Michael Deacon at Daddy Bao in south London
Our critic has found the ideal food for a hangover - and it’s delicious the rest of the time too
TALK ABOUT FAST FOOD. We were in and out of Daddy Bao inside an hour – having eaten pretty much everything on the menu. Apart from a Mcdonald’s, you won’t find much quicker service.
Which surprised me, after what I’d read on the Daddy Bao website.
Under a section headed ‘Jobs + Active Listening’ was advice for anyone who fancied working as a waiter at Daddy Bao. Apparently, its waiters were expected to ‘Actively Listen’.
‘When you ask a customer how their day was,’ it explained, ‘don’t immediately move on to ask them what they want to order… We want you to ask the customer how their day was, and then really listen to their answer, and then engage with them. We don’t care if you take 15 minutes to take their order. In fact, we’d love that. It means you’ve formed a connection.’
Fifteen minutes. A whole quarter of an hour of small talk with the waiter. In fact, not just small talk: something more personal than that. Something intimate. Something private. Something to help the waiter ‘form a connection’ with you.
It sounded terrifying. I dreaded to think what it would be like.
‘Good evening, sir! Nice to see you. How was your day?’
‘Fine! You had a fine day. I’m so glad your day was fine, sir. That’s great to hear. So, uh… what kind of relationship did you have with your mother, sir?’ ‘Pardon?’
‘Were you close to her, growing up,
sir? Did she hug you enough? Did she hold you when you cried? Or did she tell you not to be such a pathetic, snivelling little wretch, and slam your bedroom door on you? Were you a happy child, sir?’
‘I’m not really sure I…’
‘Don’t be scared, sir. Open up. I’m here to listen, not to judge. What about your father, sir? What were your feelings towards him? When you were small, and innocent, and desperate for love and protection. What kind of a man was he, sir? Were you afraid of him? Was he a drinker, sir? Was he a very angry man?’
‘Er… no. Nothing like that, thanks. Could I order the pork dumplings, followed by the…’
‘Don’t mind if I pull up a chair, do you, sir? Thank you. Sir, do you ever worry you’re getting old with nothing to show for it? Sir, what’s your biggest regret in life?’
In the event, I’m grateful to report, our waiter at Daddy Bao didn’t even try to Actively Listen to me, or my friend. No connection was attempted. He simply took our orders, brought out our food, and left us to it. That was it. What a relief. He received the biggest tip I’ve ever given.
Daddy Bao is a new Taiwanese restaurant in south-west London, an offshoot of Mr Bao in south-east London. Mr Bao has people queuing out of the door, and Daddy Bao may well turn out the same – by 7pm, every seat in the house was taken. It’s a nice place to be: pretty red lanterns suspended from the ceiling, Mandarin lettering daubed across the wall, and busily upbeat, but not intrusive music in the background. Relaxed, unpretentious, young.
The starters included golden kimchi (fiery cabbage), fried chicken (super crunchy), and pork dumplings (bit wet and insipid). Ultimately, though, Daddy Bao is all about – funnily enough – the bao. If you’ve never had a bao, think of it as a cross between a burger and a cloud. A bao is a kind of Far Eastern bun, but much lighter than the bun in any Big Mac or bacon roll. It’s a bright, white, spongy puff of joy. So soft and gentle and loving. Imagine an edible pillow. A tiny edible pillow.
Spilling out of the tiny edible pillow will be one of a range of thick fillings. I tried four of them. The beef brisket (with spring onions, wasabi slaw and coriander) was juicy with a flicker of spice. The pork belly (with pickles and roasted peanuts) was gorgeously tart. The so-called ‘drunken prawn bao’ (prawns marinated in beer and fried) I wasn’t so sure about. An awkward clash of textures between crunchy and spongy. Imagine eating a sandwich full of Frosties. On the other hand, an apt name – drunken prawn bao –
They braise their tofu with ginger, add kimchi and crispy onions, and it’s delicious
because as my friend pointed out, bao is ideal food for a hangover: so carby and absorbent. Daddy Bao doesn’t actually open until midday. They should open for breakfast. At weekends they do a brunch bao with a fried egg in it, but what about the poor, neglected functioning alcoholic who needs one midweek?
My favourite bao, unexpectedly, was the tofu one. The main reason I liked it was that it didn’t taste like tofu. Or at least, not tofu as I know it. Tofu as I know it tastes like something you’d use to grout the bathroom. At Daddy Bao, though, they braise their tofu with ginger, add some kimchi and crispy onions, and it tastes delicious. A proper little firecracker. If you’re a meat eater, and they handed you this without telling you what it was, you wouldn’t guess. There can be no higher compliment.
They don’t do puddings, which is a shame – at Mr Bao they do a ‘bao s’more’, which is a bao with melted chocolate and toasted marshmallows. Still, even without pudding, Daddy Bao will fill you up, and pretty cheaply, too.
On the whole, really good. Try it. Touch wood, the waiter won’t mistake himself for your therapist.
Above A starter of pork dumplings. Below Tofu bao – ‘a proper little firecracker’