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23.03.2017

Vasant Kunj’s familiar FabIndia is now calling itself an “Experience Center,” but the off-key name doesn’t quite spoil its delights. On a very specific mission, we must strap blinders on to avoid being beguiled by floors full of organic spices and fragrant khadi saris on our way to the 44-seater Fab Café. Not until we arrive at a beautiful blue-grey staircase, opening onto a casually elegant dining area, do we allow ourselves to divert focus. 

The reward is a relaxed, characterful space, kitted out in wood, rope, copper and sunlight. To the right, a toddler play area is watched over by a serious-looking woman who will sign your charges in for an hour at a time, and firmly lock the nursery door so that they won’t come looking for you. This is good: even your sugar-free, organic-only moppet might find this food too grown-up for their liking.

 Ajrakh Chai

A thoughtful menu offers ample gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb and vegetarian fare, with all sorts of heartening descriptions that include “complete protein,” “anti-inflammatory,” “with healing spices,” and so on. Our pores are already feeling cleaner.

A thoughtful menu offers ample gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb and vegetarian fare, with all sorts of heartening descriptions that include “complete protein,” “anti-inflammatory,” “with healing spices,” and so on. Our pores are already feeling cleaner.

A promising-sounding ganna juice is a let-down of a starter: some ginger - a classic flavouring for this drink - might have cut its overpowering sweetness with verve and imagination. Things improve immediately afterwards: a violet detoxifying smoothie with beets, blueberry, banana and celery is worth an entire delicious breakfast. Spinach + apple + turmeric juice is green enough to make us glow with virtue, and appetising to boot.

Beetroot To Fruit

We have to keep reminding ourselves that the food tastes less familiar than it looks because it’s entirely healthy, or supposed to be. Colour, smell and texture step in to compensate for the lack of old-school flavour. Picture, if you will, a dhaal sprouts gol-gappa, six pretty shot-glasses of three different kinds of liquid - chutney-green mint jeera, yellow pineapple, pink pomegranate - each crowned with a gol-gappa filled with micro-green sprouts. Pro tip: if dining with friends, steal the tangy mint water shots before they do.

Beetroot and lotus-stem tikki chaat, the star of the meal, features two large patties covered with dahi, sonth, chutney and anaar, which fall apart to reveal the loveliest colour and a beautiful interplay of texture: one soft root, one crunchy. In contrast, coriander and black pepper grilled chicken is less exciting: little bits of chicken with lots of black pepper are overpowered by way too much coriander garnish.

We have to keep reminding ourselves that the food tastes less familiar than it looks because it’s entirely healthy, or supposed to be. Colour, smell and texture step in to compensate for the lack of old-school flavour.

The mischief and innovation of the menu really come into play in our Malayali mains. Kerala fish moilee, mild coconut stew with chunks of kingfish, is served with a quinoa chappati whose pleasure we can only describe as utterly real. Reader, if you’ve ever eaten something that made you think, ‘Of course, this is what food should taste like,’ you’ll understand.

Palakkad olan is thin vegetarian stew made with pumpkin (traditional), served with cauliflower rice (which Palakkad grannies wouldn’t even cook up in their nightmares). Sorry ammuma, we could have eaten the cauliflower rice alone and gone home happy.

The mains get something of a short shrift, admittedly. We can’t wait for dessert, espied by this time on neighbouring tables. A beautifully presented seed tart with coconut rabri filling comes topped with fruits: it sounds heavy, but is feather-light on the tongue, with a base made from healthy nuts and dates. A large slice of coconut chocolate cake is low-carb, gluten free, sugar-free - and so addictive we’re tempted to wrap up another and take it home. Only a cashew creamy fruit bowl strikes a sour note - literally, since the cashew cream tastes a little too acidic for dessert, and needs the chefs to step in with a dollop of honey to cut the taste.

Best of all: there isn’t the slightest urge to pop a waist button, or keel over when standing up after a meal this size. We breeze out of the café with a song on our lips, which is why we forget about the blinders and succumb to some shopping on the way out. Dear bpb editor, we’re sending you the bill. (Ed note: Nice try.)

Fab Café is run by two partners, one of whom supervises food quality and the other the kitchen. We learn that if all goes well, they should be scaling up to about 15 Fab Cafes soon. If you’re too far from Vasant Kunj, we recommend you pester your local Fab staff about getting one on the double. You might like it even more than the kora cottons.

Getting there: Shop 10, Local Shopping Centre, Nelson Mandela Marg, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, call 46041700, a meal for three costs Rs 3,800.

Accessibility: The market has no ramp access; store has elevator access to all floors, but toilets aren’t wheelchair friendly.

bpb reviews anonymously and pays for its own meals.

This review was contributed by Aparna Jain, leadership coach and author of Own It! and The Sood Family Cookbook. 

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