Newest Location Opened This Summer In Shanghai
This May, Shanghai-based Greek-Australian chef and restaurateur David Laris (previously on Jing Daily) opened the latest and largest location of his flagship restaurant, The Fat Olive, in the city’s Jinqiao neighborhood. Complete with an on-site bakery, main dining area, upstairs and downstairs terraces, a cocktail lounge, two bar areas, a games area and a retail space selling a selection of artisanal groceries, the roll-out has been among Laris’s most ambitious efforts to date, aimed at introducing more of the cosmopolitan city’s diners to modern Greek cuisine with an all-new menu.
Recently, Jing Daily stopped by The Fat Olive’s Jinqiao location, sitting down with Laris to discuss the new space, the influence his childhood in Greece has had on his culinary career, and how best to introduce wary Chinese diners to the flavors of the Mediterranean.
Jing Daily (JD): How do you define the Fat Olive in terms of the market and your competitors?
David Laris (DL): Our competitors are Mediterranean, Italian and Spanish restaurants, but that said, I think we are the best Greek restaurants in China. I think there are other Greek restaurants here, but they are more tourist-style. This is more like what you see in Athens — good, real, Greek food. I want to define the market in China as the middle- to upper market. [The Fat Olive is] an affordable option for the Chinese couple who wants to have a romantic evening or for the family to gather for a nice evening.
Now this [location] is number three, and number four is coming. I hope one day to have a lot of Fat Olives, maybe all over China and in second-tier cities, and possibly even take this concept to other parts of Asia. In the China market, people like to eat family-style, sharing food, and that’s also a Greek tradition.
JD: You mentioned before that The Fat Olive is inspired by memories of your Greek hometown, and we know you recently changed your menu. Can you say a little about those of these aspects of the restaurant?
DL: I just want to keep improving our standards. We try to develop more dishes, constantly improving the quality and presentation of the menu. I hope the next step for me is to keep the standard menu while still developing new items. I also want to add more Greek products and sell things like Greek cakes — they’re wonderful and nobody is really doing them here. (Takes us to the retail section) This corner of the retail area will be devoted to Greek cakes. If you go to Athens, you’ll see big bakeries full of cakes like you’ve never seen anywhere else in the world. I want to bring that here, and will launch it in the next couple of months.
JD: Maybe sometime you can open a little culinary school.
DL: Maybe. Actually, I’m already doing a cooking demonstration series (“Dining With David & Sarah,” with Sarah Zhang — ed.). Lots of people in China are interested in cooking Greek food on their own and trying it out at home.
JD: In a previous interview, you said you spend 70 percent of your time cooking. What about now?
DL: It depends on the week. Now I spend about 50 percent of my time cooking. I’m doing three, four, five nights a week sometimes at 12 Chairs. In the daytime, I typically have meetings and go around to inspect my kitchens. I also have a small support team focusing on quality control in the kitchens. So I’m building a strong team as we’re growing, to maintain our standards. I think running this business is about always being organized.
JD: As a successful restaurateur, what advice would you give a young chef looking to do business in this market?
DL: The restaurant business is a tough one. Think about your business model and concept first. I think the most successful restaurateurs start off with a strong concept, a very clear concept, clear standards and a solid business model. If your business model isn’t strong you won’t succeed. Also, don’t listen to too many voices.
It’s not an industry I would suggest people get in if they don’t have experience in it. Work at a few restaurants and bars and try to understand it first. It’s a dangerous business, and very easy to lose money.
JD: Some locals have said in reviews of The Fat Olive that they’re not accustomed to the flavors. How do you feel about these reviews, and in response do you plan to alter the dishes?
DL: I don’t think we should, because the Chinese consumer is getting more and more intelligent. If we adjust our menu too much, what might happen is we could lose our authenticity. To me, being real and original are more important. Shanghai wants to be an international city with a global scope and the same standards as New York or London or Sydney. We can’t change too much [as chefs] because people will come and say, “it’s not real.” I know the Chinese market — 60 percent [of customers] like unique flavors while maybe 40 percent will find them strange. Maybe they’ll come back and maybe they won’t, but the majority of Chinese diners will enjoy the menu. So I think we need to be authentic, particularly because we now have a lot of restaurants in Shanghai which are not authentic. You know, in New York you can get really authentic Spanish, Thai or Greek food. I think that’s what we should focus on in Shanghai, too. 100 percent of people won’t like it, but 60 or 70 percent is fine.
And the more that people travel, the more they’re going to like international cuisine. More and more middle-class Chinese are going on holiday in Europe. Their taste is becoming more open, and when they come home they want to go to an authentic Greek or Thai restaurant because they’ve tasted the real thing and experienced it. This is a revolutionary development. If you look at Shanghai 10 years ago, we really had no choice. There was some Italian food but not really any Greek food, and certainly none that was good. Authenticity is important for the long term, for the good of the city.
The Fat Olive, Jinqiao Location
688 Biyun Lu, near Lan’An Lu
Jinqiao, Pudong, Shanghai
Map & Information