Approximate cost: £30 for 4 / 5 dishes (enough for 2 people)
Even if you’re not actively looking, you’d struggle to miss the (original) Mama Lan restaurant in Brixton Village
This little restaurant has 12 ft high wooden doors and benefits from a great location on the corner of 1st and 3rd Avenue. There may only be a small selection of tables inside and out but these are always full with happy looking customers.
Even if you do somehow miss it, you won’t miss the amazing smells that seep out from the tiny kitchen – whether you’re hungry or not, you’ll find yourself looking around for the source of that delicious smell when it hits you.
The Mama Lan menu hasn’t changed much in the last few years, (apart from a few seasonal specials) and like most of the local restaurants, the choice is small but every item is prepared and cooked perfectly.
They offer large bowls of noodle soup or noodle salads, perfect to share between two or ideal for a very hungry adult. I’ve witnessed a lot of people order soup or noodles plus the dumplings and struggle to get through both (although when they taste this good, you’re always able to cram in a little more).
We ordered 5 of the smaller dishes starting with the current special of “crispy wonton skin with chilli salt” (£2); deep fried, crispy dumpling wrappers sprinkled generously with chunks of salt and pepper – no need for soy here unless you are a serious salt lover.
Next up is my absolute favourite, listed only on the menu as “fried vegetable balls” (£4) served with a creamier version of a chilli sauce. These are softer inside than an onion bhaji (although are likely cousins) but other than a subtle taste of leek and carrot, I cannot identify any more of the ingredients. You’ll have to accept that this poor description does not do them justice.
Third up is a plate of spicy chicken wings (£5). These are deep fried as well, although have a much crispier, heavier coating than you’d expect from a typical piece of fried chicken. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Brixton’s immense selection of chicken eateries or maybe I was just expecting something a little different, but these were the only thing I’ve had on the menu that I wouldn’t order again.
Last but definitely not least, the dumplings arrive.
Mama Lan offers a choice of 4 – There are 3 fried varieties; pork & Chinese leaf, mushroom, spinach & vermicelli and beef & spring onion (£5 for 5) and a king prawn & Chinese water chestnut variety which are boiled (£6.50 for 5)
I cannot stress this enough; If you come to Mama Lan, you have to order the dumplings. These are generously filled parcels packed full of flavour and have a tendency to spurt out the cooking juices when you bite into them. (Don’t be tempted to eat them in one go, these require two mouthfuls at least).
The meat dumplings are juicy with a deep, almost sweet meaty flavour but personally, I think the mushroom and noodle dumplings are the star of the show, I would love to know what exactly goes in them, but even with this knowledge, I doubt that they could be replicated at home.
If you did want to try and steal the secret recipe, you can sit and watch Mama Lan herself prepare the food through the kitchen window. But you better be fast, she can roll a single dumpling and dispatch it to the frying pan in the time it takes to say “dim sum” – she is obviously skilled at what she does.