184 King St
Newtown, NSW 2042
Long days call for fried chicken. And seeing as I’m far past the age where I can have a meal of nothing but fried foods without mentally preparing myself for at least a week in advance, I decided to hit up Belly Bao for some modern Asian tapas – with a side of fried chicken, of course!
Despite serving food that is best described as pan-Asian, Belly Bao (isn’t the name just adorable!!) is decked out in a very much funky tropical style. There is greenery galore, and a huge, colourful mural depicting summery fun-times.
Being in the middle of Newtown, Belly Bao is also super hip, super popular, and super packed. Still, we were lucky enough to get a seat at the bar when we walked in at about 6pm (though we moved to the seat by the window when it freed up… only to move to a dark table at the back soon after, on account of someone breaking a huge vase and flooding half the place – that’s why the photo quality drops abruptly towards the end of the post, so please bear with me). After the cheery staff passed around some menus and showed us how to order via the tick-sheet system, we got to deciding what was on the agenda for the night.
Of course, the BBC Wings ($14, 4pcs), aka the Belly Bao Fried Chicken was a given. These were bogglingly humongous; each wing came with the drumette attached, as well as what seemed to be half the bird. Yet despite its size, each bite of chicken was perfectly juicy, and evenly coated with the addictively nubbly batter. It tasted great dipped in sriracha, but I can only fantasise about how good these would taste with the proffered addition of salted egg.
Given the name of the restaurant, there was no way that bao wasn’t happening. The Slow Braised Pork Belly Bao ($7) was as tasty as the name promised, the slab of pork braised in soy to savoury, melting succulence, and sandwiched in a sweet, fluffy steamed bun with a sprinkle of crushed peanuts added for texture.
The Slow Braised Beef Short Rib Bao ($7) was similarly satisfying, the slight fruity-sweetness of the beef reminiscent of sukiyaki, the juices soaking the flavours into the fluffy bun. There only thing I would’ve changed is to add more kimchi; the small amount in the bun just wasn’t enough to give it the pop that they were after.
Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting much from the Spicy Bao Noodles ($10) – they were just noodles made from bao dough, so what? As it turns out, it was one of the most addictive things I’d eaten in a while.
The wide, hand-shaped noodles had a unique texture that was somewhere between doughy and al-dente (in the best way possible), their satisfying chewiness working ridiculously well with the balance of sweet, savoury, and spicy in the Asian-styled peanut sauce. I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal on paper; you really need to try it yourself to get just how on-point these noodles were.
The Gaytime Bao ($9) is a must-order, no doubt about it. Think a deep-fried bao bun holding an entire Golden Gaytime ice cream, topped with sliced banana, and drizzled amply with sticky salted caramel sauce. I still can’t decide if the person who came up with it was good or evil, but it’s definitely one of the most indulgent desserts around.
But that’s not to discredit the Pandan Bao Balls ($8). If you’re after something that’s a little less over-the-top, this is the way to go. The fried bao balls scented delicately with pandan were light and moreish, especially after being rolled in a coating of sugar and desiccated coconut, and topped with a dollop of fragrant pandan cream.
I had a great time at Belly Bao. Not only was all the food fun and tasty, it was accompanied by a lively atmosphere, and staff that were upbeat and helpful. Admittedly, the portion sizes recommended on the menu caught me a bit off guard; they suggested 2 bao, or a single serve of bao noodles as a main, when in reality I could finish off 2 bao and a serve of noodles by myself. But then again, I’m hardly a stranger to paying a bit too much for portions that are a bit too small at a place that’s a bit too cool, and given the quality of the food and the experience overall, I’d happily come back for another visit, even if it’s just for the bao noodles.
Rating: 13.5/20 – i don’t think you’re ready for this belly.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.