Belly Bao is back. Sylvia Tran and Kiren Chua's former bao and burger market stall and GoodGod Small Club eatery has reopened in Newtown. This time they're unattached and in their own, standalone restaurant. “We wanted to be able to do everything we wanted, control our hours and put our own style into it. All our money is invested now, this is it. If we don't make it I'll be sleeping outside,” says Tran, half joking.
As you'd expect from the team that brought Taiwanese baos and bao burgers (which it calls baogers, a cheeseburger between toasted bao buns) to Sydney before either item had spread across other menus, there are a lot of ideas at the new digs.
In the kitchen, Tran has been toying with the potential of bao dough, her latest discovery being a bao-based noodle (elastic and soft like pad see ew noodles) that's wok tossed with chilli, pork belly, chives and soy. Old Belly Bao favourites such as the thick-battered fried chicken with salted-egg sauce have been given an extra punch and South East Asian flavour. The famous baoger and regular baos (including the classic pork belly and pickled mustard greens) return to the menu unchanged. “We also want to do a lot more vegan things, we'll have a five-spiced oyster mushroom bao, some salads and vegan desserts,” says Tran.
With a brightly coloured tropical mural by Simon Wheedon lining the back wall, peach-coloured napkins, a bar inlaid with mah-jong tiles and what look like school chairs, the restaurant’s aesthetic is somewhere between a tiki bar and an old-school Chinese restaurant. "Her parents are Vietnamese, mine are Singaporean; we come from a very tropical part of Asia. That kind of look is really underrepresented. We wanted to grab onto that idea,” says Chua. Tran and Chua designed the space themselves, impressive considering just how different this looks to other burger and bar-food venues.
South East Asia is embedded in everything. Behind the bar Chua is carbonating sour mango juice and matcha with fresh strawberries for homemade sodas. When the liquor licence comes through, he'll be pouring Asian beers and karaoke-inspired cocktails. “They do all these mixed drinks, like green tea with Hennessy. It's fucking delicious,” he says.
184 King Street, Newtown
0402 826 907
Wed, Thu, Sun 11.30am–10pm
Fri & Sat 11.30am–12am
This article was updated on November 25, 2017.