So, it makes sense that 2015’s other success story – the Chinese bun (or bao) – has just crossed the river and settled into Rye Lane, at new Asian-inspired restaurant Mr Bao.
What makes a meal memorable? If it’s the interior, Mr Bao falls short. It has the drop lighting, chalkboarded menus and semi-industrial décor shoplifted from every noodle, pizza, sashimi and eat-clean salad bar of the last decade. Once inside, you could be anywhere, which is a shame in a city so electric with regional character.
In Peckham especially, where the late night high street is very much alive with halal butchers and Caribbean barbershops, it's disappointing that Mr Bao makes no reference to the corner it’s colonising. The restaurant business is no exception to the homogeny of gentrification, as an evening hopping between identical eateries on the Hoxton trail bears testament.
Mr Bao boasts a menu that is an admirable mix of good, bad and ugly. There were a few tasty starters – Taiwanese sausage and smacked cucumber, both rich with flavour and texture. So too was the sesame spinach: sweet and juicy and delicious. But the best of this bunch is Mr Bao's most popular dish – the fried chicken, which truly was out-of-this-world, and perhaps Mr Bao's sole nod to local cultural heritage.
More unremarkable were the sweet potato chips, and the beef soup was shallow and tasteless: a literal “watery grave”. The bao itself, was good, but again, when compared to its obvious competitor – Soho’s Bao – feels like a poor, provincial cousin.
Mr Bao's signature dish – the 'Mr Bao' – comprising of slow braised flock, herd pork, pickles and peanut powder was good, but not good enough to bring crowds traipsing across London to the remote reaches of tubeless Peckham. The slow-cooked lamb bao has a British twist – pickled with mint sauce and red onion, it’s essentially Sunday roast in a bap. Again, fun to eat, but, like the chicken Bao Diddley, it’s just not fun enough.
One thing that Mr Bao does get right is its drinks menu. We sampled each of its sakes, and the plum wine, and every tincture on offer went well with the food. In fact, the drinks were so good – especially the sparkling offering – they would have been wonderful with or without a plate to go with them.
We ended the meal with the only dessert on the menu, the Bao S’More, comprising of fried bao, toasted marshmallow and melted chocolate. If the meal had been without character up to then, this – the most Anglicised, fatty and indulgent dish – was a delicious reminder that sometimes there’s a light at the end of the Blackwall Tunnel.
|What||Mr Bao, Peckham restaurant review|
|Where||Mr Bao, 293 Rye Ln, Peckham, SE15 4UA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Brixton (underground)|
07 Mar 16 – 31 Mar 17, 7:00 PM – 12:00 AM
|Price||£2-£7 small plates|
|Website||Click here to go to the Mr Bao website.|