The secret to eating bao is to take big bites, says Chris Yan, the Lotus Dining group’s executive chef.
“I say to everyone, you’ve got to take a big bite,” he tells SBS. “Not delicate, small bites but a huge bite so you can get all the flavours in your mouth”.
And with one look at the menu for Lotus’ latest venue, Bing’s Bao and Beer – there’s really no other way you’d want to do it.
The fun, fast-paced eatery has just opened at Barangaroo and offers pillowy soft bao with fillings such as braised beef brisket with lemon aspen, coriander and white pepper, a Shanghai red braised pork belly with pickled Chinese cabbage and a crumbed shiitake mushroom with miso bao.
The brightly coloured retro diner stands out with a vibrant palette of yellow, jade and red, with black and white photos of old-school Hong Kong celebrities on the wall.
“A very 60s backstreets of Hong Kong kind of feel,” says Yan of the space designed by Melissa Collison (Collison was also behind recent openings Madame Shanghai and Rosetta Sydney).
And there’s more than just bao to choose from at the casual restaurant; tuck into one of Bing’s five noodle bowls, like the red braised beef shin with chilli and Chinese spices or the prawn and calamari with chicken broth and mushrooms.
If you’re in the mood for a light snack, the Bing’s and Bobs menu offers edamame with pink sea salt and fennel, a shallot pancake and salt and pepper calamari.
When Yan was growing up in Shanghai, he remembers eating bao for breakfast. His parents
worked all night at a local factory and would bring the freshly steamed treats home at the end of a long shift.
Then one school holidays when he was 12, he attempted his own bao – with some help from his grandmother – but the result wasn’t so appetising.
“I don’t think we did it right!” he laughs. “Looking back now, they just weren’t soft enough.”
It wasn’t until Yan moved to Australia that he started fine-tuning his baking skills, learning the secrets of folding and mixing to make light and fluffy dough while working at Bill’s in Surry Hills.
His mastery of bao dough isn’t just evident in the savoury menu but also in a couple of sweet bao options at Bing’s. If you’ve left room for dessert (bao can be deceptively filling), there’s a raspberry and chocolate filled marshmallow bao and a fragrant jasmine tea ice cream sandwich on offer.
And when Bing’s liquor licence arrives in September, they’ll have pale ales brewed in collaboration with Brookvale brewery Nomad and wines made by Clare Valley’s KT Wines, plus bottled cocktails created by Kate McGraw.
In the meantime, you can wash down those big bites of bao with house-made sodas and bubble teas.
Bing’s Bao & Beer is open Mon to Fri 11am-8:30pm; Scotch Row, Barangaroo (near the corner of Watermans Quay).