Maiden Lane has long had a special place in my heart. Porterhouse, on the western end of this thoroughfare, has one of the best selections of beer in the city. Many a good night has been had in its labyrinthine interior. I (vaguely) remember one where a couple of mates and I enjoyed more than a few rounds of La Trappe Dubbel, served at 14% A.B.V. in clay bottles. We moved on to a restaurant nearby, but I forget where.
On that note, there are plenty of great places to eat on Maiden Lane. Though I have never been, Rules has a storied history that as almost unrivalled in town. You can never go wrong with The Big Easy, and a pizza restaurant called Fire & Stone might have long closed its doors, but its crazy concoctions named for cities around the world meant it was always a memorable place to entertain. My personal favourite pizza was one called ‘Bombay’, topped with yoghurt, broccoli, mango chutney and chicken tikka.
These days, we have Fatt Pundit. Nondescript, and dare I say it, a little run-down on the outside, this Indo-Chinese bolt-hole delivered a meal for the ages.
Indo-Chinese food offers the best of all worlds. Fatt Pundit plays on this theme a little too enthusiastically, where statues of Indian deities rub shoulders with hànzì graffiti. The restaurant is a little dingy and isn’t the cosiest place to be, but the service is warm and the music strangely funky. It begs you and sets you up to get on with the serious business of eating.
And eat we did. Popcorn cauliflower lived up to its name, being crunchy, well-seasoned, and tanged with chilli and soy sauce. It was a lovely snack, to be enjoyed with our astounding Japanese green tea I.P.A., as good a beer as we have had in a long time. Okra has been fried in tempura batter and served with a mint sauce. It’s good enough – crispy, not glutinous – but these grassy-flavoured seed pods are always a little lost on me, even at the best times like today, so I take a few and wait for the main event.
Crab 65 (at first I thought its name referred to the price) was essentially soft shell crab, mustard, curry paste, and some crunchy corn puffs. Under any normal circumstances this simple combination of seafood, texture, and spice would be knock-out food at its finest, but then the rest arrived. Oh, the Szechuan honey duck! Served with traditional accompaniments of cucumber and pancakes, the meat was candied and crunchy on the outside, soft and inviting in the middle.
The venison trumped even this. Shredded, then doused in a smoked sweet chilli sauce, it was served with a thing called soya caramel mantou bread, a Chinese steamed bun which might be the best bread I’ve never heard of. Pillowy and starchy at the same time, a sweet tinge of caramel permeates its cloud like fluffs, making it perfect for dipping and pigging. We had ordered fried rice too, but I can’t remember much about it. The European seemed to like it though.
We ended with a couple of delicious cocktails (the guava chilli sour with tequila won out) and shared a brownie. It was served in a fajita skillet, the server drizzling chocolate sauce over it in a delicious piece of sizzling theatre. We scarfed it down with Snowflake vanilla gelato from the place next door.
At £one-hundred and thirty for four beers, two cocktails and far too much food for two, Fatt Pundit isn’t bad value; one of those places where you could go in, skip the drinks, and have a perfectly good meal for less than £fifty. But my word it made an impact, its pared-down meal setting enhancing an already spectacular and fairly unique menu. We were united in our adoration. Enamoured, the European gave Fatt Pundit her highest praise: “This is *our* new place”.