photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
Proper, unanimous, crowd-pleasers are few and far between. For every seemingly foolproof example - think gulps of ice cold water on a hot, hot day - there will usually be one contrarian. One great big Sunday afternoon yawn of an individual talking about sensitive teeth. Unsurprisingly, it’s even harder when it comes to restaurants. There’s more for people to find fault with after all. Like the seat design (‘school canteen’) or the service (‘overly friendly, like a dog’). But every so often a real crowd-pleaser comes along. Mr. Bao is one of them.
If you don’t like bao buns you’re a bit of an oddball, or gluten intolerant. Mr. Bao, whoever he is, seems to have clocked onto this. Everybody comes to this restaurant. Mums and toddlers. One cracking through edamame, the other teething on pork dumplings. Couples leaning across the table, arms entwined, eyes as soft as the pilowy buns being chewed. Groups outside, hair-of-the-dogging, bao benedicts all round.
Maybe most surprising is what the biggest crowd-pleaser is here. You might think chicken, or maybe pork, but actually it’s the shiitake mushroom that you’re going to be making the most noise about. It comes in a teriyaki sauce, with miso mayo, and crispy shallots. It’s the best bun here. Though, honourable mentions go to chicken and tofu.
Bao’s aside, Mr. Bao pleases with lots else. All the sharing plates - smacked cucumbers and fried chicken in particular - are things you’ll want to order. The condiments here are especially worth talking about. Or, writing a paragraph about. Miso, wasabi, and ponzu mayo are all revelations. Certified cutlery dippers, once you’ve run out of edible things to use.
It’s hard to find a problem with this place, unless you’re a problematic person. The room is simple and comfortable. Wooden tables and chairs, plus some bar seating in front of the kitchen. It’s small enough for there to be a buzz, but big enough for it not to feel cramped. Every area in London needs a restaurant like this - a go-to people pleaser. Mr. Bao is definitely Peckham’s. This is a place worth travelling to wherever you live in the city. Just don’t be surprised if there’s already a crowd there.
Shiitake Mushroom Bao, Teriyaki, Miso Mayo, Crispy Shallots
This is a massive up yours to every sad, dry, and neglected vegetarian mushroom option on menus across London. The bao to order.
Fried Chicken Bao, Kimchi, Wasabi Mayo
Mr. Bao knows how to do fried chicken. Mr. Bao knows how to do bao. This is a dangerously moreish combo.
Tofu Bao, Squash Kimchi, Coriander
An honourable bronze in the bao race. Squash kimchi is a big yes, but the tofu is a little damp.
Pork Bao, Pickles, Peanut Powder
Peanut powder is probably like peanut dust. As someone once said, it’s perfect for peckish, even when you’re in a rush. And it makes a decent bao.
Prawn Bao, Mooli
Perfectly tasty. But a small fry fried prawn compared to the mushroom.
Maybe, just maybe, the secret to really tasty food is hitting it? Like when something’s on the blink and you give it a whack.
A nice and nutty green side.
Fried Chicken With Miso Mayo
Fried chicken with miso mayonnaise. Of course this is delicious.
Good dumps. Not essential. But good dumps.
This sausage sits in a pool of soy like a naughty dog in a muddy puddle. You’ll love it just as much.
Sweet Potato Chips With Wasabi Mayo
Sweet potato chips with wasabi mayonnaise. Of course these are delicious.
Tenderstem Broccoli With Ponzu Mayo
A lighter but still delicious option if you’re into dipping things into banging condiments.