On Thursday and Friday night, Mr Bao serves a Singapore-chilli-crab-inspired dish. The crab is well cooked, crisp and served with a textural and flavour-dense dipping sauce. It’s brilliant and inventive on its own, but next to the crab, squat and unassuming, is a perfectly cooked bao bun. It’s golden, crisp and filled with a doughy tapestry of separate bao noodles which all come together to make a perfectly textured filling holder.
Mr Bao is the work of James Pham and Angeline Lee, a couple who, before last year, had no experience in a professional kitchen. They went for an anniversary dinner at Momofuku Seiobo where Pham ate the restaurant’s famous bao buns and decided that was the life for him.
“James always wanted to open his own place. He's very passionate about food. He decided to trial it out at a market stall. We did that for a year, everything homemade with our own recipes,” Lee says. The more astute bao followers among us will recognise the duo from their market exploits at Glebe, Dixon Street and Bondi.
Now with a new restaurant-bar in York Street’s George Arcade, the couple is making baos and Vietnamese- and Japanese-inspired bar food with the precision and style you’d expect from fine-dining alumni. The baos are soft and melty, and all of them come with simple but impeccable fillings. The couple’s proudest edition is the crackling pork belly, featuring a slab of succulent roast pork, Mr Bao hoisin and home-pickled cucumbers encased in walls of thick crackling.
The roast pork is thanks to the couple’s two mums. “My mum is coaching him about how to roast it properly and grill the skin properly and make sure it’s really crackling” says Lee, adding that both mums work in the kitchen, either frying or pouring over fine details. “Each mother has her own style of cooking. It’s a cook off, they can’t be in the kitchen together,” she says.
“My mum ran a bakery in Cabramatta for 25 years. She spent a lot of that time pickling, so she's given me her recipe,” Pham says. Aside from being delicious alone, the pickles contrast beautifully with the karaage chicken and spicy aioli; and the tempura prawns with wasabi mayonnaise.
Mr Bao is only open for bao at lunch and a short menu of bar snacks for Thursday and Friday dinners, but Pham and Lee have plans for breakfast baos and an extended dinner service, such as a baoger station with different courses matched to drinks. For breakfast, Pham has plans for a hangover-oriented bacon-and-egg bao; and a more refined, crisp bao with smoked salmon, horseradish cream cheese, chives and egg.
3/56–58 York Street, Sydney
Mon to Wed 11am–3pm
Thu to Fri 11am–9pm
Bondi Farmers Markets, Sat 9am–1pm
Brewey Yard Markets, Sun 10am–4pm