I’m a great fan of cookery program Masterchef on TV and my greatest disappointment is when I can only see the food on TV and not taste the food, which is sending judges John Torode and Greg Wallace into raptures of ecstasy.
It was nice to see previous Masterchef winners and finalists returning this year to be guest judges as we got to see what they’re now up to. All are working in the food industry with quite a few still cooking. One of my favourite recent winners was 2012 champion Shelina Permalloo, who brought a touch of the exotic to the studio with her sunny rendition of Mauritian food. I was therefore excited to find out that she had opened a restaurant in Southampton, close to Emma.
So, we ventured to her restaurant Lakaz Maman for lunch on Saturday, before going to a movie. It’s situated on a row of restaurants and its tagline of Mauritian street food fits in well. The menu is limited but that’s not a problem if the product is great – look at restaurants like Hoppers and Bao, who hardly have a single dud on their small menus between them.
The decor is brilliant – full of character and personality. Bright colours and clever decorations evoke the Mauritian sunshine and you see photos of Shelina and her family on the walls. It matches their equally vibrant and personal website. On the day of our visit, the local business promotion unit was filming in the restaurant.
Firstly, I have to report about our visit before I get onto the food. They only opened a couple of weeks ago and are probably still have teething issues but our overall experience wasn’t great. It didn’t start well when the first 2 items we wanted to order weren’t available at opening time – the sunshine smoothies and salt-cod fritters. Not a promising start but everything else we ordered after that was available.
When we ordered, we asked our waitress if our starters and main courses could come out together as we had to leave in an hour and 15 minutes to get to the cinema. Half an hour later, the manager came out and asked the table next to us if they had requested their starters and mains together. When they looked baffled, Emma and I said that it was us who had made that request because we had to get to the cinema. He then checked our order with us, which was wrong. Another 30 minutes and increasingly desperate looks at the waiting staff ensued before we got any food while tables all around us were eating despite having arrived after us.
To be fair, the manager comped our starters and gave us a free starter but rushing to the cinema didn’t aid our digestion. We arrived 10 minutes late for our movie and were pleasantly surprised to find that Odeon cinemas were equally disorganised on that Saturday morning and started the movie 10 minutes late.
So, after all the waiting angst, what was the food like? I’m not an expert in Mauritian food but it seems to have influences from the nearby Indian subcontinent mixed with spices from the east and local produce like coconuts.
The mutton curry was spectacular. Rich, tender lamb chunks were bathed in a heady mix of spices, delivering many layers of flavour without too much heat. A must order dish if you visit.
Unfortunately, with a heavy heart, I have to report that the rest of the meal didn’t live up to the mutton curry. The Magic Bowl was an ordinary Chinese stir fry with a fried egg on top.
Lakaz Maman chicken wings were served with a chilli sauce. They were ok but I didn’t find anything which made them stand out.
Belle Mare prawn dippers again lacked zing though the masala aioli was interesting. At £4.95, those 5 small prawns looked a rather mean portion size.
The gateaux piment were corn cakes, which again needed the sauce to bring flavour. £3.95 again seemed quite expensive for the portion size.
I really wanted to like Maman Lakaz but unfortunately, our experience wasn’t great. It’s early days for the restaurant and service can be improved. However, the food lacked the wow factor for me. I may be unfair in judging it against Malaysian street food but if I was Greg Wallace on Masterchef, I would say,’Flashes of genius but she needs to pack more flavour in.’
Food: ★★★★☆ Service: ★★☆☆☆ Ambiance: ★★★★☆ VFM: ★★★☆☆ Overall: ★★★☆☆
Price: Our bill for 2 came to £37
22 Bedford Place, Southampton SO15 2DB