Food & Drink

Eating Out: You’ll find more than wee buns at Gemma Austin’s Mamo - you’ll find true joy

However you approached January – or planning for February, March, April and beyond – Mamo will help you do it with a smile

Review of Mamó Patisserie at St George’s Market in Belfast.
Mamó Patisserie in St George's Market offers much more than wee buns... (Colm Lenaghan)

Now that the longest month is firmly behind us, it should be safe to ask: How was your January? Dry? Vegan? Cold? Stormy? Monotonous? The absolute worst time to deprive yourself of something you enjoy?

The annual campaigns of Veganuary and Dry January are nakedly timed to surf the wave of New Year’s resolutions. What better time, after the excesses of Christmas and with the turn of the calendar, to knuckle down to a new challenge of abstinence, either from meat or alcohol?

Well, any other time to be honest.

Review of Mamó Patisserie at St George’s Market in Belfast.
Enter the magical world of Mamo Patisserie... (Colm Lenaghan)

This is not a call to load up on booze and bacon. There’s a lot to be said for the sentiment behind both notions, with Dry January in particular often tied to charity fundraising.

There’s also no evidence that going cold turkey – or cold soy-based alternative – will be habit forming.

So why not cut back in the lead up to Christmas, when you’re fairly certain that your consumption levels will go through the roof?

January feels like a time when you need the salve of the things you enjoy.

The cocktail sausages that still reside in my freezer worked wonders last month. As did a sneaky Baileys in a cup of coffee in the middle of a Saturday off.

Yes, they’ll still be there in a month or two but they won’t do half the good they did in January’s gloom.

There’s plenty of time to go dry or vegan or sensible in 2024, and doing all that throughout the year instead of the short sharp shock of the first month seems like a wiser option, though not half as performative or hashtaggy.

But, as this is the world we live in, I propose an alternative...#Bunuary. Brighten up the dreary start to the year with something nice to go with a cup of tea. Or, if you’re really lucky, some of the spectacular, life-affirming pastries from Mamó.

To be clear, I wasn’t planning on wolfing down macarons for 31 days straight, but one visit to Gemma Austin’s patisserie at St George’s Market in Belfast would have you considering it.

Austin, of Great British Menu fame and the deservedly acclaimed A Peculiar Tea restaurant across city, opened in December and has recreated what she did at her restaurant. Mamo, after the Irish for grandmother, will make you smile – if not burst into a round of joyous applause. ‘Find more joy’ is a New Year’s resolution I can work with. And you’ll find it at Mamo.

If you’re really intent on going hardline after mince pie season, you could honestly just look at the stuff.

The website calls them edible works of art which would prompt an eye roll if they didn’t look so outrageously beautiful.

Colours bounce around the dainty shop, which has a couple of wee tables but is really made for taking your treats away in the dainty boxes to be unwrapped like presents to yourself.

Little macarons, a spectrum of pert cushions with the needful crunch-to-chew ratio, flavoured zippily with lemon and blueberry, warmingly with spiced biscuit then inventively with peanut butter and jelly. As if they weren’t enough. Parisian style collides with home bakery comfort in a fifteen macaron, sandwiched with digestive cream.

Another reinvented local favourite is the show stopping Jammy Joey.

A glistening ruby red white chocolate shell gives way to coconut and raspberry mascarpone and a blast of raspberry compote on top of a coconut sponge. God almighty.

The pastry on the pear and almond tart is so thin it’s a miracle it can hold the frangipane filling. Then again, it’s so light it’s a wonder it doesn’t float away.

But as much as Bunuary is a solid concept, a balanced diet is required so among the savoury stuff was a Waldorf ‘cushion’ of puff pastry stuffed with all the key notes of the eponymous salad and the addition of mulled pears.

There’s vegetal sweetness from onions, the twang of blue cheese and crunch of walnuts. While a pork and apple sausage roll may find it hard to be much of a looker given it’s, well, a sausage roll – it’s a bloody good one.

However you approached January – or are planning for February, March, April and beyond – Mamo will help you do it with a smile.

Back there among the pretty stuff was a passion fruit log, another floaty, creamy, dreamy confection. It was only days later that I discovered via an Instagram post that it’s also vegan. Hashtag check me out.

The bill

Waldorf cushion £3.50

Pork and apple sausage roll £3.50

Macaron x 4 £8

Pear and almond tart £5.50

Passion fruit log £6

Jammy Joey £6

Total £32.50