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Bao Down Restaurant

Bao Down Restaurant
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Cost
R80 avg main meal; Plates are small and best for sharing. Recommend 3 to 4 dishes per couple.
Ambience
Groups
Food
Asian
Payment
Mastercard, Visa
Corkage
No BYO

Critic's review

Tessa Purdon

Food
This tiny hole in the wall in Gardens has garnered a loyal following since its opening in June 2018. Chef-owners Graham Oldfield (former head chef at Chefs Warehouse and Canteen) and his wife Phillipa have created a little Mecca for Cape Town fans of the little bao steamed buns after which the restaurant is named.

The food has strong influences from Korea, Japan and China. Favourites include the prawn toast bao – a steamed bun that’s filled with prawn then crumbed and deep-fried, creating an awesomely crunchy, crispy texture. Give it a dip in some tangy mayo and a concoction of soya, garlic, and lemon for the perfect prawn-filled bite.
The bao dishes vary each day, but meat eaters should sample the slow-braised Karoo lamb shoulder bao topped with cucumber, radish, fennel, mint salad and black garlic, crème fraîche dressing. The menu is small, with dishes made for sharing, so it’s best to order at least three or four. Other options include saucy chicken wings with just the right amount of spice to make you mop your brow.

Vegetarians will love the Asian green bean salad with puffed rice, as well as the cauliflower cake, which has an unusually soft and gummy texture with a moreish cauliflower flavour. It wouldn’t be a nod to Korean cuisine without a little bit of kimchi on the menu, which can be ordered as a side dish.

There’s only one dessert on offer: a take on pastry chef Christina Tosi’s famous ‘crack pie’. Bao Down’s version comes with a fudgy caramel centre and a sprinkling of deliciously crunchy, salty Cornflakes to offset the sweetness. A must-have for anyone with a killer sweet tooth.

Drinks
The wine list is very small but is perfect for an adventurous drinker, offering a selection of interesting local producers that one doesn’t often come across in a restaurant environment. There’s also a modest list of spirits and soft drinks.

Service
Service is friendly although can, at times, be abrupt. The waiters are knowledgeable about the menu items and are able to offer detailed explanations about cooking methods. Reserving a table can be tedious, as the restaurant only takes bookings via email or telephone and you often get an answering machine. It’s important to know that due to the small size of the restaurant, they take two sittings – the first at 6pm and the second at 8pm. No lunch service is offered.

Ambience
The retro chic aesthetic makes for a stylish and visually appealing space. Think blush pink walls with mint mosaic tiles and subtle pops of gold. The small and intimate space makes the acoustics a little bit of a challenge, so it’s best to go with people who aren’t afraid to talk loudly. The laid-back atmosphere at Bao Down belies the quality of food on offer. This is a true Cape Town hotspot with an edgy but casual energy.

Best for…
A casual dinner with a small group of close friends and romantic dates.

(September 2019)

Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay for their meals in full. Read our full editorial policy here.

  • Ambience
  • Service
  • Food
  • Eat Out

    Bao Down has been filled to the point of overflowing every night since it opened in late June. We snagged a booking to try this contemporary take on the cuisines of China, Korea and Japan from Graham Oldfield, former head chef at Chefs Warehouse and Canteen, and his wife, Phillipa, a former caterer.

    Food
    The menu is concise, offering six mains, two sides and a dessert of the day. ‘Mains’ is a bit of a strong word – as with Liam Tomlin’s small plates, two people could probably finish all six dishes without popping a button. We’re slightly better behaved, skipping out on the sashimi with ponzu dressing, pickled jalapeño and radish, as well as the only vegan dish on the menu, celeriac cake with edamame beans, Brussels sprouts and spicy dressing.
    Instead we start with the prawn toast, which is perfectly accompanied by dipping sauces, one of which is a lemon mayo. As true Brad Leone-devotees, we had to order the kimchi. It offers a salty bite that cuts through the sweeter notes of the pork bao with barbecue sauce and cucumber. The spicy chicken wings are so moreish, you’ll be licking clean your fingers and the plate.
    The hot and sour soup with beef brisket and steamed rice is a real treat. They’re not joking about the sour part, but the rice balances it out nicely and the still-crunchy sprouts add another layer of texture.
    For dessert there’s Crack Pie – an ode to Christina Tosi’s legendary dessert created for Momofuku and Milk Bar. The condensed milk sweetness plus a dollop of cream is obviously good (how can it not be, with all that sugar?), but it’s not the most unforgettable part of the experience.
    On Sundays they also do a set menu.

