Belly Bao, Chinatown

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This is a sad and yet wonderful story of missed opportunities and new found loves. To put that all into perspective, it’s really about a restaurant closing that I never got to try, visit or see. I can write like a real writer sometimes. Sometimes. Anyway, so last week we ate at Belly Bao, which is situated in the Good God Small Club, down on, ah, well it’s near the Three Wise Monkeys Bar.

The sad part of this tale is that, as you know, I’m a fiend for all things American and previously at Good God there was a lovely little (or so I hear) establishment called The Dip. The Dip specialised in amazing hot dogs, buffalo wings and other awesome American things. My sister swore by that place and she told me to go there constantly, yet I never listened. Sadly, sometime last year The Dip closed without me ever having a taste of its hot doggy goodness. This event has left a void in my heart that I’m sure I’ll never fill. That’s the sad bit. On a more positive note, the empty space in Good God (and my heart) has been lovingly filled by an entirely different kind of meat in a bun concoction, Belly Bao!

Belly Bao specialises in those delightful Taiwanese treats, the bao. To me, a bao is essentially a sidewards taco made out of the white stuff you get on the outside of a pork bun, which is then usually filled with slow cooked pork. My first experience with a bao was at Ippudo, in the Westfield food court on Pitt Street. Since then, I’ve pretty much been on the lookout for these little gems because I freaking love these things.

We ended up Belly Bao on a Friday night and the first thing that we noticed (outside of the cool cave-like decor) was that there weren’t really that many tables at all, and take-away didn’t seem to be an option. With this in mind we did what any good person would do in an overfilled food court. That is, we stood around near tables of people who had empty plates in front of them, and tried to mentally will them into leaving. And it worked!

I hope you like bao’s, because that’s essentially all we ordered!

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First up, the classic, the Slow braised pork belly bao ($6.50) with pickled mustard greens, coriander, crushed peanuts and kewpie mayo. This is the one that started it all. The braised pork belly bao from Ippudo is what made me fall in love with these things in the first place and the one here at Belly Bao is no different. In fact, it makes me love them even more! So I guess I should get something out of the way first. I personally enjoy the baos here at Belly Bao more than the ones I’ve had at Ippudo, which I guess shouldn’t be a massive surprise to most. In the end of the day, Belly Bao does specialise in baos hence, they really are amazing! And I still do love the ramens at Ippudo.

The braised pork in the middle of this bao is extremely soft and tender, and practically falls apart as you eat it. If you look at the picture above you can see that there’s a ton of fat on this piece of pork, and that the pork itself is cut extremely thick. These are both good things. I’ve had a ton of bao’s in my life and if a place skimps on the pork then it’s dead to me. Belly Bao definitely did not skimp on the pork. A lot of people out there might be thinking “ew that’s so much fat” and to be honest it is a lot, but you have to trust me on this one, the fat makes the dish. It needs to be there. Although the fat is super important, the pork is easily the star attraction of this dish. The sides also do a great job of ensuring that the pork doesn’t become too much but onwards to the most important element. The pork is actually quite sweet due to the sauce that it was simmered in, and the crushed peanuts add some contrasting crunchy flavour as well as some saltiness. The pickled greens cut right through the richness of the meat and it’s what keeps this bao enjoyable the entire way through.

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Secondly, here is the Soft shell crab bao ($7.50) with watercress, chilli aioli and lemon vinaigrette. Like with the pork belly bao, this was absolutely fantastic. It was just punches of flavour left, right and centre. You have the strong and rich flavour of the crab, with is enhanced by the chilli aioli which is full of flavour and gives every bite a little kick but nothing too spicy or unbearable. Of course, this along would have been too overpowering and super sicken real quick. Hence, this is where the watercress and lemon vinaigrette comes in. Both these elements, cut right through the richness of the crab and the creaminess of the aioli, with a hint of bitterness from the watercress and a lovely citrus zest from the lemon vinaigrette. Together these four things bring perfect flavour and balance to eat bite.

