19-37 A’Beckett St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
03 9654 7887
I still remember one night more than a year ago… I’d just dined at Tarng, stepped out into the cold and spied this hidden bao shop tucked deep inside an arcade. I then noticed its name “WONDERBAO” and laughed to myself. In my mind, I’d reached a fast conclusion “what a Westernised, fusiony name for a bao shop. There’s no chance it’ll be authentic!”.
… how funny is it, one year later I find myself brunching at the same place that I laughed at before. (To even declare that I’m ‘brunching’ there already speaks volumes about how Melbournised my eating habits have become.)
I sometimes wonder whether it was my 2012 rant about fusion in Australia that has changed my palate’s palette. But these days I find I’m no longer coasting high on an authenticity crusade… Malaysian restaurants can finally come out of hiding :p. Instead, I seem to lean towards just enjoying food as it is… if the cooking’s good, I’m likely to be happy.
I arranged a catch-up brunch here with fellow Singaporean, Daniel from Temasek blog. We were lucky enough to nab two high stools in that hole-in-the-wall during lunchtime on a weekday (the place seats at most 7-8 persons). It was pretty busy and there was a constant queue for takeaway baos right through our entire lunch session.
Homemade organic soya milk 3
We chuckled at the glass fridge of cheekily named “F.O.B. drinks” (that’s what the menu called these Yeo’s drinks!). But we went with a classic hawker centre drink that took us even deeper into our Singaporean childhoods – hot soya bean milk. It was good soy and I liked how it wasn’t too sweet. For added nostalgia, I tried to imagine it was served in a cheapo colourful translucent tumbler the way they do at hawker centres.
Roast pork belly gua bao (cucumber, pickled carrots & daikon & hoisin sauce) 4.2
Fried silky tofu gua bao (pickled mustard, coriander, sweet soy sauce & crushed peanuts) 4.2
Braised pork belly gua bao (pickled mustard, coriander & crushed peanuts) 4.2
We decided to ‘share’ all three lunch baos (available after 10.30am), but soon discovered that these baos are hilariously unshareable… two bites and it’s gone! The verdict? We were both least excited with the roast pork belly bao’s flavour profile, use of sweet hoisin sauce makes it more suited for Western palates.
The other two baos were very good though… Daniel’s favourite was the braised pork belly bao which came lovely soft and yummy, while the budding vegetarian in me seemed to be quite partial towards the crunchy-yet-gentle fried tofu bao. The use of pickled mustard pulled both baos together very well and the buns were perfectly soft and fluffy.
Taro bao 2 | Nai wong bao (egg custard) 2
There was more than enough space for dessert, so we shared both sweet baos on the menu. The taro bao’s filling reminded me of orh nee (a Hokkien yam paste dessert) while it reminded Daniel of Malaysian bubur cha cha. Dan also like the egg custard bao, but I personally preferred the savoury offerings over here the sweet ones.
We had a pretty pleasant brunch session… sitting by the window, chatting away with a classic view of Melbourne’s graffiti’d laneways spread out in front of us.
Da pork bao (egg, shiitake mushroom & chinese sausage) 3.5
My meal at Wonderbao was enjoyable enough for me to takeaway a big bao (pork edition), plus a tofu gua bao to home deliver for Fakegf because I knew she’d like it. The snacky big bao kept me happy at work the next day… flavoursome with a nice and bouncy filling, plus a nice crunch from water chestnuts.
Overall, I found Wonderbao’s offerings worth its higher price tag. They’re steamed to fluffy perfection and generous with its filling. And I think they’ve got the concept right for Melbourne’s food crowd, the name I laughed at a year ago actually works in this city! In fact, I’m more likely to grab a bao here than from cheaper places in Chinatown, where quality can sometimes be a little hit and miss. I imagine it’d be easy to pop by again for a quick midday snack whenever I’m in the area.
We’ll end with a few homecooked things that came about that afternoon. My temporary housemate, Nha, cooked up a rather nice vegetarian lasagne, fragrant with the sweetness of aged balsamic vinegar. I’d also forgotten how funny share-housing can be. We both had the same forethought to top-up supplies at home, bought toilet rolls on the same day, and now I have about 5 kilometres of toilet paper at home!
Meanwhile, I had a go at making a pear tarte tatin. But alas, the homemade shortcrust pastry broke into pieces during the final flip on to the plate. Tasted good though…
I reattempted my pear tarte tatin a few weeks later, this time with storebought all-butter puff pastry sheets. The tart kept its shape during the flip, but I have to say that the homemade shortcrust pastry actually tasted better than what I got from that $10 sheet of puff pastry. Now I’m curious whether homemade puff pastry is easy to make…?