Fluffy and tasty, Mr Bao brings his gang of hip young bunslingers to the ever more trendy streets of Tooting.
I like Bao Buns, I think I even liked them before the craze started. I liked them so much I tried making them at home – don’t bother by the way, it’s not easy and my results were patchy to say the least. Let the pros do it.
For those who haven’t been reading their food blogs, a Bao Bun is essentially a bun made of bread dough that’s been steamed and not baked. This way you end up with a fluffy, slightly squidgy, bun that you can put stuff in and then eat with your hands. It’s a Taiwanese sandwich, an Oriental burger, a Chinese taco if you like. Well, kind of.
Daddy Bao started off in the chichi, yummy-mummy land of Bellenden Road in Peckham. The meat they use comes from a fancy butcher’s almost next door and you know that postcodes with real butchers are not usually places where money is a problem.
Tooting though? Well it’s much more my shop-soiled manor, but it’s definitely coming up no doubt about that. Located next to Morleys, a branch of the venerable Brixton department store and not the horror-show chicken shack, the second Daddy Bao here in Tooting is already doing very well. It was packed the Thursday night we went in and turning people away at the door constantly.
Which made it a bit draughty where we were sitting, but I seem to always be sitting in a draught wherever I go these days. Still I wish people would have the decency to just come right in, and not hold the door open while they enquire about a table.
They don’t only do buns, at Mr Bao, they do sides to share too, so we ordered up some of these as we drank a decent glass of red wine and a hoppy (but aren’t they all?) beer. Fried Chicken with a spicy dip wasn’t quite chicken karaage but it was a pretty good go.
The smaller pieces were rather too tough to enjoy, but the large chunks were perfect. Good crispy batter, moist meat, spicy dipping sauce and properly hot all the way through. I get worried by cool interiors and chicken
We also had some pork dumplings, those steamed parcels that can come by various names. There was plenty going on inside their slippery, moist skins; lots of flavours and lots of pork with some zing from what I assume was rice wine, ginger and garlic.
And hooray there were four of them, so they were nice and easy to share. It’s usually just three, because of Chinese superstition around the number four, but that doesn’t bother me as I also walk under ladders.
But here come the buns. How do you eat them is the first challenge, do you put the Mick Jagger lips into yours, or approach slyly from the side? I found side was best for me, it meant a cross-section of flavours was easier to achieve.
The first bun, a Mr Bao, wasslow braised pork, pickles and peanut powder. The pickles cut the inherent fattiness of the pork, it’s good fat of course, with a pleasant tartness and the peanut powder was sweet and texturally interesting.
Drunken prawn bao – beer marinated prawns, pickled mooli, spiced spring onion – was a bit disappointing. Prawns are subtle things and easily mugged by stronger ingredients. So, while I liked the flavours of the onions and that albino radish, the prawns were mostly texture and not so much choice.
A definite crowd pleaser in its design, the Beef Brisket – braised beef brisket, spiced spring onions, wasabi slaw, coriander – had many of the things London foodies go nuts over. It was a punchy mouthful, although could have done with a bit more wasabi I thought, but still my favourite of the night.
The thing about baos though is that are eaten in seconds, at least they are by me, I could have done with two of each type to slow me down and fill me up a bit more.
So, I fell upon the last one still rather hungry, Three Cups Chicken wasslow braised chicken, red cabbage pickle, spicy honey sauce, spring onions. There was a lot going on in this one for sure some of them competing, a bit of a bun fight actually (see what I did there?) but the honey and the pickle were a very good team.
No desserts are available yet, so I left feeling a bit hungry. Mind you that was partly my own fault, at Mr Bao’s prices I could easily have ordered more. I could have also moved to the bar where there’s what sounds a good range of cocktails and I could have nibbled some more.
With its very easy on the eye interior – bare brick, quasi-industrial lighting and cool furniture – Mr Bao is bang on to attract the increasingly uppish-market young demographic now colonising Tooting.
And the food is just what they want. I think it’s safe to predict Mr Bao is going to be a fixture down the Broadway and beyond.