I just realised that I haven’t spoken about the bao skin yet! I guess normally wouldn’t, since its a pretty straight forward and basic element to the overall bao but here at Belly Bao, I think their bao skins deserve a special mention — because they’re amazing! I’ve had my fair share of baos, these by far have been the best skins. They were super fluffy, moist and had just a hint of sweetness to them. But the thing that makes these skins the standard out, is the size or portion. The crew at Belly Bao have balance these perfectly, ensuring that the denseness of the bao skin doesn’t overpower and take away from the flavour of the fillings. I know it sounds stupid but it makes all the difference!

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Here’s a combo picture because that’s how they arrived and it just looked too pretty (and risky to pull out on to a dish to photograph separately). I’ll probably just talk about them left to right.

First up, the  the Panko crumbed chicken breast bao ($6.50) with lettuce, pickled radish, secret sauce, coriander, as well as coriander aioli. To me, this bao tasted like a really high quality schnitzel sandwich but with an awesome Asian twist. This might sound a bit derogatory but its definitely not, I kind of (absolutely) love schnitzel sandwiches. The chicken in this bao was extremely juicy, and I personally have a really strong preference for panko crumbs so that hit the spot perfectly. Panko is a Japanese breadcrumb that’s a lot lighter, larger, and a bit sweeter than the more standard breadcrumb that you get from Woolies. If you’ve ever had tempura anything, then you’ve probably had Panko crumbs before, and loved them too obviously.

The people at Belly Bao were really smart with this dish because a panko crumbed chicken breast isn’t nearly as rich or overpowering as a piece of braised pork. So with that in mind, the additions to this bao are equally not as powerful, instead of the pickled greens that you get with the pork belly bao, here we get straight up lettuce, bit of freshness, but nothing too crazy. No need for peanuts either since the crunchy texture is already there thanks to the panko crumb, and to accommodate how that might go down the throat, there are two separate sauces to keep things moist. Really appreciated the thought that went into this, and I really enjoyed the bao as well.

Secondly, in the middle of this picture, we have the Crackling roast pork belly bao ($6.50) with crackling, pickled radish, coriander and kewpie mayo. This was the second pork bao that is on offer at Belly Bao, they really do caters to all us pork lovers out there. First, the fatty and moist stewed pork belly, now the crispy pork crackling. If you look at the picture, you can see that this pork is just as thick as the braised pork from above, which is another awesome sign and makes me respect Belly Bao immensely. The pork in this bao is pretty drastically different from the slow braised pork from above, it’s been cooked in a different way and the result is a much firmer piece of pork that doesn’t have that distinctive Asian pork flavour. To me, that’s actually a really good thing, because I would’ve been a bit annoyed if both the pork options ended up tasting largely the same. The pork here reminded me heavily of the roast pork you get from Asian BBQ houses, and I love that pork so this was definitely a good thing.

The crackling on this bao was pretty interesting, it wasn’t just on the side of the pork where you’d naturally expect it to be. The crackling was cut off, and placed in the bao sideways, like a chip layer. Again, I need to commend the guys at Belly Bao on all the thought that went into this bao. If you think about it, leaving the crackling on the pork would have lead to a bit of a disaster (okay, maybe more of a mess) when you bit into your bao. By placing the pork in the bao with crackling separately on the side the way they have, the crew at Belly Bao has ensured maximum crackling coverage, and minimisation of mouth harming errors. Pretty cool.

Last but not least, the Crispy tofu bao ($6.50) with cucumber, peanuts, crunchy onions, coriander, chilli and sticky sauce. Something for all the vegetarians out there. I must say, I really do appreciate the menu at Belly Bao, we’ve kind of gotten to a point where hipster places are no longer offering options for people with dietary requirements, i.e. those places that only other one item. How about those of use who don’t eat meat, or don’t like fish, or only eat white meat?! Here at Belly Bao, theres something for everyone, from vegetarians, to fishcetarian to your sweet tooth’s out there. And the best part?! The alternative options are actually really tasty, the crew at Belly Bao haven’t just included these other options to ensure that everyone is covered, instead these options are actually here to please your belly.

In this veggie bao, there are amazing flavours and various flavours in each bite that you take. From the crispiness and freshness of the cucumber, to the crunch of the peanuts and onion. There also plenty of flavour from the chilli and sticky sauce and of course, to round it all off and absorb all the goodness, you have your amazingly light and crispy fried tofu. Only a slight word of warning for this bao, the chilli is legit, this thing has quite a kick to it.

