There are few places in Australia that put as much emphasis on the marriage of beer and food as Baby Mammoth in Perth. The restaurant was opened by Ryan and Tania Lambson in the city's revitalised Northbridge area and serves up a rotating menu of delights from both kitchen and its beer taps and fridges (not to mention its own in-house created beer vermouths).
You can drop in any time to experience the flavours designed by Ryan and his kitchen team, inspired by the cuisine of Southern Africa, or look out for regular beer dinners – the February 2018 event features Rocky Ridge and the launch of a "chutney ale" brewed with the Baby Mammoth team. It's a unique place, with a sound system and acoustic setup custom designed by Ryan (a DJ as well as chef) adding to the experience.
So, having enjoyed many an occasion in Ryan and Tania's company, we thought we'd find out more as part of our Beer Food series. First up, an interview with Ryan on his approach to beer, food and flavour then, below, his recipe for Pulled Lamb Bobotie – perfect for accompanying a Nail Red Ale.
Baby Mammoth has been open for four years in Northbridge. What was your food journey to get to that point?
When we opened we didn't have a liquor licence for the first two years. Our food in the beginning of the journey was initially more bistro in style. After being open for a while, we decided to start focusing on Southern African food and how it has been influenced by its history. There is a strong influence from Indonesia in the cuisine and we have explored this connection.
Over time it has evolved into something not traditionally South African but become more modern in its interpretation.
Was there always an intention to have such a strong focus on beer for the restaurant?
We did always intend for the restaurant to be focused on beer. We feel that the spice and style of cooking definitely suits beer as a pairing option.
How did you get into beer?
I have my wife to thank for that. She is really good friends with Elliot from Mane Liquor so I was exposed to this new environment about six years ago. My background is more focused towards wine, which has helped with my pairing combinations, but beer is a different beast completely. The last six years we have been lucky to have drunk some amazing beers.
What is about beer that you think works so well for a chef?
For my palate, beer brings bitterness to the equation. This is a flavour component that is not really available in other beverages; with wine I find that you generally are trying to complement the dish more, whereas with beer you can use it to contrast the flavour or complement it depending how you want to work the dish.
The canvas is completely open with lots of room to develop interesting combinations.
I remember you mentioning the importance of “seasoning hard” at a past Cheflab event. What do you mean by that?
In saying I like to season hard, I find it important to add salt and taste throughout the cooking process. I find the more seasoning you apply during the process, the less salt you end up using and it contributes to each stage being cooked properly, which helps develop a more complex and layered end product.
Generally, seasoning is under-used I find and it is really important to get the flavour to its best level.
What are you looking for when considering beer and food pairing?
We generally like to taste the beer and then allow our imagination to think of dishes. The style of beer involved will usually dictate the starting point.
Hoppy beers lend themselves to more spice and aggressive flavours whereas more sour or lighter styles of beers want more subtle flavours. I find usually hoppy beers enjoy more of a complementary pairing where sour beers work well as a contrast.
This is a general ideal but both styles can be used to complement or contrast depending on where the pairing is in the dinner and how you want the flow to work. In the end, it depends on the beer and how you want to showcase it.
One of my favourite Baby Mammoth pairings was Cantillon Gueuze with blue cheese and a pineapple salsa tapas. At first glance this seems crazy, but it worked incredibly well – what was the inspiration for this pairing and what can the casual beer drinker learn from this?
This pairing came about from drinking the beer and being reminded of mould. My mind travelled to a wet cave with funky, earthy aromas. This made me think of cheese.
The acidity in the beer is very much like the acid notes in a pineapple so we played around with some ideas. It took several tastes of various cheeses and eventually we landed on a blue vein brie. With the pineapple it was important to get more acid from the combination and not make it too sweet. Cooking it with some thyme helped link the beer to the compote with earthy characters.
Can you recommend some simple food pairings that the casual beer fan can knock up for a weekend get together?
