Recently, I was lucky enough to be invited to a preview for snack food pop up Bao Town, which is being held at Vella Nero in the Sydney CBD. Bao town is the brain child of Theresa Nguyen, 10 year graphic design maven, food blogger and all round dynamo.
So WTF is a bao? You’ve probably had one of these filled, fluffy buns at some point in your life. They originated in china and are often filled with things like cha siu pork or red bean paste. At their best, they are fresh, fluffy and piping hot, filled with delectable insides. At their worst, they’re a sad and starchy mess with over-processed goopy guts. I haven’t scoffed down many baos in my day, so I was keen to learn more by doing so, and I’ll admit I was lured by the promise of coffee.
Bao Town’s baos are not the ultra-bleached buns you’ll find on your local cut-price yum cha cart. The dough is dense, soft and yeasty, fluffy but substantial, and the fillings are worth heading into town for.
There are 6 of these bad boys on offer. 4 savouries; Coconutty Pork Belly, Beef Bo Kho, Miso Eggplant and Yellow Chicken Curry, and 2 for pudding; Lemon Polenta and Molten Chocolate. Bao Town is doing what you’d expect – filling the bao’s with unexpected fillings. But don’t worry, Theresa learned the rules before she broke ‘em. The Beef Bo Kho is based on her family’s recipe, and the pork belly is slow cooked for 4 hours in young coconut juice.
Savoury-wise, my money is on the silky, salty and smooth Miso Eggplant, topped with a zesty coriander puree, and the Yellow Chicken Curry, a satisfying and complex vibrant yellow stew. But the show stopper has to be the Molten Chocolate by Marou, which sounds simple and obvious and it is, but the 100% liquid chocolate marries so perfectly with the bready bao in all its messy gorgeousness, I couldn’t stop at one.
The road from epiphany to action is one seldom tread, and often fraught with risk. It’s one thing to be hit by a lightning-bolt idea for a super-popular street food cart, shop or restaurant; it’s quite another to put in the capital, the hours and the work to take the massive risk that is setting up your own small business. Thus, a pop-up allows you to test the waters and take one step along the path from revelation to reality. Based on the preview, I’d say Theresa’s dream is very much worth the risk.
Bao Town will be popping up at Vella Nero on the following dates:
Saturday 12th October, 10:00am – 5:00pm
Saturday 2nd November, 10:00am – 5:00pm
Saturday 7th December, 10:00am – 5:00pm
Shop 3, 259 Clarence Street,
Sydney NSW 2000
The idea of a small bar crawl has been brewing for a while, but it really came to be after a conversation with some food bloggers at a dinner I was at a few months ago. The conversation went sort of like this:
Me: “Ok, well what about a bar crawl, hashtag small bar crawl.”
Other food bloggers: “Yes/yeah/ok/great/I’m in!”
And so it was that finally, on Monday August 6th a group of 8 food bloggers and drinkers assembled to crawl the bars of York St. Below is a sampling of the bars we crawled, with a bonus bar thrown in for good measure – 5 bars in total.
Thanks to the bloggers of Sydney Feed Me, Love Swah, CookSuck, Alanabread and I Can’t Believe it’s not a Food blog, as well as the two non-blogger chums who shall not be named (unless they want to be) for making my #smallbarcrawl dreams a reality. Read on!
1. York Lane, York Lane (behind Wynyard Station)
This teensy recycled and upcycled laneway hidey-hole is such a well designed space, you wouldn’t think it, but it can fit 30 people. Even better, these guys are open Monday to Saturday from 6:00am serving coffee, breakfast, lunch and snacks all day for the nine to fivers, and share plates, boutique beers and wine by the glass at night. York Lane makes almost everything on site; case in point, when we arrive they’re whipping up tomorrow’s brownies. They even let us lick the beaters.
The highlight for me is the complete lack of attitude; friendly, attentive staff with a sense of humour to boot. The prices are more than reasonable and I enjoy my first taste of Pink Lady apple cider. We nibble on some yummy dips and muffin-shaped portions of baked polenta- everything here is cooked and assembled in their teensy milk-crate-framed kitchen. The decor is right, the mood is right, the essence of the place is right – can’t lose.
