Mangoes Bar & Grill menu is like a prayer book of forbidden delights. Shhhh, they have German-style pork schnitzel with home made sour krout too. And this is in a traditionally run halal country. And the apple strudel, baked by the owner who learnt her trade in Austria, are to die for, topped with ice-cream, and decorated with bougainvillaea flowers. Michelle, owner of Mangoes, and a fair dinkum Ozzie, arrived on the island as a solo sailor in 2000. Fourteen years later and a Tsunami, Mangoes has become an institution for expats the island. It has also moved locations after being destroyed by the Tsunami.
Hidden on a hill, overlooking a beach, in a little quite village of the island, a few guest houses have sprung up, and it's not uncommon to see backpackers popping in for some good Western grub.
Mangoe is for homesick expats, a good place to meet, exchange books and local gossip, and down a few cold beers at the Isobar bar, named after the yacht she sailed from Sri Lanka. Michelle will come and sit down and talk to her dinners, many of them she considers friends. A hug and kiss on each cheek will confirm that. She had 50 guests the other night. "No one had time to light the candles." She has quiz nights too, and arranges outings for the VIP dinners, usually those who eat here more than twice a week.
Why do most people end up living here? One diner I spoke to says alot of people originally came on yachts. "It’s safe and tolerant, no judgement on who you are. Mangoes attracts all nationalities. "
Mango has it's origins from the noise it makes when the mangoes drop on the roof. It usually gets people out of their chairs in fright. Another beer is placed on the table and they are told to continue enjoying their meal. "You get use to it , I don’t even notice them anymore."
"My restaurant," says Michelle, "is a hobby…. it’s not a job it’s my hobby. I serve tables, work behind the bar, and cook deserts … pavalova… make the sauces… and oversea the meatballs." She uses a secret and old recipe for the burgers and meat paddies, Expect to see lots of parsley, sources that blend, and a burger that needs to be kept together by a wooden skewer.
Concept is quite simple, says Michelle. " You can live in Asia and eat Asian food, but when you feel like it, you can still have a blast from home." She sources the best ingredients from everywhere "Beef comes from Australia and New Zealand. Avocados come from South America or Africa. " She says most of the fresh produce comes from Thailand and the Cameron Islands in Malaysia The local seafood comes from the the fisherman in the village. And the Holland potatoes from China.
Mangos is an institution on this island. And if you really want to know where all the cheap rice and other products come from on the island, the fishing village is only 30 kilometres from the Thai border. But we aren't suppose to go into that. Just the usual, fuel and rice. It is a duty free zone, so why would anyone worry about a little bit of smuggling and profiteering at the border?
If you are lucky, Honey, the security dog may come up and jump on your lap. A stray dog that Mangoe's has adopted, Honey is a cross between a cute, and a midget. He's a small dog with a coat of honey coloured hair. Michelle's partner, Lutz, a German, is gregarious. and well lubed with cheap duty free beer. I compliment him on Germany winning the World Cup. We were friends for life. I said if Germany could beat Brazil 7-0, then they deserved to win the cup. I never told him that I only watched the last two minutes of the final.
The chiefs, one from Bangladesh, the other a local Malay, have both been working at Mangoe's for the past five years, and done the necessary chief courses. Michelle and Lutz are always looking out for quality control. "But the cooks are so well trained, we don't worry about that," says Lutz, who opens up another cold one. Mangoes might look like a relaxed place, and it may just seem a hobby by the owner. Don't be fooled, they are perfectionists and run a very tight ship. As to the Bangladeshi waiter, he's kept very busy and worth his weight in gold, though somewhat reserved. Picking up banter from happy and usually pissed diners must be hard work.
Personally I think Mangoes is for fine cuisine that you don't have to pay and arm and leg for. It's a five-star menu with a one star price tag. Before I forget, there's a wooden boat in the garden and a paddle hanging up on the bar. Both seem to be from another era. Bujang Valley perhaps?
Pop into Mangoes, and see what really goes on in the island. A friendly bunch, a close knit community, everyone is welcome. Michelle is the captain of this ship, and sails her boat into uncharted territories of fine dinning. I've eaten too much Indian food, and totally fed up with it. This reviewer is very biased and in need of another "blast from home."
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