Go cook or buy yourself a meat based curry in tomato based sauce and crack open a can of something in the IIPA region; Pirate Life IIPA is a great choice here. The spice and hops with play nicely off each other with the malt backbone mellowing out the heat and creating balance to the dish.
Are there some ingredients that you feel should be avoided when pairing food and beer?
Not really, beer as a product is so diverse that you can find a pairing in the most unlikely combinations.
What's been your favourite beer and food pairing of the past year?
3 Ravens Sourdough Ale with yeast soup, pickled garlic, lardons and foraged herbs. This was completely left of centre and unique.
Where do you find inspiration?
We find inspiration from experiences. Myself and Tania are always trying new foods and trying lots of different combinations. Reading lots of books and researching on the internet helps build up a catalogue of ideas for future use.
We always like to drink the beers and fire away ideas. Every idea or concept is written down and stored in a cloud-based filing system. Anything that pops into our heads is never lost so we find we have a trove of interesting dish ideas available to us at any time.
Do you have any simple advice for pairing beer and food?
Keep trying things together and learn what works and what may never work.
It's important to have fresh ingredients and this includes beer.
Be ready to pair things that will never work in your quest to find the ones that will. This builds experience so you can become creative.
Pulled Lamb Bobotie with Nail Red Ale
Here's my recipe for pulled lamb bobotie. This is amazing on a roll with some apricot chutney and crunchy iceberg with some cheeky Japanese mayo.
But, for the curious, this makes an excellent filling for a spring roll. Here's a link on how to roll spring rolls. You can pick up spring roll wrappers at Asian grocery stores.
Pulled Lamb Bobotie
- 1.5kg lamb/mutton – ask your butcher to help you out here. They are very helpful. Size is not important.
- 2 brown onions diced
- 2.5 tbsp coriander
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 5 whole allspice
- 3 whole cloves
- 3 bay leaves
Roast spices in 180C oven and grind. If you don't have a coffee grinder or a bullet blender, just grab some ground spices instead. Then add the below spices and mix through.
- 1 tsp ground chilli (If you have whole chilli, roast it with the above spices instead)
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
This next step is important! Put the ground spice mix into a frying pan on medium heat and stir until fragrant. This should take approximately two to three minutes. Now set this blend aside in a bowl ready for cooking.
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp ginger
Blend this into paste with a little water then set aside for cooking too. This is another use for a bullet blender – Kmart has really well priced options and you'll use it a lot!
There are many steps here but curries are all about process. When you've done it once, they always follow the same procedure. It will allow you to get creative with spices.
- Roast the diced lamb for 1hr at 180C.
- Let it cool, reserve liquid and fat.
- Sauté onions in reserved fat and oil in a pot until translucent – approximately four to five minutes on medium heat.
- Add spice mix and keep on stirring until film appears on the bottom of the pot (keep heat to medium/high but making sure not to burn anything). If at any time you get the feeling it may burn, add a little water to cool the pan. This process is fast and shouldn't be longer than one minute.
- Add diced lamb with garlic/ginger paste – turn the heat to high and stir for a minute
- Cook until the spices coat the meat and have left the bottom of the pot.
- Add reserved liquid and water to cover the lamb.
- Cover and cook for two to three hours on low heat. If you have access to a pressure cooker, this only takes 45 minutes.
- Strain off the meat and keep the liquid.
- Let the meat cool and then PULL it apart.
- Reduce reserved liquid until it thickens to gravy consistency.
- Mix with pulled meat.
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 tbsp apricot chutney
- White spirit vinegar to taste (takes more than you think)
- Salt and pepper to your taste. Everyone is different but don't be afraid to season well!
With Nail Red Ale, you are going to get flavours that will complement the beer. For my palate, the Red Ale has a spicy nose of cloves and rich malt characters. This dish is a really great complement to an amazing beer.
Thanks Ryan. If you're reading this in time, you can join the Baby Mammoth team for the launch of their "chutney ale" collaboration as part of a five-course dinner with Rocky Ridge Brewing Co on February 22.