Monday to Wednesday 6:00am – 10:00pm
Thursday to Friday 6:00am – midnight
Saturday 6:00pm – midnight
2. Uncle Ming’s, LG 49 York St
Formerly a community hall for Chinese expats, Uncle Ming’s is a small bar so new you can still smell the lacquer on their mid-century armchairs. Chinese pinups adorn the walls and the space is large, warmly and dimly lit.
If you can find this place, treat yourself to a beer as a reward. Friendly staff are eager to make recommendations from their large selection of asian beers. There’s also a cocktail list and some dumplings. They opened their doors on August 7th and word is spreading fast. Hint: look for the Roman Daniels sign.
Monday –Saturday 4:00pm – Midnight
3. Stitch, 61 York Street
One of the earliest small bars in the area, Stitch is pretty small, pretty popular and can be tricky to get in to. As such it’s run like a restaurant, with table service and shared bills. Cocktails are the drink du jour and they’re renowned for their hotdogs. Everything is sewing themed, from the vintage singer sewing machines to the spools of thread and fabric patterns lining the walls.
I order a boring glass of prosecco, figuring it’ll come fast, but everything comes out at once so I have to wait like the rest of the fancy-pants cocktail crowd I’m with. The food looks good and in between bites, my chums attest that this is indeed the case.
This was my third visit to Stitch and my opinion remains unchanged. The staff are perfectly nice but not overly friendly, there is something a bit awkward about the service. Drinks take a long time and the fact that you’re seated, as in a restaurant, makes it feel sort of…not like a bar, in contrast to somewhere like Freda’s, which also has table service but feels natural and friendly.
Monday to Wednesday 4pm – 12am
Thurs – Fri 12pm til 2am
Saturday 4pm til 2am
4. Mojo Record Bar, 73 York Street
The story goes that after a day’s work, a bunch of music addicts would meet at Mojo’s and then go for a beer. Eventually a bar was built behind the record store so now they need never leave. Music is obviously a feature but it’s not so loud that you can’t hear yourself think. These guys specialise in Australian Craft Beers, with a few music-inspired, masculine cocktails thrown in for good measure, names like ‘smells like gin spirit’ and ‘lemon cohen’. They’ve been out of 4 pines Kolsch two of the three times I’ve been in, which is kind of annoying as I always prefer a tap beer to a bottle.
Mojo feels like a place where everybody should be smoking. Grab a beer, a coveted red vinyl booth, or, second prize, a bar stool and sit mesmerised by the Edison bulbs while you munch on free pork rinds. This is the bar Nick Hornby’s characters wish they were cool enough to dream up.
Monday – Friday 4:00pm – Midnight
Saturdays 6:00pm – midnight
5. The SG (formerly Spooning Goats), 32 York Street
Spooning Goats has had to change its name to The SG as it has been deemed ‘too suggestive’ by the liquor board. Fair enough, I may be missing some double entendre but I never got the name anyway – they have a massive collection of spoons, but where are the goats?
The SG is different from most other small bars in that it is visible from the street. It has a uni-sharehouse-retro-furniture vibe, but strangely bare walls. The lighting’s a bit brighter than most other basement level bars as well. They seems to do a bit of everything – cocktails, beers and wine. You can get a cheese plate or one of their famous house made pies, which I’m yet to try. It’s actually a tad uncomfortable to sit around what feels like someone’s drafty living room on a cold winter’s night, but the staff are friendly and there’s plenty of space to hang out. I feel like this place is still finding its feet.
Monday –Saturday 4:00pm – Midnight
Corridor Kitchen will continue #smallbarcrawl-ing in the months to come. Which is your fave small bar?
Sydney CBD cafés usually have a very different feel from those on the city fringe. Your Petty Cash Cafés, you Belljars don’t really exude the same frantic, grab-your-latte-and-raisin-toast-and-run vibe that you get at somewhere like, say, Vella Nero. This is changing, or maybe I’m just paying closer attention. In any case the York Street hub, with the likes of the quirky Shirt Bar and the laneway haven York Lane is a pretty awesome place to be grabbing your coffees and lunches these days.
