If you’re looking for Mama’s Buoi on Crows Nest’s busy eating strip, you’re out of luck – it’s no more. But before you Google directions for its Surry Hills outlet, ease up: Luho, which has just taken over the space, is worth a look.

The new venture, by the restaurant’s former head chef Dennis Tan and his wife Serene, has a more pan-Asian, hawker-style offering, and is fun and vibe-y. The duo worked at the corner restaurant for six years and jumped at the opportunity to take it over, turning around a refurb – sleek, panelled plywood illuminated by the new name in neon – in just seven days. And while it may look different, the team is the same, and so are most of your favourite dishes.

“I kept about 20 to 30 per cent of the items from Mama’s Buoi’s days so people can have their regular things, plus one or two items that they’ve never tried before,” says Tan, who has 15 years in the game and a resume that includes Bentley, Rockpool and Black by Ezard (now Black Bar & Grill).

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Newbies include mini beef wraps that firmly cement pineapple’s place in savoury cooking, and a healthy number of vegetarian options, such as cauliflower with burnt butter, eggplant jam and almond crumbs; and XO pumpkin with shiitake, tofu, sundried tomato and black-bean paste.

One of Tan’s big decisions was removing the beef pho from the menu. In its place is chicken noodle soup, which he says is basically pho sans hoisin and chilli. “I spend seven hours on the broth and want people to taste the flavours,” he says.

For the drinks list, Tan got help from friends and award-winning bartenders Peter Seabrook and Michael Chiem of PS40, who he worked with at Black by Ezard. There are six cocktails, three mocktails and – we’re calling it – this year’s frosé, the Pandan Painkiller, made with pandan-flavoured vodka, lemongrass, citrus and Coco López, a creamy coconut cream.

“Luho is actually just a greeting in our dialect back home in Malaysia, it’s like ‘G’day mate’,” says Tan. “We just wanted something simple and easy to remember. Same with the food – everything here is simple and fresh.”

Luho Restaurant
Shop 1/77 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest
(02) 9438 5005

Mon to Thu 11.30am–2.30pm, 5.30pm–9.30pm
Fri 11.30am–2.30pm, 5.30pm–10.30pm
Sat 12.00pm–10.30pm
Sun 12.00pm–9.30pm