Mama Baba

Mama Baba has now closed.
You heard it here first, there is no Sunday surcharge at George Calombrais’ new restaurant Mama Baba.  The pasta restaurant opened on Friday and I was eagerly there on Sunday for lunch with my friend Joyce who writes the excellent Melbourne Hot or Not, along with Tim, Joyce and Tim’s adorable baby and MTV.

It’s Italian and Greek fare at Mama Baba – this is the “Parma” 
Calombrais has been hitting the headlines lately for complaining about paying Sunday rates to staff without charging diners a Sunday surcharge.  One of his arguments against paying the rates was the cost of the $45,000 pasta extruder he bought for Mama Baba.  Funnily enough, as soon as you walk in to the restaurant, tucked away in a South Yarra back street, the gleaming pasta extruder is front and centre.  I was glad to see Calombrais does still have chefs, they were all there working in full view in the large open kitchen that runs along one side of the entire space.  I didn’t ask them what they were getting paid for their Sunday efforts.

The infamous pasta extruder
Mama Baba is housed in a warehouse style basement with soaring ceilings, polished concrete floors and long communal wooden tables.  The space is sparse and minimalist.  Paper placemats also serve as menus and ceramic beakers as water glasses.  

Mama Baba has a warehouse feel

The menu at Mama Baba is divided into a Greek and Italian section which draw on the influences of Calombrais’s Greek Mother and part Italian Father.  It’s very much a family affair listing dishes like salicce made by “Mr Tricarico” who is apparently Calombrais’ Father in law.  Whether Greek or Italian, the main affair is the pasta.  It is made fresh each day from 00 flour in the pasta extruder which cost the same as a full time Nonna on Sunday rates.


To start there are “snacks” which are easy to share.  Arancini filled with bolognese and mashed potato ($7.50) were deep fried nuggets of comfort food.  Plump scallops ($3.50 each) grilled and served on the shell were topped with creamy garlic skordalia and golden crisp fried breadcrumbs.  The parma ($7.50) was a bite sized version of the classic pub fare – a tiny panini filled with chicken and jamon and laced with tomato sauce.

Mama Baba’s version of spaghetti carbonara 

It has to be said the pasta is excellent, of the soft, silky egg-yellow type.   The best we tried was the tortellini ($23) which was stuffed with saganaki and served with prawns, slow roasted tomatoes and feta.  I also liked Mama Baba’s take on a carbonara ($27) which was constructed at the table from egg, slithers of crispy maple pork, pumpkin parmesan and a saffron broth.

Prawn and saganaki tortellini

However gnudi ($24) was dull despite the “sounds good on paper” accompaniments of burnt butter, walnuts and honey and the huge ravioli ($27) filled with beef and bone marrow were overwhelming.  The wasabi which accompanied the ravioli was not quite the weird addition we expected and was actually too tame to add much kick.

“Chopped” salad ($7.50) 

Desserts were a nostalgic treat in the form of reworked childhood favourites.  The Mama Baba interpretation of a Ferrero Rocher ($9.50) was a hazelnut confection filled with dark oozing chocolate while Calombrais’ take on a rum baba, called a “Mum Baba” ($9.50) featured boozy slices of sponge.

The Mum Baba

My tip though is to ignore the dessert trolley and instead go straight for the homemade ice-cream ($8 for two scoops) the vanilla splice was rich and flecked with vanilla bean seeds while the milo and milk and the crunchy peanut butter and salt flavour were both dude food delights.  The cones were filled with chocolate at the bottom Cornetto style.

Home made ice-cream

Mama Baba serves up Italian and Greek food but not as you know it.  It offers a very modern take on  some comfort food classics.  Despite a few exceptions it mostly works and the desserts in particular offer good old fashioned eating pleasure.  At the moment eating them on a Sunday comes at no extra cost.  

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Details:  Mama Baba, 21 Daly St, South Yarra 3141(Ph +61 3 9207 7421) Mon – Thurs and Sat 5pm – Late, Fri and Sun 12pm – Late.
Damage: Reasonable.  Our bill for four came to $205 with one beer each.

Mama Baba on Urbanspoon


  1. Great post! Your favorite pasta dish would have been my first pick from the menu. Was the man himself wandering around or busy in the kitchen?

  2. I’m not sure George did himself any favours by his little out cry. Good on him for saying what, I’m sure, alot of other restaurateurs are feeling anyway.
    I have found it quite expensive to eat out in Sydney/Melbourne and as such have had to cut down on eating out about 10 fold. On the brightside I’ve spent more time in the kitchen, experimenting!

  3. the mum baba look delicious. I really love Australian blogs, right know after my adventures with James Reeson I am following the Good Food program of Ben O’Donoghue (driving Thru Australia)I really enjoy cooking australian recipes!

  4. Thanks for the post! I have been wanting to try this place. Glad to hear you enjoyed the pasta.

  5. That spag bol looks delicious! Look at those chunks of pork belly!!!

  6. Oooh, the carbonara looks great! Mostly, though, I’m swooning over the ice cream because I frequently mix peanut butter and milo together and eat it with a spoon 😛

  7. Poppet’s Window – No he wasn’t. I was quite surprised he was not there given it was opening week. Even Heston Blumenthal worked the floors of his new London restaurant in the opening week.

    Vintage Macaroon – It is more expensive isn’t it? I probably need to do more kitchen experimentation myself.

    German – Good to hear there are some great Aussie food blogs out there.

    Elisa – Interested to hear what you think from a vego point of view?

    MsIhua – It was quite an interesting take on carbonara.

    Hannah – Yes the ice cream was the best choice I think – great flavours.

  8. My wife and I visited Melbourne from Brisbane over the Easter weekend and stayed in South Yarra. We searched your website for restaurants in the area, coincidentally Mama Baba was next to our hotel.

    The food was great. Thanks for your review.

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