This place, man, I love it. We visited for a dinner date to celebrate my birthday (last year in my 20s… the big 3-0 is coming ever closer). It 100% lived up to my expectations.
Bao Bar is tiny – a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of place. It’s found on Chillingham Road in Heaton (just outside of Newcastle) and is a small, walk-in bar offering steamed buns, small plates and pared drinks.
There’s barely anything to see from the outside, a white door with a sign above, but inside you’ll find a narrow little restaurant with around 12 seats in total – six at a thin counter and six over-looking the kitchen. Unfortunately, on this visit, we were seated at the thin counter. Next time, I want to grab a seat that looks into the kitchen so we can chat to the guys while our food is being prepared.
It’s intimate, but that’s what we loved about it. You’re practically shoulder-to-shoulder with other diners, but the collective sharing experience of the same food means it’s not awkward.
The menu is simple. It consists of different types of bao – soft and fluffy steamed buns packed with a delicious filling, as well as small plate ‘specials’ which change frequently.
To order, you fill in a paper slip. Just like you would at a dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong.
We decided to go for two bao and one small plate each. In hindsight, we should have ordered the full bao menu!
We chose x2 pork bao (pork nugget, hoi sin, spring onion, coriander), x1 eggplant bao (tempura eggplant, plenty of herbs, miso), x1 char siu bun (brioche roll, pork, okonomi sauce), as well as a bowl of chicken dumplings with a fragrant broth and a small plate of salmon sashimi.
Everything was delicious, packed with flavour and taking classic Asian dishes and giving them an added twist or oomph or flourish.
The sticky hoi sin sauce against the crispy crumb of the fried pork nugget coupled with the soft, almost sweet, bao bun was the perfect mix of textures and tastes. I loved how it was familiar flavours but put together in a unique way.
The tempura eggplant bao was everything I wanted to be. Aubergine is so easy to get wrong and to turn into a tasteless gloop – but it was one vegetable that I saw used so much in Asian cooking whilst I lived in China. There was a dish that I adored called yu xiang qie zi (translation: fish-fragrant eggplant) which made me realise how delicious aubergine could be, so I had high hopes for this aubergine bao at Bao Bar.
Of course, it was delightful. The tempura gave it a crisp exterior, which once bit into, made way for a melt-in-the-mouth slice of aubergine. It was well seasoned and the salty tang of the miso gave a depth of flavour to the overall dish.
My husband loved his char siu bun which was a nice contemporary take on the classic and served with okonomi sauce, while he raved about his salmon sashimi – both in terms of looks and taste – it was a beauty to behold!
My chicken dumplings in a fragrant broth were so good that I wished it was triple the size so I could enjoy it over and over again. The dumplings were plump and full, and the hearty broth that accompanied it just added to the overall pleasure.
Service was quick, and our eating was quick, so it was a short dinner date – however the pleasure of that meal has lingered on. Bao Bar is definitely one of those independent gems that should be shouted about from the rooftops.
So that’s what I’m doing now – shouting about it.