I’ve lived in London for almost six years and had never been to Peckham, so when an invite to dinner arrived at the newly opened Mr Bao on Peckham’s Rye Lane, I thought I’d show my friend, my Oyster card and myself new things. The promise of Taiwanese steamed buns was more appealing than a trip to boroughs undiscovered, I’ll admit.
A 10 minute walk from Peckham Rye station, past an eclectic mix of greengrocers and discount stores, lays Mr Bao. The brainchild of co-founders Frank Yeung and Nick Birkett, the former neglected premises has been transformed into the pair’s first London outpost seating around 30 people. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it little unit, all rustic wood and metal, ornate tiles, cosy tables and bar stools to either watch the world go by or watch what is about to go by your tonsils in the theatre kitchen. We took the last option, ordered almost everything from the menu and waited with our Taiwanese-inspired cocktails in hand.
Mr Bao only opened earlier this year, and in that time we reckon it must have earned itself a local reputation, if the constant stream of table-hunters coming through the door that Tuesday night was anything to go by. When there is a wait there is no queuing on the street, they will call you in the pub across the road. The menu prices, chirpy service – at times hilarious – and relaxed surroundings were a plus before we had even tasted the food.
“We’ve loved bao buns since we first tasted them in the Far East,” Frank Yeung tells us. “There was a lot of travel involved to research and make sure we got it right: New York, China, Tokyo and of course, Taiwan.”
Looking around at the many rundown and abandoned buildings surrounding Mr Bao, he explains further the reasoning behind their choice of location, confident that by opening up shop here, they will spark another of London’s many regenerations. “We’re working hard to support local Peckham businesses. Our butcher, builder, timber and glass suppliers, sign makers and artists are all from Peckham. Chef John has been out in Taipei sourcing any ingredients that are not available in Peckham too!”
Then came the food: “smacked” chilli and garlic cucumber; kimchi with sweet squash and soy coated spinach; marinated steak strips and wasabi-charged sweet potato fries; and Mr Bao’s buns with pork, chicken, lamb or mushroom. Nothing was bad. Not even close. Freshly prepared, simply presented, locally sourced, with flavour that that was a burst of joy with every bite. It was great.
They are open for brunch too, which is where fusion cooking really comes into play. Their famous buns filled with bacon, as the vehicle for eggs benedict, or to mop up a full English. Sorry, full Taiwanese. The mention of this had us waiting for the weekend so we could make the trip back.
A few more cocktails and beers to wash our meal down and it was time for dessert. Accompanied by some imported aged tea, we ordered the Bao S’More: fried bao, toasted marshmallow and dark chocolate, drizzled with a “sauce” that we didn’t even know should be a thing – condensed milk.
“Holy shit, that’s good!” was the reaction that left my mouth biting into the S’More; a reaction that pretty much summed up the whole experience, and would have saved me writing the last 500 words.
Mr Bao is open daily at 293 Rye Lane, SE15 4UA. Call 02076350325 for reservations. mrbao.co.uk
Photos courtesy of Mr Bao, Alastair Nicol and Mikael Jack.