Bao Now

119 Hardware Street, Melbourne 3000
Date visited: 25th October 2012

We have been aware of the two new bao (or buns) places that have popped up in the CBD - Bao Now and Wonderbao.  Growing up eating baos, I'd wanted to try these new joints when I first heard of them, but just didn't get the time.  Yesterday, upon checking our mail, we found this flyer in our mailbox.

Ooh, freebie.  I guess all good things come to those who wait.  So off we headed today to Bao Now for lunch. 

With its cheeky street signage reminiscent of Dean Winchester's favourite porn website, Bao Now is easy to find amongst the eateries along Hardware St.  
There was room for six seats inside and some outside seating as well.  

They don't serve traditional baos - they've taken the old school Chinese steamed buns and filled it with different flavours from NY Buffalo chicken to Indian butter chicken.  The baos are about $3 each for the savouries and $2.80 for the sweet ones.  There are even San Choy Baos (lettuce baos) for those looking for low carb options and rice bowls as well.  MerlinFan and I decided to get the 3 baos and a drink for $9 with our free bao.  
One of the displays
 We got our set with an apricot flavoured freshly brewed ice tea.
Deal: Three baos + drink $9 (with one free bao)
The tea was totally watered down - it barely tasted like tea, more like water with a hint of apricot.  It also lacked sugar and wasn't sweet at all - I was disappointed that they couldn't get something as simple as iced tea right.  Oh well, it's Bao Now, not Tea Now.

We chose 2 savoury and 2 sweet baos.  
BBQ pork
First up, the BBQ pork bao.  The minced meat sat in a good amount of gravy, however it was nothing like your usual Asian BBQ pork or char siew bao.  It didn't even taste like your BBQ Western meat... bizarrely, MerlinFan and I both agreed it had the strong fragrance of a mixture of curry spices.  The skin of the bao was not bad though - soft, although not the fluffiest and slightly thick around some of the sides.  It wasn't doughy (the worst downfall of a bao skin!) and only had a subtle hint of yeasty aftertaste and chew.   
Buffalo chicken
It seemed as though everyone liked the Buffalo Chicken Bao, so I had to try that.  Boy, were we both sorely disappointed.  The flavour of the insides was pretty good, spicy and tangy, however there was barely any meat detectable in there.  It was almost as if they had thrown the chicken into a blender, ground it into sludge and mixed it in with a disproportionate amount of gravy.  A good savoury bao is one with soft, fluffy skin with moist, chunky meaty insides and I can't say it was a memorable experience biting into a bao filled with sludge (Think Mrs Lovette's meat pies before Sweeney Todd started butchering his customers).
Chocolate mousse
We had the Chocolate Mousse Bao next.  The skin on this bao was thicker and should I say, stodgier than the savoury ones.  The insides were even more of a disappointment - the chocolate mousse was really runny and watery, with only a very light flavour of chocolate.  Ugh.
Vanilla custard

We weren't expecting much of the Vanilla Custard Bao and it was a good thing too, because it was just as disappointing as the chocolate mousse bao.  I thought the vanilla custard tasted very vaguely like the one you could find in a vanilla slice, except that instead of being firm, this too was extremely watery with no texture at all.  MerlinFan disagreed saying it didn't even taste like vanilla, just sweet slime.  @_@  She felt the skin on this bao also had an undesirable plasticky layer over the top (like a second skin you can feel off) - there is no other way to describe it other than when a bao is not fresh a.k.a left overnight and the skin becomes tough.

Am I the only one who doesn't like this place?  I like baos and I wanted to like Bao Now but sorry, I just don't.  With inconsistent bao skins and runny, unremarkable fillings, I can't see a reason to return.  To give it a benefit of doubt, photos on other blogger's reviews seemed to have chunkier meat and sweet fillings that looked as though it could hold its shape rather than ooze all over the table, so I don't know if we came on an "off" day, but I can only review what I had.  And although everyone seemed to like it on Urbanspoon, my verdict is: Makes me want to run to a yumcha place and have real baos.

Bao Now on Urbanspoon

<a href=""><img alt="Bao Now on Urbanspoon" src="" style="border:none;padding:0px;width:200px;height:146px" /></a>


  1. I've seen mostly good reviews so it's interesting to see an alternative experience, I guess they need to work on delivering consistently good product. The fillings do look rather disappointing here.

    1. Hi Leaf, thanks for your comment. I guess someone had to have a bad experience... too bad it had to be me XP

    2. Nice, honest review. It sounds like they're going for trend over tradition but not even getting the basics right. I think I'll stick with my Chinatown faves which sell the real deal. I can't think of anything worse than a crumbly, non-doughy bao bun and average fillings. I grew up making all sorts of bao with my family (we're Chinese) so I won't eat anything that isn't similar or better than homemade baos.

    3. Thanks Anonymous, totally agree with your comment. I'll stick to Nam Loong too for now, although WonderBao is not bad either :)