat with a few weeks until the next level begins, we have pledged to continue to practice and study weekly.

We shared a salad and one of each kind of empanada – spinach ricotta, beef (my favourite), one with corn and another ham and cheese. Following this we indulged (read: gorged) ourselves on the caramel cheesecake and Alfajores. These were amazing and the cheesecake the first the chef/owner has ever made. Sensational job! Just look at the pics – tasted even better than they look!

If you’re after something cheap, cheerful, delicioso and with a homey, relaxed, South American vibe (there’s a foosball table in the cafe!) this place is perfect. Trams are close and there is parking in the side streets.

This little gem on the side of a terribly busy road is run by two lovely Argentinian (I think!) sisters who offered to assist us with our Spanish practice and who run Spanish move nights on Wednesdays and speaking practice sessions on Thursdays. At the moment these evening activities are sporadic but you can sign up to receive email updates about when they’re happening.

La Mirada Film Festival: LA ISLA INTERIOR (The Island Inside)

La película fue una historia intensamente emocional de la familia. Disfruté de ello mucho.

It was an intense afternoon yesterday at the La Mirada Film Festival at the screening of La Isla Interior (viewed at ACMI), a sophisticated film exploring the lives of a family coping with schizophrenia, sexual abuse and an over-controlling mother who feels she must carry the responsibility of the whole family to function.

A highly emotional and deeply thoughtful cast connect and tell their stories in a believable way. At first I thought there was a need to have a larger role of someone ‘not impacted by a mental illness or abused past’ but perhaps this is my reaction to such a poignant portrayal of what is perhaps closer to the reality of such a situation than I wish to admit.

The screening was followed by a charming Q and A with actor Antonio de la Torre where most of the audience questions were about the actors’ preparation and management of such intensely emotional roles.

I really enjoyed this movie directed by Félix Sabroso and Dunia Ayas. It has inspired and nurtured my quest to better learn the Spanish language and nuances of the culture.

SYNOPSIS: Directors Félix Sabroso and Dunia Ayaso present this film about a dysfunctional family: Martín wants to leave his parents’ house and become a writer in Paris. His sister, Gracia, is tormented by the fictitious narrative her life has turned into. As for Coral, the remaining sister, she just yearns to be loved. The forthcoming death of their schizophrenic father forces them to leave their inner island in which they live in spiritual isolation. The astonishing script written by the directors is paralleled by a no-less impressive cinematography the use of colour and light are outstanding. Exceptional performances by a remarkable cast, featuring the wonderful Geraldine Chaplin and Candela Peña, provide a light, at times funny quality to their dramatic circumstances. Be enlightened by actor Antonio de la Torre’s personal experience working on this film, that is possibly the most inspiring drama of last year’s Spanish cinema. [from the La Mirada Film Festival website]

Puedo aprender a hablar español (I am learning to speak Spanish)

About two years ago I started to learn to speak Spanish at a charming school called The Spanish Cat en la Calle Liverpool en Sydney (translation: Liverpool St, Sydney). I made it through Beginner with excitement and dedication to study and then Level 1 with a little less rigor but still thoroughly enjoying learning a language other than English.

I can only speak English but have dabbled in Japanese when I was around twelve years old and French as a teenager then at uni for one semester. No, I am not proficient at either of these now. But I would like to be bilingual and have chosen Spanish for its diversity across the globe and it is such a happy sounding, relatively easy language to learn at this late stage in life.

And so, last week, I began learning at The Spanish Cat en la Calle Little Bourke en Melbourne. Starting again from Beginner will no doubt be a solid way to rebuild the basics I have forgotten. I am also learning with a friend, Khara, who has also done a little (un poco en Espanol) during school and uni.

We have vowed to practice diligently and really learn basic speaking well. Being able to speak with someone else is the best way to learn.

Tonight we felt we made good progress conjugating verbs and irregular verbs such as hacer (to make) and ir (to go). Khara and I will try to use the Spanish words we know in everyday so if I throw a few words into conversation here or there it is for the good of my learning.

I highly recommend The Spanish Cat for its methods of writing, repeating and using in context. The classes are not too big at around eight to ten students and you get a workbook as well. Best of all, the hour and a half does fly by because the classes are also fun. And although I am learning, I am still all about the fun! Si or no?