6/90 Markeri St, Mermaid Waters, Queensland 4218
Ph: 07 5679 6517
Open Mon – Thurs 11.00am – 3.00pm; 5.30 – 10.00pm; Fri – Sun 11.00am – 10.00pm.
Where were you when you had your first delicious, pillowy bite of bao? For me it was at Miami Marketta at Lucky Bao’s stall after a friend, who had raved for a solid month about them, finally took me there. “So, what do you think? They are good huh?!” she asked, hands clasped together with a look of joy on her face as I took that first soft, flavourful bite. I think I swore loudly and immediately bought seven more to eat. I was hooked. As the love was passed on from friend to friend it became a weekly obsession for us as to whether Lucky Bao was going to be at Marketta that week. So many human emotions this obsession caused us from the giddiest joy when they posted on Instagram to confirm their upcoming appearance to the utter depths of despair when there was nothing for weeks. Well the despair is no more as head chef and bao master Daud Kendall has answered all our bao-related dreams and opened up Lucky Bao in Mermaid Waters.
Although ‘bao’ is a term used to describe any sort of Asian bun which contains meat, the dish is very old indeed, originating in China over 2,000 years ago, even before the Terracotta Warriors. Emulated in many different countries of the world for its simplicity and flexibility, gua bao (literally meaning ‘çut bread’) is made from a steamed bread traditionally sandwiched around a filling of red pork belly, pickles, coriander and chopped peanuts. It was a dish that the Taiwanese took on as their own street food, a dish they called ‘tiger bites pig’, so popular that many refer to it as ‘the Taiwanese hamburger’.
First introduced to the West by David Chang in 2004, this street food gained popularity in 2009 when Bauhaus opened in New York, going viral in 2013 with the YouTube series Fresh Off the Boat. The Gold Coast’s debut was not far behind. Daud informs us he is inspired by David Chang and decided to make bao his thing because “It’s what I like to eat and there is nothing else like it on the Coast”.
The vibes in Lucky Bao are laid back and we are welcomed in there like old friends, invited to share some food with Daud, his restaurant manager wife Emmi and his “pickled cucumber aficionado” daughters Pearl and Issy as we discuss all things Lucky Bao. The journey began at the Hyatt in Dubai where Daud made some bao for a golfing event and realised he was onto something outstanding “I found that from all walks of life, people love the bao”. From Dubai to Sydney and then moving to the Gold Coast three years ago to start working at Social Eating House + Bar, Daud and Emmi decided to open the Lucky Bao stall at the Marketta to showcase the product, and it was a hit. “We found that people were coming from the far reaches of the Gold Coast with their own takeaway containers just to get their bao fix.” Daud informs us. The obsession, clearly, was felt by everyone who tasted their wares. They grew from there with a pop-up inside Cambus Wallace once a month allowing them to “flex our muscles a bit” and try some new items.
‘But what makes these bao so good?’ we hear you ask.
Firstly, it’s the buns.
“The buns are a labour of love,” Emmi tells us, “a four-hour-long process that Daud begins at 6 every morning, and a temperamental one at that. You need to use a specific flour, and the bun consistency is dependent on temperature, humidity…you name it.”
But in the end the product screams difference. They’re softer, more pillow-like than any other buns we’ve tasted.
It is mesmerising watching Daud roll them out on the bench as we sit at the kitchen bar, chatting away to the chefs as they do their prep, bantering with one another. Food is serious business, but doesn’t mean you can’t have a seriously fun time with it.
Filling wise you are spoilt for choice: the semi-traditional confit pork belly ramped up with cucumber sesame pickle, Taiwanese fried chicken with slaw and chilli mayo, salt and pepper organic tofu (in the Bauhaus tradition), twice-cooked lamb rib, tempura soft shell crab and braised beef cheek, plus fillings and sauces, of course. There’s a ‘two for $15 lunch’ special from 11am – 3pm, normal price for a bao being $8 – $9 each. Well worth the money for handmade goods, served on the most gorgeous hand thrown plates.
Exploring the menu deeper reveals Daud’s culinary talents with fiery debates erupting with friends over what reigned supreme: the sashimi of Hiramasa kingfish or the beef tataki. Both are so delicate, so flavoursome it’s hard to pick a favourite, so you may as well get both! Other favourites include the Pan-Asian collection of wings with Korean chilli attitude, twice-cooked lamb ribs Sichuan style, dumplings, crispy eggplant and an Asian chicken slaw so delicious that it could become a daily ritual. They vary in size from a bowl of spiced chilli and caramel nuts to a sizzling lamb shoulder Asian style, with a side of bao to share.
Make sure you don’t miss out on dessert. Even the deconstructed cheesecake which shows off Daud’s level of culinary expertise can’t beat the pandan panna cotta topped with sago and coconut ice cream. Dip in and share it if you must.
Of course, there’s a short list of wines, a mix of more appropriate beer and Asian cocktails on offer from the bar, but really it’s all about the bao. It’s a street food like no other, in this case made by a master and served in cute surroundings.
You don’t have to be big to be great. Bow down to bao!