Say Ni Hao to Fatty Bao’s special brand of wow
I imagine you’d have a better chance of scoring an interview with Narendra Modi than you would of getting a table at The Fatty Bao, so it was a pleasant surprise to get a table at the most electrifying new restaurant in Mumbai on a busy, busy Sunday afternoon.
On my last visit here, I witnessed the primate perched next door, staring back at you with its eyes agog. And that’s just the tipsy revelers from last night that haven’t found their way home yet from the Monkey Bar. Both of these newcomers have set the grapevine abuzz, and this is especially true for The Fatty Bao as it takes you on a culinary tour of South-East Asia in some style.
To witness The Fatty Bao for the first time is to witness childlike imagination sparked to life. With funky artwork of myriad forms (including a red panda that looked suspiciously like Master Shifu), vibrant interiors lit in hues of green, blue and red, and kooky artifacts littering the place, Fatty Bao is whimsical, eccentric and a wee bit wacko. If Kurosawa and Dali had a lovechild, this would be it.
Loosely speaking, the place is divided into an al fresco section, a bar with high seating and a more down-to-earth dining area. But how can things ever get serious when at every point in your meal you can find an assortment of what I can best describe as Japanese Geishas adorning your table and staring back at you? A pair of them house salt and pepper and the third stooge has toothpicks sticking out of her head, loosely looking as if she were using hairsticks.
The place looks like it has been designed for fun on the run, but make no mistake, you have to take your business very seriously to be able to make fun of things as Fatty Bao has. The only way to pull something like this off is to reconcile the whimsical with a serious dash of technique and skill, and the good folks over here manage to do that. The Fatty Bao is like this girl from school that everyone looked at as a bit staid, only to grow up to be an absolute bombshell that everyone craves.
It’s the only way to explain why Fatty Bao is so in demand every. Single. Night.
You know think you know the concept here, and the flavours have a warm familiarity to it, but with its inventive take on things, it delivers a refreshing experience that is all the rage right now.
The vibe is a light-headed, cheery one, like some friends I know after a few drinks, and the seriousness is dished out by way of the food. We were left wide-eyed with joy, like a kid at Christmas, after seeing the refinement on offer across the dishes, be it the oysters served with some ponzu butter on a bed of salt, or the fried Brie with some pickled beets and sweet notes, to name just two dishes.
And when all of this childlike joy is delivered without the sticker shock you might expect as an adult, the result leaves you smiling from ear-to-ear, singing a happy song as you walk out, and that can only be a wonderful thing.
Yatin had a fish-shaped hole in his heart as we walked out of Ellipsis the day before, and The Fatty Bao went some ways towards filling it expertly with the Salmon Carpaccio. The beautifully sliced fish was dressed to kill in a Ginger and Garlic juice mixed with some soy, Yuzu, Scallions and sliced Jalapeno.
While the yuzu and soy manifested as a salty/tangy mix, the scallions and 2G juices (hereafter known as a-G and o-G) gave it some punch. However, the knockout was delivered by the finely sliced Jalapenos, which packed enough fire to turn anyone that consumed it into a fire-breathing dragon. A very, very happy fire-breathing dragon, not that grumpy one from Lord of the Rings.
If Cheese is like a drug for some, Fatty Bao’s Brie Tempura can only be likened to Crack. The crackly, crunchy exterior gives way to gooey, creamy cheese and the plating of it was beautiful, with some pickled beets and a drizzle of fruit sauce in orbit around the Brie Tempura. If this appetizer were human, my fidelity to my partner would be sorely tested by this gorgeous dish. As it stands, I’m glad to French kiss each mouthful of it.
As a kid, I was told I would be grown up when I could savor the sounds of Pink Floyd and as an infant food lover, I was told that I could consider myself to have come of age when I have learnt to fully appreciate the subtleties of a great salad.
Well, at the Fatty Bao, I can gladly say I have.
If some food is the stuff of dreams, the Wakame and Crabmeat Salad is the stuff of wet dreams. Fairly bitter at first, the fresh seasoning ensured that the bitterness faded away to a more muted tone as the veggies, sauces, crispy straws and crabmeat (which, sadly, we didn’t get enough of) worked in perfect unison. It’s the most inventive salad I have had in a long, long time and it’s just one of the dishes I’ve enjoyed here with a “never-before” feeling.
I expected to be squealing with delight after pigging out on the Pork Belly with Mustard Miso Jam, but while it didn’t quite melt my mind it was still pretty damn good. Notch up another mark on the chalkboard for the inventiveness of the kitchen. The twice cooked pork belly, was braised and then crisped with a slightly sweet and savoury miso jam with sesame and scallions laid out atop in a pretty pattern.
Like savages, we descended on this in a rush and where previously a pretty picture existed, only devastation lay less than a minute later. Again, like an old flame you always have a flame lit for, my mind goes to the braised pork belly at Indigo, but this too is pretty exemplary as all things porcine go. Porky might not approve though.
