Those who love their food are no strangers to Chef Manu Chandra and his magic menus at Olive. Those who are aficionados of a certain vibe know that restaurateur AD Singh always gets it right and that hospitality operations expert Chetan Rampal picks all the perfect people for the job. The well travelled have already been wowed by the original branch of The Fatty Bao in Bengaluru, created by the same trio. That's the reason why, when the Panda chopstick holder arrived in our mailbox to announce the arrival of the Bao in Bandra, we were eager to experience the eclectic fare at this new Asian eatery.
The innovative invite
Our first time there was by invitation for a tasting with Chef Chandra on the first day of its operations in June. And we have been there a few times since, wrangling for reservations just like everyone else (a week's wait, we're often told!). So here's lowdown on what makes The Fatty Bao so popular. Delhi foodies who haven't sampled the fare at the RK Puram address yet can sneak a peek about what to expect from the flavour and vibe too...
First off, you can't fault the décor. It's exuberant, it's colourful, it's young, it's fun and it matches the chilled-out vibe of the street it's located on. Its closest neighbour is its sibling -- the Monkey Bar (Read The Hungry Happy Hippy's review of the Monkey Bar, Mumbai, in The Huffington Post here).
The Fatty Bao may be the newbie on the block, it may be smaller, but as they say, good things come in small packages. And this little dynamo of delish certainly packs a punch, right from the wall art by Ayeshe Sadr and Ishaan Dasgupta of 211 Studio to the innovative light fixtures picked out by Anshu Arora, who is behind the eclectic-meets-electric charm of the place. Right down to the absolutely adorable salt and pepper shakers that resemble demure Asian women in top knots or the familiar Panda chopstick holder, the place is a visual delight.
The al fresco section and the food map mural
We enjoy the patio feel of this section, which features a "food map" that looks something a dream sequence conjured up by a gourmet, but our favourite place to be is seated near the bar, presided over by a very benign panda, at the heart of another whimsical wall mural. We wish the high seats here were a tad more comfortable, but considering how hard won they are, we'll keep them, thank you very much!
We love this buzzing bar with its cheery vibe and service with smiles to match. It's the perfect place to grapple with a Mickey Ninja (a tantalisingly tasty drink that's all about vodka shaken with muddled fresh orange slices and cucumber and a dash of whisky) or enjoy a tryst with a couple of Beach Blondes (a truly Asian concoction that infuses gin with coconut water, jaggery and lemongrass). Apart from cocktails, they have a good selection of wines, single malts and liqueurs.
Mickey Ninja: Absolut vodka shaken with muddled fresh orange slices and cucumber with a dash of Jameson whiskey
Double Jade: Beefeater gin blended with kiwi, khus and kaffir lime
The Hungry Happy Hippy with The Fatty Sour: Jameson whiskey blended with raspberries, lime and sugar.
Now that we've established that the bar in this Asian gastrobar will bring us back baar-baar, it's the fabulous food menu that floors us each time we visit. Overall, it's Asian that's traditional in its taste and wholesomeness, yet modern in the way it's plated and presented. We love that the dishes are innovative but not gimmicky. How it's casual fare, but there's nothing complacent about how it's conceptualised and crafted.
The menu is creative in many ways!
Their dim sum is a case in point. Delicate and steamed to moist perfection, they pair quite varied flavours. Even for non-vegetarians like us, it's been love at first taste with the plucky little wild mushroom and truffle oil dim sum and we have to keep going back to get more of that earthy yet absolutely heady flavour. And whether it's this one or the dainty asparagus and litchi or the zingy chicken and jalapeño, the filling is always flavourful and just the right quantity to make the dumpling pleasantly plump but not so fat that it's spilling out of its sheath. The gyoza and sushi, in comparison, are more predictable in taste.
Assorted vegetarian dim sum
Loads of salads and small plates have kept our drinks company on many an occasion. The Vietnamese sugarcane chicken is a favourite amongst friends, as is the delicious brie tempura that comes with a plum sauce and a super togarashi to add a bite to the oozy cheese fried till crisp on the outside. Our personal picks are either the delicate pan-seared scallops or a really phenomenal salmon carpaccio, very nicely tarted up with a citrusy yuzu dressing and a smattering of jalapeños.
The chasu ramen is also highly recommended -- it is an intensely meaty meld of succulent bacon and braised pork belly in a clear yet rich noodle broth. Something that we enjoy on a cool monsoon day and will probably come back to on one of the two days that Mumbai calls its "winter". There's a hugely popular mushroom version too. Another wonderful vegetarian option is the lotus root in Thai red curry that's served with a zesty sambal, rice crispies, fried onions and peanuts. Once you add some rice, it's almost a meal in itself even though it isn't too heavy on coconut milk.
The tao of the bao
The rest of the menu apart, we can't help going wow about the baos. Now the first bao we ever had was in China, where it sat sedately in its own little dish on the right of the main dinner plate. When we popped the innocuous looking white ball into our mouth (always a bit of a risk in mainland China!) we found, to our delight, that the bite-sized roundel was stuffed with really delicious pork, flavoured with soy and five spice. When we learned what 'bao' meant in our Mandarin class some years later, we realised that the word "packet" made complete sense for that little morsel of magic.
The baos at The Fatty Bao aren't all "packets". While a few like the duck in hoisin sauce with five spice Shengjian bao are round and pan-fried at the base, others resemble tacos in the way the spongy steamed bao is left open and stuffed with all sorts of yummies. Chef Chandra is a veritable legend thanks to his expertise with pork and the char siu bao, with barbecued pork belly, green apple kimchi, hoisin and sesame oil, is predictably popular. But we actually enjoy the fried eggplant version, marinated in our favourite miso sauce, with kimchi and sriracha. The crispiness of the aubergine, the soft plumpness of the bao, the way the sweet and spicy flavours chase each other on our tongue, it all adds up to one superb experience. The crisp tofu and mock meat bao is a close second and either of these two could be held responsible if we decide to go veg!
Crispy tofu and mock meat bao
Fried eggplant bao
And although we are the sort who believe "life is uncertain, eat dessert first", we honestly think that this is one place where you should binge on the baos. Try the green tea chiffon cakes and climb the Fatty hills of chocolate and mint if you really must, but our best meals here have been all about the bountiful baos washed down with some tea (try the Fujian Oolong, the Sencha or an aged Pu-erh to end the symphony meal on a high note).
Address: The Fatty Bao, Summerville, Junction of 14th & 33rd, Linking Road, Bandra West, Mumbai.
Contact: Call 022-26005220 for reservations.
Lunch is noon to 3.30pm and dinner from 7pm to 1am.
Kids' policy: Children welcomed at lunchtime; for dinner, you have to be over 18 years old.