>There is only one Caribbean restaurant in Melbourne (well there is a cafe called Babble On Babylon but it is only open in the daytime). It happens to be that our local bus takes us straight there, through the city centre and out the other side, right to the nearest corner. Some friends had warned us that the food was good but the portions were tiny, but we needed to see for ourselves.
And so it was that we took five mates along there one Saturday night to see if it was anything worth talking about.
Yeah Maan is a tiny terraced building, converted from a house, with enough seating for about forty downstairs and another small dining room upstairs. Instead of the expected reggae blasting out, we were delighted to hear some classic soca tunes. We had a reservation but they didn’t seem to know anything about that. We were shown to the upstairs room, and although we had explained that it was a reservation for seven people, we were asked to sit at a smaller table until we insisted we needed more room.
Once everybody had arrived we were pretty desperate for a drink – or at least some glasses for our BYO wine. In the end Orlando obliged by going downstairs himself. We thought that might shake up the waitresses, but we waited quite a long time for anybody to come and see if we were OK. It was the girl’s first night so she didn’t know much, but she was sweet.
Apart from myself and Orlando, we had three people who had only eaten Caribbean food in our house (Mena, Eileen and Kelvin), and two people who had no idea what they were in for (Australian Ida and Italian Viviana). The Trinidadian doubles served up were generous and talked about for days; Mena’s Stamp ‘n’ Go was a huge portion and absolutely divine. Orlando and I both had the Pick Up Salt Fish, which was saltfish mixed with onions, tomato and peppers served on a dumpling. It reminded both of us how much we love saltfish, and I promised to go get some and start cooking it again. Pity we can’t get ackee anywhere though…
The chilly janga roti (chilli prawns) were not too hot and spicy, which was probably just as well for the virgins. You could probably ask for them to be made a bit hotter. Kelvin chose the aloo pies, a huge portion of spicy potato balls which were tasty enough but nothing exciting.
The mains were even better. Eileen was served an enormous portion of jerk chicken and cassava fries, which she struggled manfully to consume, but ended up pleading with everybody to finish for her. She said it was lovely, but not as nice as Orlando’s (well, you can’t get Walkerswood here either).
The curried goat was really lovely, but I forgot to ask for mine to be made hot, so although it was tasty there was no kick to it. Orlando had asked for his hot, but it wasn’t much better than mine. The rice and peas were made with small kidney beans (guess what? No gunga peas in Aus…) but it worked fine. Mena scored again with the ginger tamarind chicken which was beautifully seasoned, a good strong kick. The calypso chicken looked good, but even for the virgins it seemed very mildly-flavoured.
The service didn’t get any better. We helped ourselves to more napkins, water and fresh glasses from behind our personal minibar in the corner, and raided the other tables for new candles for the table. Even when we wanted the bill, it warranted another trip downstairs. Maybe if we had been seated down with everybody else it might have been better.
Nonetheless, we were not in any hurry and the relaxed vibe certainly didn’t ruin the evening. We put the world to rights without fear of annoying other diners with our noise, we finished a few bottles of wine and enjoyed some fine West Indian food. The rumours of small portions were well and truly scotched, and we will definitely come back again for more.