Homemade dumplings and fancy decor, that’s what I was hoping for when visiting Mama Yo, the gigantic new Chinese restaurant that opened on Camden Street earlier this year.
It doesn’t matter who owns a restaurant, but it’s fitting that Mama Yo is another Press Up joint: one of the 65 restaurants, bars, and hotels they own – from Wowburger and Captain Americas to the Dean’s and the Clarence. I admit to being in conflict with Press Up – on the one hand, they have transformed abandoned buildings; they saved Tower Records; and brilliantly revamped the Stella Cinema in Rathmines, transforming it into possibly the most comfortable and stylish cinema in the country. On the other hand, I’m afraid they’re outbidding all the young chefs and entrepreneurs for the best spots and sometimes I feel like the food offerings get less attention than the doorknobs.
Mama Yo sounded different, however – it opened in February this year with a full Chinese team in the kitchen under the direction of head chef, Daming Lu. The restaurant manager is also Chinese, as is our lovely waitress, Claire – and, unlike many Asian restaurants in Dublin, this kitchen makes its own dumplings from scratch.
Mama Yo has a rather narrow frontage on bustling Camden Street, but the restaurant is huge with lots of rich red tones softened by wood paneling and a mix of booths and banquettes – there are even two tall, cleverly lit trees.
The menu offers many familiar dishes, but also more adventurous options. First to arrive were prawn crackers and a spicy cucumber salad followed by a steamed chicken and prawn wonton (€11.50). The wontons had been a suggestion from our server and were the dish of the night – delicate satiny exterior and meaty filling and tangy chilli and soy dip. The Steamed Lotus Buns (€11.95) with Tempura Soft-shell Crab were well-constructed but a bit too bland for our liking – luckily a dash of the wontons’ chili-soya dipping sauce made them delicious.
Cheung Fun is perhaps my favorite dim sum dish, succulent silky steamed rice noodle pockets filled with bbq pork (char-siu) or shrimp. Mama Yo’s version is more decorative and comes in small savory bites filled with prawns and crispy asparagus (€11.50) — the sauce was a little sweet for our taste but it still worked well.
We shared a main course of XO Sauce Red Atlantic Prawns (€24.50) which had lots of fatty prawns and a healthy dose of umami, as you would expect from a dried fish based sauce. Once again I felt the sauce needed more heat or fermented spiciness to enhance the flavors. As an accompaniment, Silken Tofu (€8.25) arrived unexpectedly in the form of a mound of fried nuggets. The contrast between the crispy exterior and the delicate silky interior was nice, but I would have preferred the tofu on its own, perhaps with a drizzle of chilli or soy.
The wine list is short and conventional (Pinot Grigio, Marlborough Sauvignon, etc.) but was saved by the selection of wines from Château La Coste – the refined Provençal estate owned by Paddy Mckillen of Press Up. Our bottle of La Coste Grenache Blanc-Viognier was fragrant and fresh and matched the food well. The cocktail list is serviceable, but the beer and cider offering is completely boring with only beers made by multinationals – surely there’s room for a few independent craft beers and ciders?
The desserts from Chocolate Delice (€8.95) with Ice Cream Selection (€6.95) were quite solid although the texture of the delice was too chewy for my taste.
So I realize I whined a bit today, but I’m not sure Mama Yo is for the guy ordering slices of lung and husband and wife chicken feet (that’s (tell me) – go for the dumplings, decor and lovely staff. You will have fun.
Dinner for 2 including three sets of meatballs, a shared main course and side plus two desserts and a bottle of white wine is a very fair €118.10
Lunch: Friday-Sunday noon-3 p.m.
Dinner: Monday to Sunday from 5:00 p.m. to late
Mama Yo gets a lot of stuff like the dumplings and decor – but I would like to see a bit more punch and spiciness in the dishes.