Mambow has been on a proper journey these past few years (I know, I know, haven’t we all?) Honing her skills during two years in Puglia, founder Abby Lee started out cooking Italian food, and opened up Mambow as a bowl food pop-up on Commercial Street in 2020. It was only open a month before a pandemic-induced return to Singapore made her fiddle with the entire concept. Mambow’s next guise was as a Malaysian food court stall, where it was out with trad rendang and roti, and instead saw Abby digging deep into her Peranakan heritage to create fiery flavours, a scintillating signature sambal and one of the most exciting small kitchens in the capital.
Whopping great big kam heong mussels were sensational in their messy, lip-smacking sloppiness
Mambow has now taken on its final form, with a forever home (or at least one a tad more permanent than a vibeless Peckham indoor market) in Clapton. A relatively chilled open kitchen takes up a third of the small space, and the restaurant feels fittingly DIY. There are jazzy tiles here, and a splash of Jacques Majorelle blue paint there, but suffocatingly over-finished it is not. Music skips from new wave to disco to trance in a way that suggests it’s simply personal favourites instead of something more contrived. Put simply, Mambow is the kind of place you can, and will, have fun in.
Up on steel counter seats by a seasonally steamy window, we sip tangy 100 Sour cocktails – made with an isotonic Malaysian drink, plus a healthy dose of gin and coconut liquor – while perusing the menu. More space means more food, and the abrupt Peckham offering of eight-ish dishes has multiplied magnificently, boldly assisted by the arrival of a fearsome hibachi grill. Lor bak – supremely crispy five spice pork and bean curd rolls with potent chilli vinegar jam – are a rollover from the old place, and remain one of the most impressive snacks in town, a culinary poem delivered in twists of explosive, feathery pastry. Otak-otak prawn toast, perched on a wild betel leaf and humming with fragrant kaffir lime, was as sweet and succulent as birthday cake, and whopping great big kam heong mussels, wok-fried and bobbing in an indulgent soybean and curry leaf sauce and dusted with golden prawn floss, were sensational in their messy, lip-smacking sloppiness.
Mains of sarawak black pepper curry chicken (a solid creamy-sauce and-crispy-thigh combo), and gulai tumis tamarind skate wing curry, were far mellower than our flamboyant starters – no bad thing of course; we can’t all be Ronnie Spector, someone has to be the Ronettes – but it meant they were slightly overshadowed by a kerabu jantung pisang salad of grilled banana blossom and spiced fried peanuts, and a chalkboard special of formidable rempah paste-slathered, charcoal-grilled sardines.
The latter, served with pomelo and fried shallot salad, wasn’t just the most beautiful dish we’ve seen in months – served on a pink plastic plate and banana leaf, with a trio of tails gracefully pointing skywards – but hands down the most divine; punchy citrus proved the perfect foil to fiery sambal. If there’s anything that needs changing here, it’s the placing of this hero dish on the permanent menu immediately.
The latest, greatest incarnation of Mambow is the apotheosis of Abby Lee’s incendiary cooking – do not hesitate to book a table.
The vibe A fun and friendly DIY dining room in Clapton.
The food Modern Malaysian flavours full of life, colour and fragrant flavour.
The drink A fun collection of cocktails, and a bucket-load of natural wine by the glass and bottle.
Time Out tip Order whatever dish is on the specials board – and anything with fish in it. Abby Lee has a masterful touch when it comes to seafood.