Continuing the theme of all things porcine, we tried the Char Siu Bao on our next sortie to Fatty Bao (it’s a place so nice, I had to visit it twice). The magical combination of Bbq Pork Belly with some Green apple kimchi, Hoisin sauce and a smattering of Scallions resulted in a burst of sweet, melt in your mouth flavours that lingers long after the dish is gone. Pork lovers would be mad to give this insanely good bao a miss.
As I age, it seems that I am starting to go senile much sooner than I expected. It is the only way to explain how I found a Fried Eggplant Bao to be better than the Teriyaki Glazed Chicken Bao. Everyone raves about the latter here, and while the bas themselves were perfect, the teriyaki glazed chicken just lacked any real definition to be a winner for me. The eggplant, which I was much more reluctant to try, provided dollops more enjoyment compared to chicken, thanks to its savoury, crunchy nature. 15 year old me would be mortified to hear those words come out of my month. A part of modern-day me is too.
As a kid, I loved watching Ducktales, and adult me has an almost equally awesome duck tale to relate to you. One of the items on my shortlist was the Duck Sheng Jian Bao. Over time, my adoration for chicken has diminished and dishes such as this emphasis exactly why that is so. The cast iron pan lent a fantastically crunchy exterior that lent way to a moist, finely chopped duck meat whose only fault might have been that the hoisin sauce overpowered it slightly, but in all this is a must-try dish for all the carniwhores out there.
Fatty Bao treats their pigs with much love and reverence. It is the only way to explain the sustained brilliance of their pork dishes, one of which is the Chasu Ramen. With bits of bacon swimming in soupy noodles with braised pork belly and a soft boiled egg thrown in for good measure, it can now safely be said that Mumbai has a place that does proper ramen and they do it properly brilliantly. I abandoned all decency and french kissed the bowl of ramen as I looked to slurp down the contents of it whole. Comforting and sensational, this is not to be missed out on. Fair warning; one portion is definitely enough for two people, so split it before you realise you’re in over your head.
Some say that it’s alright to have Oysters during any month with an ‘r’ in it. Others say that it’s a natural aphrodisiac, and that if you have it, poora sheher aapko loin ke naam se jaanega. All I know is that I had heard rave reviews about the Oysters on offer here, so like a child eyeing a toy in a display, I must have it.
While they were fresh and a bit briny too (but none too worse for the wear considering they were flown down from Kochi), the fact that they came perched carefully atop this bed of salt killed it for me, as it stuck to the shell of the oyster and I got great big mouthfuls of it as I treated each shell as if it were a shot. That’s a shame, since the chorizo, ponzu and lime were greatly balanced for all the 0.215 seconds that I could taste it for. Caveat emptor; eschew the salt and you’ll be golden.
I’m not one for tipple, and so it didn’t surprise me that I gave up the Fatty Sour rather easily after a sip. I will say that it packs quite some potency though, purely by way of alcohol. It’s their take on a whisky sour, pairing the poison with some fresh raspberries, lime and sugar. It was, expectedly, tart, but it wasn’t something I could see myself sipping on if I were so inclined to drink like a fish.
This brings us around nicely to the desserts, of which we tried three. There was no force on earth strong enough to keep me away from the Fatty Hill. What’s not to like about it? They’ve slapped together mint crème brulee, chocolate cream, chocolate sorbet, rice crispies and some marshmallows together in what should be the perfect storm. Shaped a bit like a hill (ergo the name), You slice through the tapering mound to get to the minty core of it all, and the mingling of flavours should have been perfect for me.
And yet, I felt just the slightest bit underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, it was still great, but I had bigged it up in my mind, romanticizing it to no end, and that is perhaps why it stopped just a touch short of crossing the finishing line of true greatness.
No, what really shook my world was a dessert that I would have scoffed at had I not actually sampled the sheer subtlety of its awesomeness.
Picking up the baton of inventiveness where the mains left off, the Green Tea Chiffon Cake is an animal unlike anything I’ve seen on a dessert menu. The chefs must have proclaimed “Let there be light” while making this, for the cake is lightness personified. Cutting a swathe through the cake reveals the creamy centre that is already on show from the get-go, and the tanginess of the Yuzu Parfait mousse combined with the sour Kaffir Lime Sorbet and crumbly granules on the side made for a combination that blows the mind.
It’s not done with yet though, as the sticky orange honey charting a path above this beautifully plated dessert adds just the right hit of citrusy sweetness to it all. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the one dessert that has made my heart sing with joy after a long time. It goes without saying that if I were to recommend only one dessert at the Fatty Bao, this is the one.
I also gave the Peanut Butter Caramel a go, and while I enjoyed the combination of salty and bitter chocolate flavours wrought by the melange of Peanut Butter Ganache, Praline, Caramel Mousse and Chocolate Sponge, it was only an also-ran in the race to the finish line. I loved the richly thick layer of dark chocolate at the bottom, and breaking past its stubbornness was a reward in itself. However, it did no better than jostle with the Fatty Hill for second best on the podium.
In all, it is very easy for me to state that you absolutely must say Ni Hao to Fatty Bao’s special brand of wow. With its curious and fascinating inventiveness, all you can do is ask them to take a bao. Alright, that’s it, those are all the puns I have in my arsenal…for nao.