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Bao, Glasgow, review

This small restaurant has only been open for a month

Published: December 3, 2022
Categories:
Food: 
7.5/10
Ambience: 
7/10

There had been a portion of steak frites with my name on it.

However, with an injured umbrella, a tiny hole in my ankle boot and a blister, there needed to be a change of plan. Forget my intended destination. It’s any port in a storm, when there’s heavy rain in Glasgow, you’re starving and the time is nearly 1.45pm.

My hangry was at its most debilitating when I was hit by the smell of chips from the Blue Lagoon. I thought about asking a stranger to carry me.

As I trudged slowly up Bothwell Street, thinking about the water wicking up my sock and how I could potentially replace that item of clothing with a plastic bag, this new place caught my eye.

Bao is pillarbox red, with multi-coloured neon strip lights inside that remind me of local artist Jim Lambie’s work. Inside, there are Barbapapa pink and blue doodles on the wall, mirrors printed with menu items and chipboard panels. It’s tiny, with a minuscule open kitchen that fits two chefs, elbow to elbow, and there’s a makeshift vibe, but it’s colourful and cute.

Although there are a few tables, this is primarily a takeaway. I know this because of the constant stream of riders, popping in and out, with water dripping off their bright jackets as if they were duck feathers. I took a pew beside a row of brown paper bags that were waiting to go.

Almost all of them had “BBQ pork bao” written on the receipts that were stapled to their sides. I’ll be having one of them then.

Otherwise, it was difficult to choose. After all, there was just one of me, and a very long menu at this Taiwanese restaurant. We’re talking gyoza, Taiwan hot dog, cheesy chips, salt and pepper tofu, tempura, noodles and salads.

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While a couple of members of staff took their time, putting up some coat hooks without the help of a spirit level, one waitress was holding everything down like a hyper-efficient whirlwind.

She took my order. I went for the aforementioned bun, and the Taiwan FYE chicken thigh (£5.95) from the Rice Dishes section. As the section name might suggest, it was supposed to come with rice.

“Chef isn’t going to serve it with that anymore, because it’s too dry,” she said. Fair enough, but I was charged the same without the carb.

I was served a roasting hot and russet coloured crispy schnitzel-ish cutlet, which was sliced into horizontal strips and had a vaguely spicy Panko crumb that was fizzily salty and addictive. It probably needed something wet on the side, rather than just the bed of chopped iceberg lettuce, but I only noticed that there were sauce bottles up by the till when it was too late.

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I still don’t know why this was called FYE, maybe it stands for Fatten Your Eyeballs, but mine are already bigger than my stomach.

The single bao (£5.20) was similarly dirty and compulsive. It was totally no frills. Although their Instagram shows lots of gussied up bao, prettified with herbs, leaves and chilli rings, there was no fancy business here. It didn’t matter. There was a large hunk of soft and salty pork in the squishy bun, as well as a smudge of sweet teriyaki sauce and something that seemed to be a crispy-edged hash brown.

It was like the Taiwanese equivalent of a morning roll with square sausage and sauce. This bao-dacious treat gave me fortitude.

The drinks menu features Ramune soda, but I’d gone for a jasmine tea (£2.75). Unfortunately, it didn’t arrive, and I did get charged for it, but didn’t notice until a day later.

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At least I got to take away a couple of their black gold steamed custard buns (£5.60).

I took one out of its box and ate it on the train home, and it was perfect. They were, as described, the colour of a freshly dusted blackboard, with two flourishes of gold on each for the Midas touch. I imagined that it was gilding my gullet. The texture was fluffy, like a puffball mushroom, and the interior featured a granular yellow and super sweet custard. 

Sometimes you’re on a path to steak frites, and you get something entirely different, but it all works out quite nicely.

I think a Bao bun might be the antidote to wet sock ennui.

7 Bothwell Street

Glasgow

(0141 237 7330, www.bothwellstreetbao.co.uk)

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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