- The Dish: Bao loaf with syrup and butter
- The Place: Café Bao - 4 Pancras Square, London, N1C 4AG
- The Chef: Shing Tat Chung, Erchen Chang and Wai Ting Chung
While known for being veritable gua bao pioneers in the UK with their chain of Taiwanese restaurants, the team behind Bao are always looking outside the box, with their planned Café Bao in Kings Cross aiming to bring the wider reaches of yoshoku-style cuisine to the masses.
In an interview with Food Spark last year, co-founder Erchen Chang revealed that the group are “always looking at different eateries in Asia” for dish and concept inspiration, with yoshoku, essentially, Asian reinventions of western staples found in diners and cafes throughout Japan, Taiwan and wider East Asia.
Traditional examples include korokke (a Japanese rendition of a French croquette), Naporitan spaghetti (a Japanese/Italian pasta dish) and omurice (fried rice encased in an omelette).
With Café Bao, the group are looking to give a springboard to yoshoku with an all-day dining menu that will “feature innovative twists on classic western and Asian breakfast dishes”.
These include a ‘bao loaf’ with syrup and butter, a baked ham hock congee pie and a bacon, egg and cheese spring onion pancake.
Café Bao – which will feature the Bao group’s biggest menu and dining area to date – is slated for a May opening (depending on the coronavirus situation pans out). When opened, the café will take inspiration from Taiwan’s oldest western-style restaurant, Bolero, as well as old ‘kissatens’ (tearooms and coffee shops in Japan).
“The inspiration for Cafe Bao stemmed from yoshoku cuisine, an interpretation of western food, seen through an Asian lens,” said co-founder Chang.
“This style of cooking is something that’s always resonated with us and made us feel quite nostalgic. After a recent trip to Taipei, Hong Kong and Osaka we realised we wanted to bring it to life.”
The site will also play host to a second new concept: BAO Bakery Goods.
Here, punters will be able to get their hands on new Bao experiments including the pork pie Baozi, salted egg muffin bao and a steamed cookie filled with chocolate and topped with chocolate chips with Pump Street. The bakery will also make bespoke baos and host baking workshops.
All Bao activity has temporarily been channelled into opening their innovative delivery operation, Rice Error, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but the upcoming yoshoku-focused café and experimental bakery is something to look forward to.
Food Spark first discussed the potential of yoshoku back in 2018, with Sparkie saying that the concept “fits exactly with trends for authentic traditional food”.
We’ve also seen demand for both authentic and traditional global cuisine grow in the two years since, with interest in regional fare the latest evolution, specifically Asian and Middle Eastern.
Indeed, our interview with Bone Daddies founder Ross Shonhan last year highlighted the “playfulness” of yoshoku, with the fusion cuisine providing plenty of room for innovation and flavour creativity.
The phenomenal success of katsu sandos, which are quintessentially yoshoku, in the UK over the past few years should serve as sufficient reason for further exploration in western kitchens. And yoshoku breakfast is a new and interesting direction, with the first meal of the day particularly popular with eating out trailblazers of late – unsurprising considering the stats.
The BAO bakery, meanwhile, seems a no-brainer, what with the bakery market said to be outperforming the total eat-out market in Britain (partly due to the rise in savoury and sweet breakfast pastry trends in the UK).
In fact, the NPD Group predict that, by 2022, bakery visits could increase by as much as 10% (or 470m visits), led by savoury bakery products (12% visits), while sweet bakery visits could increase by 8% (108m visits).
Interestingly, the country’s favourite meal for eating out alone is breakfast, with visits increasing 15% since 2015.