An uptick in the consumption of take-out comfort food over the past few years has been good news for Chinatown’s Fat Mao.
Maybe the only downside is that the 25-seat noodle shop has been burning through kitchen equipment trying to keep up with the demand for their made-from-scratch curries, broths and sauces. Chef and owner Angus An wasn’t looking to open a second location, but when one presented itself at the foot of The Wall Centre South Building (983 Helmcken Street between Burrard and Hornby), and he discovered that it included access to a commissary kitchen that could help relieve some of his production woes – he jumped in.
The Helmcken St. space (previously occupied by a Mediterranean cafe called Balila and LaTab Restaurant before that) was still under construction when I met chef An on-site last month. He took me on a tour of the drywall-dust-covered 800sqft concrete and glass room, pointing out design details and explaining his vision as we went.
From what I understand, the look and feel of the new downtown location will align with Fat Mao’s original Chinatown spot: kindred colours and materials will help carry over a similar aesthetic, and many favourite Fat Mao menu items (roti, Khao Soi curry, mapo tofu and braised duck made with ingredients sourced from small local providers) will be available out of its space-conscious open kitchen. But downtown won’t be a carbon copy of Chinatown; there will also be a few unique design details (some low ‘Japanese style’ bar seating, for example) as well as some exclusive menu items (keep your eye out for hot and sour seafood noodles, an expanded cocktail menu, and desserts).
Tucked around the corner, on a one-way street off Burrard, this address isn’t an obvious choice. Still, after a quick mental inventory of the surrounding streets, I noted that surprisingly few inventive, good quality and tasty food options are happening in this area of downtown – which should work in Fat Mao’s favour. Add to this the proximity to St. Paul’s Hospital (which will remain at its Burrard Street location – just one block away – for at least the next four years), traffic from numerous nearby hotels, businesses and theatres (and the fact that the Royal Thai Consulate-General offices are also located in Wall Centre). It seems reasonable to forecast that this new location of Fat Mao will not only fill a void but will also be busy enough to add to the culinary demands of its Chinatown location to keep that commissary running at full tilt on a near-constant basis.
The transformation is now well underway, and An’s team (Fat Mao Head Chef and Kitchen Manager Sai Woranut Pounpakon, General Manager Saem Wi, and Assistant Manager Brandon Intharangsy) are all on deck to ensure that the welcoming, knowledgeable service and delicious food Vancouverites experience at their Chinatown location, migrate seamlessly to the heart of the city. If all goes well with their equipment delivery, the plan is to open doors later this summer.
Stay tuned for further updates; in the meantime, look inside…