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.
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 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.
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.
A casual dinner with a small group of close friends and romantic dates.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay for their meals in full. Read our full editorial policy here.
So delicious! Everything about it makes you feel special even though its a really popular restaurant and you need an advance booking
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.
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.
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.
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.