Palomino Espresso is the newest addition to the area. A few blocks south of Wynyard Station, nextdoor to Stitch, I literally walked straight past it on its second day of trading. And I was actually looking for it. It was only because I was looking for number 61 and the numbers were higher than that that I turned around and had a second look.
I ordered my macch and sat looking out onto the street, and almost every person who walked past did a double take. It wasn’t so much a case of ‘wow, a new café’ as it was ‘how long has that place been open?’. That’s because Palomino Espresso looks like it’s been part of the furniture for yonks. And the service wasn’t very ‘we’ve only been open for two days’ either. If they hadn’t mentioned that fact so many times, I doubt anyone would’ve noticed they’re the NKOTB.
As per usual, I just had coffee. It was good, not particularly photogenic but a nutty, vanilla-y sort of flavour. I was tempted by something that looked suspiciously like a butterfly cake, or at any rate, some variety of cupcake heavy with whipped cream. The breakkies are a bit more city fringe than dine-and-dash – I saw house baked beans and eggs benny on offer, and tons of homemade-looking baked treats. These guys serve Morgans Handcrafted Coffee, the day I went they had two choices, one of which was a Brazilian Single Origin, if that’s what floats your boat. They do cold drip and for soy addicts, it’s bonsoy all the way.
The decor is a tad quirky, with wild west themed knick knacks (there’s a horse figurine inside the espresso machine). To me, it looks like the kind of cafe you’d find in Glebe, I’m not sure why. The high ceilings mean plenty of glass street frontage, there’s enough seating and the staff seem really friendly. I am unsure of their opening hours but I am going to find out. I will be back.
1/61 York Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Monday-Friday 7:00am – 4:00pm
So by now you probably know the macchiato is my current coffee of choice. I love an espresso or a ristretto, but a few too many black-coffee-on-an-empty-stomach days on a Portuguese holiday kinda cured me of the habit, as did my frugal nature; $3 or more for a shot of coffee with no additions just seems like bad value. A macchiato is also a bet-hedging drink; the milk tempers a short black which may or may not be brilliant, hiding any extra bitterness it may have. Here’s a list of 3 places I think make a great one (in no particular order).
1. Plunge Coffee, Summer Hill
This had been on my wishlist for ages and I wasn’t disappointed. Sitting on a street that real estate agents would describe as ‘funky’ and local council marketing would describe as ‘a village’, it’s a nice place to sit and there’s plenty of seating. The coffees here are beautiful and taste as good as they look. A bit steep at $3.50 but the milk is silky smooth and so is the flavour. They use coffee alchemy coffee.
48 Lackey Street,
Summer Hill NSW 2130
2. Le Grand Café, Clarence Street
The café in the foyer of Alliance Française sells scrummy looking pastries by Bécasse and does more substantial food as well, but I’m more interested in their coffee. All coffees are $3, unless you prepay and buy a bunch at a time and then the work out at $2.50 each. They use Allpress coffee which I like and their macs are not too long with a generous daub of froth. The service is good too.
Le Grand Café
257 Clarence Street,
Sydney CBD NSW 2000
(02) 9267 1755
3. Single Origin Roasters, Surry Hills
This macchiato is so ridiculously expensive I considered not recommending Single Origin on that basis. It is also hipster paradise and only open on weekdays. That said for $4 you’ll feel no qualms about returning it if it’s not to your liking. I’ve been there quite a few times and have never had to. You also get a choice of beans if you so desire. The branding of this place is such that 250g bags are sold at 15 bucks a pop. Not so rapt on the tiny stools and tables either.
Single Origin Roasters
64 Reservoir Street,
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9211 0665
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Disclaimer:All opinions in this blog are mine, an everyday, real-life person. I do not accept payment for reviews and nor do I write sponsored posts. I do not endorse the content of the comments herein.