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For all you people who thought ‘I NEED SUGAR AND DESSERT URGGGHH’ then the Strawbelly bao ($6.50) is for you! It is a golden fried bao, with a log of vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberry slices which are then drizzled (or drowned) in condensed milk! Decadent. That’s the word for this. The golden fried bao is fantastically crunchy but also airy once you get into it. It’s honestly kind of like a funnel cake, from the US. That is, essentially a donut with all the doughy bits gone and replaced with a crunchy and fried outer shell while still remaining soft and airy inside. Definitely not dense at all. Yeah I did a terrible job there, I guess more reason to try it!

The ice cream log is, of course, fantastic, since it’s a giant log of vanilla ice cream covered in strawberries and condensed milk. This was really a lot better than it had any right to be. I thought that this dish would be cool to look at, but not much in the taste department since it seemed a little gimmicky, but I was completely wrong. This ended up being one of my favourite bao’s, sitting just behind the crispy pork probably.

There’s also a banana version which comes with nutella, I opted for strawberry because it’ll be a cold day in hell before I say no to condensed milk, but it’s something to keep in mind for the dessert fiends out there.

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Good God, being a bar and all, serves some pretty delightful beverages and it would be remiss if I didn’t speak about a couple of them. To wash down our baos, we grabbed a (left) Spirit Walker ($12), Bulldog gin with fresh line, orange bitters and ginger beer. I’m a very boring drinker sometimes, and when I find something that I kind of like, then I’ll generally stick to it. This is because there are a ton of drinks that I just don’t really enjoy, mainly because of my terribly immature palate, but nevertheless, it’s what I enjoy.

I actually remember one night out with my sister; we went through the cocktail menu, picked some out that spoke to us, and she promptly went up to the bar to order. While she was up there, she noticed that they had this special cocktail called the ‘Sazerac’, and she considered for a quick moment whether to just grab it or not. At that exact moment, some other girl was at the bar and she completely lost her mind saying ‘OMG is that the Sazerac?! I must have it! One Sazerac please!’ So of course, my sister ended up walking back to our table with a Sazerac in hand. It essentially tasted like fire in liquid form, and we both hated it, and subtly cursed that other girl for expressing her love for it so enthusiastically.

So I guess the point of that whole story is that, when I see something that looks like a Dark n Stormy, I’m going to order it, and I’m probably going to like it! This particular one was pretty good, the orange bitters was a nice little twist on a standard recipe, and I polished this off really quickly. If you like ginger beer plus anything, then you should get this because it scratches that itch!

Our second drink, (the one on the right) was the Japanese Cowboy ($12), dry plum wine, vodka and sweetened soda. This was really refreshing and a good complement to the overall richness from all the baos that we had. It had just the right amount of sweetness for me, not too much making it taste like candy water, but enough so it doesn’t taste like pure alcohol, at that point, I might as well just take shots. The plum wine also definitely came through, giving you that lovely sweet and almost yuzu and cherry like flavour to it. Overall, love it!

I thought the drinks at Good God were pretty awesome, based off the two that we tried. Plus, the other ones available on their drinks menu looked really creative and tasty as well, must come back in the future to sample a couple more of them out, like the jugs and shots!

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The decor at Good God is really quite cool, the entire bar is downstairs and half of it is all cavey, whereas the other half is just a normal dark bar. We liked it so much we took a picture of the coaster, because why not?

Belly Bao

Good God Small Club, 53-55 Liverpool Street, Sydney

Facebook: facebook.com/bellybao

Instagram: @BellyBao

Website: bellybao.com/

Opening hours:

Wednesday to Friday

5:00pm to 10:0pm

Saturday

6:00pm to 10:00pm

Click to add a blog post for Belly Bao on Zomato

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One comment

  1. What a wonderful post. I really want to go to belly bao however not too sure how it will work with bub in tow but it’s not somewhere I would go if I was given the opportunity for a night off because well a night off is a night to celebrate! Oh the dilemma!

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