Saying Bao Bar’s Teneriffe pop-up started with humble expectations is putting it lightly. When it launched back in mid May, the concept was only given a tight corner of Hikari’s kitchen to prep (a single chopping board was all the space afforded the experiment at first). Pretty quickly the crew realised that demand for their style of Japanese-inspired baos was greater than anticipated, outweighing their capacity to supply and necessitating a boost in elbow room in order to satiate the sudden influx of orders. When dining restrictions eased and Hikari transitioned back to its regular service, the Bao Bar brains trust (Only. Specialty Coffee’s Paul Crossland and Arthur Graczyk, Hikari’s Joon Shimamura and Alex Han, and Dae Kang from The Hideout) felt that the product’s popularity warranted further exploration, so the team extended their feelers to find a permanent home for Bao Bar somewhere in the city, finding gold over in South Brisbane. Bao Bar’s new permanent home is situated on Edmondstone Street – a largely open-air hub that is set back from the bustle of Melbourne and Boundary Streets, but not completely removed from the action. Looking to instil the space in a laid-back and fun vibe, Bao Bar has clad the venue’s kitchen, bar and service counter in a striking black-and-red colour palette, with red lamps and strip lighting beckoning foot traffic at night. A scattering of tables allow for roughly 25 patrons to dine-in with restrictions enabled, but at full-flight the venue will boast space for 40 – plus a grassy strip out front that’s perfect for impromptu bao picnics.
Thanks to plenty of insight gleaned throughout the pop-up, the Bao Bar crew already have a menu that could transition to its new home. That being said, Joon and Alex have incorporated a greater range of authentic Japanese culinary techniques, expanding the range to convey aspects of Japanese cuisine in a package that’s easy to understand and deliver. For the debut Bao Bar menu, Joon and Alex have conjured up seven kinds of baos and five sides. The bao selection encompasses fillings like soy dashi-braised pork belly, mushroom with truffle kewpie mayo, karaage chicken, beef short rib with tare sauce, crispy panko-crumbed chicken katsu, teriyaki fried tofu and jumbo prawn with avocado and aonori. The menu will shift and change over time as the kitchen crew get creative with flavour combinations (think sukiyaki and teriyaki-salmon baos), while limited-edition weekly specials will also feature. As for the extras, Bao Bar’s menu also boasts gap fillers such as Japanese fried chicken (JFC, for short), renkon chips with truffle mayo, Asian slaw, karaage chicken pieces and two kinds of loaded fries – one topped with kimchi and the other with shredded pork buta (both boast sour cream, parmesan and lashings of yum-yum sauce). Few things pair better with bao than beer – Bao Bar will soon boast Asahi and Balter on tap, with cans already on offer for folks eager to blow the froth of an ice-cold post-feast beverage. That’s not all – cocktails (Japanese-inspired negronis, yuzu and vodka concoctions and Japanese gin and tonics) will also be added to the menu soon.
Bao Bar will officially open to the public with a mini bao festival on Sunday September 13. Expect $3 baos from midday until 10:00 pm. Full service will commence on Wednesday September 16 – hit the Stumble Guide for regular opening hours, contact details and online ordering info.