What: An impressive Kings Cross restaurant that's partly modelled on the boleros (Western-style cafés) of Taiwan, which were especially popular in the 60s and 70s. As such Café BAO has a quirky, old school look and serves a curious menu that offers creative takes on Western café staples.
Who: Café BAO is the latest restaurant from Erchen Chang, Wai Ting and Shing Tat Chung. The trio behind the now five-strong BAO and the more upmarket Xu can take much of the credit for popularising the satisfyingly squidgy bao buns from which their London-based restaurant group takes its name. BAO is backed by JKS Restaurants, the prolific and highly-respected restaurant group behind Gymkhana, Trishna and Brigadiers (among others).
The vibe: Despite only having a thin, fairly anonymous two-story glass box in which to work the BAO team has created a striking space that could double as a set for a Wes Anderson film. Designed by Macaulay Sinclair, the interiors are Mid-Century in style with wood-panelled walls and Bauhaus-red flooring. Throw in a BAO-branded La Marzocco espresso machine, sharply tailored staff uniforms and flourishes of clever graphics and you have a design geek’s dream.
The food: Those that have visited any of BAO’s establishments won’t be surprised to learn that all three founders have art and design-related degrees. This focus on carefully considered, minimalist design is just as evident in the food as it is the interiors. “Everything has to be cute and small,” Chang once told us. Standout dishes include a spherical Taiwanese fried chicken Kiev; baked ham hock congee pie and condiments; and - most Instagramable of all - the volcano-esque 40 day aged beef steak rice with cheese sauce and egg yolk. Alongside these dishes are a more familiar selection of baos including original (braised pork, fermented greens, coriander, peanut powder); curry fish (battered pollack, curry sauce, cabbage); and BAO's clever take on a hamburger. The restaurant also features a baked goods counter that offers a wide range of kitsch items including BAO's Salted Egg Custard 'Sad' BAO; Pizza BAO; and Cookie Caramel BAO.
To drink: The liquid side of things is more inline with Bao's existing estate featuring cute, slightly retro cocktails, BAO-branded beers and sake, quality teas and a few wines. Café BAO also has a selection of bubble teas, with flavours including salted custard, and oolong.
And another thing: When regulations allow, customers will be able to try their hand at making their own baos and BAO baked goods within Café BAO's upstairs workshop area.