Mai Bao, the newest Asian food player on the block, is tucked in a corner in the DLF Avenue mall, in Saket. But it is illuminated by its characteristic mélange of pastel colours—pinks, greens and soft creamy whites, making it stand out from the others. There is a tendency among new restaurants to imitate aesthetics from the spare, wooden table demeanour that governs dining in Europe, but it is comforting to see that the eatery has taken its time to formulate its own identity. The restaurant lives in a slick, new space surrounded by New Delhi stalwarts like The Big Chill, Perch and the Korean Sibang Bakery. It may seem daunting, but Mai Bao, with its menu of Singaporean favourites, curated by chef Jeremy Nguee and owner Avantika Singh Bahl, and headed by Chef Nitin Bhardwaj, is determined to stand out.
Bahl, who also runs the Japanese restaurant Kampai, and the luxury catering company EBK catering, has what she calls a “great love for Singapore”. She often wondered why Singaporean dishes do not make their way to Indians, and put her heart into the stylish fifty-seater. “Singapore is a mix of cuisines and communities, there is a richness in the history that we want to introduce,” she says. Bahl believes that Singaporean flavours, like the mix between sweet and sour; and dishes like chili crab, street-style dumplings can really take off with Delhi’s diners. “Of course, we had to customise. One of my favourite Singaporean foods is fish-head and rice, but we haven’t brought that to the menu yet, because we want to ease people in,” she says. The restaurant also has dumplings; arrays of salads, and hearty rice-based dishes like the classic Hainanese chicken rice; Nasi Goreng, and Lamb Rendang. “We will also be the first restaurant in India to begin alcoholic bubble teas,” Bahl says. In the last two years, Bahl and Nguee, one of Singapore’s award-winning chefs sampled many dishes leading to Nguee’s curation of the menu. After a delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bahl and her team are now ready to launch.
When we enter, an organised staff, clad in clean whites, ready with Covid-protocol, go about a choreographed routine that sanitises, checks our temperature and then seats us. We start with our non-alcoholic drinks; the restaurant still awaits its liquor license. The drinks are fresh; a handshake between sweet and sour that governs much of Singaporean food and Mai Bao’s favourite plates. We drink them urgently–an aperol spritz with elderflower and a juice drink the restaurant calls the “Detox cup”, made with churned carrot, orange juice and the garnish of a baby carrot. Both our drinks are jolting with clear flavours, the kind that will go well with snacks (and will be complemented with alcohol).
The first starters to arrive are the Pomelo Salad, in which the much-loved Southeast Asian fruit is drizzled with sweet-chilli, roasted cashews and dried shallots; and Salted Egg Prawns a spectacular dish of jumbo prawns fried in a salted-egg coating. Both of these are surprising in their flavours; the prawns cling to their soft, foamy egg coverings; the salad, set with sweet cashews with hints of chili sauce, is terribly fun, to pick up and set apart and pause at how well citrus goes well with the crunchy shallots. I am pleasantly taken aback with the robustness of the flavors, the volume of the lime, chili and salty soya sauce that come with the dishes.
Yam-puffs, a Singaporean snack found in homes and also in the legendary hawker centres, come next. These become my favourites—airy, crisp and fried, stuffed with a yam puree and spinach. Singapore’s take on yam, a vegetable often considered boring are sure to be a hit. Shanghai Dumplings, stuffed with chicken follow the puffs, set in a sauce of garlic and peppers that is dense and filling, after a series of sprightly foods. We are snack people, so we skip most of the mains (but the rendang is lovely, the nasi goreng less so) and go to dessert. By the time we get there, we are many foods, and conversations worth a year down.
When our desserts arrive, they are nifty and theatrical. We eat three, despite ourselves. Mai Marshmallow, a restaurant special comprises a small soft marshmallow topped with strawberries that are a perfect serving post a meal, and Mai Coconut, a dome made of chocolate that resembles a coconut has coconut cream set inside. Nothing is too sweet, the tastes are tender, I warm up to the marshmallow, and my companion prefers the coconut because of how it looks. “I like the idea of spectacle here, it’s dessert, it’s supposed to be childlike!” he says. The third, an ice cream sandwich doesn’t do much justice to the rest of the restaurant’s promises, despite its punchy, fruity sorbet filling. We leave content, the staff is thankful, they tell us about how nerve-wracking it was to be set back amid the pandemic. “I took my time with this, as did Jeremy,” Bahl says. “It’s a labour of many visits, meals and experiences. We hope to bring that across.”
Mai Bao, DLF Avenue Saket, New Delhi. Timings: 12 noon-11 pm. Meal for two: approx. Rs1,400, without alcohol
Source: Thanks https://www.cntraveller.in/story/delhi-restaurant-mai-bao-singapore/