    Drinks
    Bao Down is now licensed, so you can choose from a selection of wines and alcoholic beverages from the list. Guests can also sip on bottled water; kombucha in flavours of lemongrass, wild dagga and ginger; sour cherry, jasmine and green teas; or the usual soft drinks.

    Service
    With the kitchen blending into the front of house, you could find Graham himself popping out from behind his stainless steel workbench to deliver crockery. This kind of attentiveness and rhythm makes for a near perfectly paced meal despite the restaurant being jam-packed. A friendly word from staff to explain how some of the dishes go together would be helpful, and as someone who has never actually mastered the art of eating with chopsticks, it can be a bit intimidating. But don’t stress, no-one bats an eye if you just go ahead and grab things with your hands.

    Ambience
    The tiny space has a warm glow, welcoming you with that particular shade of prawny pink that’s oh-so-cool right now, accented by soft sea tones. Vintage exotic bird prints adorn the walls alongside origami-inspired lights and antique mirrors. The restaurant seats only 18 at the tables that are far too beautiful for tablecloths, with 10 more seats at the bar. It’s a well-curated space, clearly demonstrating the couple’s eye for detail. Rowdy crowds are a possibility but it’s somehow never too loud to chat easily.
    And…
    As we’re paying our bill (which comes handwritten and presented in a gorgeously kitsch woven swan with, of course, White Rabbit toffees), a woman at the table next to us proclaims Bao Down to be her new favourite place: “I’m going to come here all the time!” I have a feeling we’ll bump into each other every time. The Oldfields set out to create a neighbourhood eatery and this they’ve surely done, perhaps even too well. It’s a leaked secret I wish I could’ve kept all to myself.

    Best For...
    Chatty, comfortable dinner with friends who like to share.

    (2018)

    Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.

    • Ambience
    • Service
    • Food
  • Corli de Kock

    Food
    Bao Down has been filled to the point of overflowing every night since it opened in late June. We snagged a booking to try this contemporary take on the cuisines of China, Korea and Japan from Graham Oldfield, former head chef at Chef’s Warehouse and Canteen, and his wife, Phillipa, a former caterer.

    The menu is concise, offering six mains, two sides and a dessert of the day. ‘Mains’ is a bit of a strong word – as with Liam Tomlin’s small plates, two people could probably finish all six dishes without popping a button. We’re slightly better behaved, skipping out on the sashimi with ponzu dressing, pickled jalapeño and radish, as well as the only vegetarian dish on the menu, celeriac cake with edamame beans, Brussels sprouts and spicy dressing.

    Instead we start with the prawn toast, which is perfectly accompanied by dipping sauces, one of which is a lemon mayo. As true Brad Leone-devotees, we had to order the kimchi. It offers a salty bite that cuts through the sweeter notes of the pork bao with barbecue sauce and cucumber. The spicy chicken wings are so moreish, you’ll be licking clean your fingers and the plate.

    The hot and sour soup with beef brisket and steamed rice is a real treat. They’re not joking about the sour part, but the rice balances it out nicely and the still-crunchy sprouts add another layer of texture.

    For dessert there’s Crack Pie – an ode to Christina Tosi’s legendary dessert created for Momofuku and Milk Bar. The condensed milk sweetness plus a dollop of cream is obviously good (how can it not be, with all that sugar?), but it’s not the most unforgettable part of the experience.

    On Sundays they also do a set menu.

    Drinks
    For now, Bao Down doesn’t have a liquor licence, so you can bring your own. In the meantime, sip on bottled water; kombucha in flavours of lemongrass, wild dagga and ginger; sour cherry, jasmine and green teas; or the usual soft drinks.

    Service
    With the kitchen blending into the front of house, you could find Graham himself popping out from behind his stainless steel workbench to deliver crockery. This kind of attentiveness and rhythm makes for a near perfectly paced meal despite the restaurant being jam-packed. A friendly word from staff to explain how some of the dishes go together would be helpful, and as someone who has never actually mastered the art of eating with chopsticks, it can be a bit intimidating. But don’t stress, no-one bats an eye if you just go ahead and grab things with your hands.

    Ambience
    The tiny space has a warm glow, welcoming you with that particular shade of prawny pink that’s oh-so-cool right now, accented by soft sea tones. Vintage exotic bird prints adorn the walls alongside origami-inspired lights and antique mirrors. The restaurant seats only 18 at the tables that are far too beautiful for tablecloths, with 10 more seats at the bar. It’s a well-curated space, clearly demonstrating the couple’s eye for detail. Rowdy crowds are a possibility but it’s somehow never too loud to chat easily.

