A buoi is a small grapefruit native to South East Asia. Incidentally, the fruit also flourished in the childhood backyard of Melbourne’s Bao Hoang. A youth surrounded by flavour and family has proven a powerful influence on Bao’s restaurants. His newest, Mama’s Buoi, seeks to emulate the delicate flavour, colourful soul and communal spirit of eating in Vietnam.

Devonshire Street is Mama’s Buoi’s second location (a Melbourne kitchen opened in September). General manager Quintin Mansell and head chef Tiw Rakarin bring Bao’s philosophy of family and fresh food to Sydney. The welcoming interior, lovingly composed by Giant Design, is dominated by a striking graphic that reads, “con co thuong me khong?” Which translates as, "do you love your mama? Endearing family photos adorn the walls and line the menus, inviting diners into the Hoang home. Greenery, including the chef’s own herbs, thrive on windowsills. The cosy courtyard provides an ideal vantage point for people watching.

In keeping with a community focus, Rakarin encourage guests to, “eat the food like a family”. Having honed his contemporary Vietnamese style over many years, Rakarin has worked in kitchens across the US and UK. His specials are likely to be quirky and potentially messy takes on favourites. Tasty share-plates demand fingers (special mention to the squid-prawn ball impaled on sugar cane). Whole barramundi requires a full dissection at the table and the absurdly tender wagyu sirloin will satisfy four.

The secret to Rakarin’s flavour potency lies in slow cooking. “Most places cook up big phos, load it up with MSG and cook for two hours,” explains Mansell. “But Tiw does his for six or seven hours.” Mama’s Buoi uses fresh produce daily. With no cool room, raw ingredients are broken down every morning. Admirably, the Mama’s Buoi boys aspire to offer an affordable business lunch in Surry Hills. A good option for those with limited time is a speedy vermicelli salad and a beer for $19. The impressive drinks selection sees both Mountain Goat and DOC wine on tap, as well as a substantial cocktail selection. Definitely try The Miss Saigon for a sharp, fruity-gin hybrid.

Mama’s Buoi is ideal for a fragrant summer lunch or for whittling away an evening with friends and family. Look out for the next Mama’s Buoi, soon to land in Crows Nest.

Mama’s Buoi
116 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills

Daily 10am–10pm