We serve, you prepare. These words on banners across town proclaim the entry of a new eatery, Hai Bao. Strategically located opposite Hotel Ramada Plaza, facing the Juhu beach, Hai Bao’s boast is not idle, as a visit on a weeknight reveals. The primarily Asian seafood restaurant focuses on authenticity of taste. Large bowl-shaped in-built heated containers are placed at the centre of every table, where the meat or fish are cooked to your preference, viz steamed, grilled or sautéed.

The Shabu Shabu

The Shabu Shabu — an oriental way of having a seafood meal — is the highlight of any meal here. These complete meals, usually shared between three or more people and priced between R650 to R1,999 (depending on your choice of order) — include soup and a selection of fish, prawn, chicken, meat and vegetables — to be doused in a variety of sauces before being consumed. This is a meal for the evolved diner though and not for those trying out an oriental seafood platter for the first time.

Seafood Fried Rice
(Above) Seafood Fried Rice. (Top) The Shabu Shabu is a form of food preparation which is served in a simmering metal pot

Hai Bao serves food from across the Orient — Malaysian, Vietnamese and from different Chinese regions. We ask for the Deep-fried Dragon Mousse Prawn (R599) as a starter — succulent pieces of prawn wrapped in flaky strands of fried noodles and deep-fried. These are served with crunchy, crushed garlic and fried beans-strings. Long after the prawns have been eaten, we are still picking up the tasty ‘fried and saucy’ garlic bits and savouring them.

The Hokkein Seafood Noodles (R399) and Jasmine Butter Garlic Fried Rice (R225) that are up next, both qualify as standalone dishes. The noodles cooked Singapore-style, in a dark soy sauce, has generous pieces of prawns, fish and even crunchy seafood shells. Thankfully the taste has not been ‘Indianised’ to suit the local palate. Clearly authenticity of taste is what the restaurant owners are banking on for return clientele. The rice, however, has too many pieces of the fried garlic — detracting a fair bit from the milder flavour of the butter and vegetables. Also we can’t find any real smell of the jasmine.

The Stewed Chicken in Claypot (R475) tastes really good, with the fire under the dish ensuring it’s warm at all times. But again, this has too many pieces of garlic. It would work during winter in colder climes, but the weather in Mumbai is hardly conducive to consuming so much garlic in one meal. Also, all the chicken comes with the bones, and even bits of the skin intact. That makes eating it with fork and spoon (or chopsticks) quite difficult. The manager explains the reason is that meat cooked with the bones and skin releases more flavour into the gravy, thus enhancing the taste of the dishes. There’s logic in that reasoning, but we are not sure if this really works in the final presentation.

The 120-cover restaurant already has a bar licence and quite a few cocktails that would go well with the food. The iPad menu lists over 50 cocktails but we settle for a simple fruit punch, since we are driving. We end the meal with the coconut foam and corn kernels (R350) and ice creams. Both are good and well presented.
Hai Bao is definitely worth a visit for one of those days when you want an authentic Asian meal, or if you are treating friends or corporate guests to a meal.

Hai Bo
At: Opposite Juhu Beach, next to Home Town Cafe
Service: Prompt
Ambience: Luxurious
Food: Authentic Oriental
Meal for two: Rs 2,000
Call: 26121800, 26101800