    And…
    As we’re paying our bill (which comes handwritten and presented in a gorgeously kitsch woven swan with, of course, White Rabbit toffees), a woman at the table next to us proclaims Bao Down to be her new favourite place: “I’m going to come here all the time!” I have a feeling we’ll bump into each other every time. The Oldfields set out to create a neighbourhood eatery and this they’ve surely done, perhaps even too well. It’s a leaked secret I wish I could’ve kept all to myself.

    Best for
    Chatty, comfortable dinner with friends who like to share.

     

    • Ambience
    • Service
    • Food

User reviews

  • This was our third visit to the quaint little establishment behind the Gardens Centre. As massive foodie groupies of Graham Oldfield from his Chef's Warehouse days, we return every few months, mainly for the prawn toast. Last night was a special occasion, so I booked long in advance to secure a table. (our previous visits were slightly more impulsive, and we were seated at the counter for those) . We were seated at a table by the wall, behind a large group. This is the only reason I didnt give them 5 stars for ambience. The group (not overly rowdy by any means) caused a bit of a struggle for us to hear each other's conversations easily. The service is slick, and flawless. Friendly hostesses/waiters top up wine and water glasses effortlessly, and food came out at a steady pace. As you may have gathered, I am a big fan of the prawn toast. The menu is set up for sharing between 2 people. I agree to share everything, except prawn toast. That I want all to myself. We started the meal with these, some cucumber salad, which was so good we ordered another, and the house kimchi. We followed for chicken bao, beef brisket wontons and the vegetarian dish - spinach and pea cake - which was the star of the show. The texture of the cake on first appearances looked a little gelatinous, but the texture was everything but that. It was comforting and moreish. The accompanying mushrooms exploded with flavour, texture and umami. I could eat that every day for the rest of my life. We ordered a few slices of the dessert pie, which had miso in, topped with a lemon meringue topping, and scattered with corn flakes. A taste sensation all on its own. We accompanied our meal with Gabrielskloof THE BLEND red wine, which is a 2016 Bordeaux blend. It complimented the meal perfectly and was quite affordable for the elegance it delivered. The evening bill worked out to around R400pp, including the wine, which I believe, is excellent value for money at this level of cooking. I have no doubt that we'll be back. And I wish Graham and the team all the accolades that come their way - so well deserved.
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  • Had dinner there 3 times now and its always amazing. I personally found the ceviche/ fish carpaccio to be a bit overwhelming with flavor but everyone else at the table loved it, each visit. The star is the prawn toast- possibly one of the best things Ive ever eaten. The venue is small and beautifully decorated- I would ignore the reviews above about it being too loud unless you are also 100 years old. Booking essential on the weekends it seems.
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  • Bao Down is a welcoming addition to Vredehoek Avenue and a pleasant addition to the list of Asian eateries in Cape Town. It's simple in decor and design but complex in its flavours - a space where the food really takes centre stage. Bao buns, beef tataki & the spinach and pea cake were some of the savoury plates we shared, but what impressed us most was the lemon & miso tart - one of those stand-out desserts that for a moment made you feel like you're sitting in the heart of New York. Perhaps the cornflake crisp was responsible for that. With multiple seatings and minimal space it creates a full atmosphere, the perfect spot for a dinner date or catch-up with close friends. We'll definitely be back.
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  • This restaurant opened to much hype this year and being huge Bao fans, we rushed to book. Look the food was good, apart from ironically the Bao, which were "lazy" folks over ones, of which there are only two on the menu. The filing was good but we found the Bao themselves tough and chewy. The portions were tiny and definitely not enough to share as the menu suggests, so we ended up having everything on the menu. The dishes were mostly tasty and inventive but we won't be back in a hurry. The accoustic was really terrible. We had to shout at one another to be heard above the din and as a table of six felt squashed, hurried and annoyed by how loud this tiny venue is. Because you had to eat so many dishes to get full, the bill was a lot higher than anticipated too. I'm not sure they'll iron out their issues as it's full every night and seems my experience was not shared by countless others who rave about it.
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  • A really great find. The food is nothing short of a culinary experience. Delicious and different. So much flavour! The service is good and the vibe is festive.
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  • I really cant fault the food- everything (we basically ordered everything) was spectacular! The prawn toast is completely underrated, so much so that we ordered an extra portion. The service was friendly, but strange. The waitress had to check with the kitchen before every order placed to find out if its ok? We were the second seating so this was strange. Also, its byob, but they hide your wine behind the counter and twice we had to ask for top ups (dont mind pouring my own wine but didnt have access to it). Its warm and cosy with a great menu.
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  • Food was amazing!
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Facilities

  • Accepts credit cards
  • Dinner
  • Food
  • Licensed
  • Lunch

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