Travelling for work can be really tough, especially if you’re limited to a certain per diem spend each day and staying in a tiny little hotel room that’s just bigger than a shoebox. Luckily, my work is very flexible in letting me structure my work schedule to allow for days worked out of our Melbourne office, while staying in the family home and enjoying home-cooked meals.
I feel for people who don’t have the same luxuries as myself – hence when I heard my Melbourne-based colleague Julie was going to be coming up to Sydney for a few days for a series of external stakeholder meetings, I invited her out to dinner one night so that she wouldn’t be left whiling away the hours alone in her small hotel room.
We headed out to Belly Bao in Goodgod Small Club – my first visit ever as I’d never even made it to The Dip! It was very quiet – we arrived just past 7pm on a Wednesday night, and there were empty booths galore.
We found a booth with a good view of the Goodgod Danceteria so that we could sneak occasional glances at the Rihanna-focused dance lesson that was happening inside. Everyone loves a little bit of “SOS” and “Only Girl In The World” action!
With a quick glance through the menu, Julie and I decided on a few sharing dishes and bao, as well as a drink each. She went up to order for us at both counters – food at one, and drinks at the other. While it was fine to do the double ordering on the quieter night as there’s no crowd to contend with, I can see how it would possibly be annoying on a busier night if you’re forced to queue up twice.
We ordered a Watermelon Mocktail each – I tried to tell Julie that she didn’t need to be a teetotaller on my behalf, but she was quite happy to have an alcohol-free evening with me. I have to say, it’s a lot easier to be alcohol-free (over a year and counting) when your friends are supportive like this! In any case, there’s really no reason to feel as though you’re missing out when mocktails are as fruity and drinkable as this refreshing Watermelon Mocktail – it’s very more-ish!
Now I’m not going to lie, though we technically shared this serve of Sweet Potato Fries with Chilli Aioli, I’m pretty sure that I pretty much demolished 75% of the serve myself. I just couldn’t get enough of the crispy skin fries that tasted just slightly caramelised – it’s definitely the type of snacky dish that you just keep picking away at if it’s sitting in front of you. I definitely recommend ordering this if you visit Belly Bao!
We also thought that we should try and be a little bit healthier, so we ordered a Papaya Salad to share. Vietnamese in style with shredded herbs and crackers, the salad itself wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary. The black sesame crackers on the other hand was the real highlight for me – the fragrant roasted sesame seeds really elevated the crackers and made it something that you could quite easily enjoy by itself.
And of course, the bao! We ordered two each, and Julie chose the Pork Belly with Crackling, and the Braised Beef Short Rib – both of which blew her mind. To be honest, I think it may have been the first time that she had tried ‘bao’ – so the steamed bun concept alone may have been the factor that blew her mind!
The first bao that I ordered was the Slow Braised Pork Belly Bao, served with my favourite pickled mustard greens. In the grand scheme of traditional pork bao available in Sydney, it probably doesn’t rate in my top two – Bao Dao Taiwanese Kitchen and Ippudo take those spots. Belly Bao would be a strong contender for third place though, and it’s still definitely worth trying this bao if you’re going to visit Goodgod Small Club anyway.
My second bao is the Soft Shell Crab Bao, served with more of the chilli aioli that was used on the Sweet Potato Fries. Surprisingly, while the chilli aioli worked really on the fries, it was less effective on the crab bao as the abundance of aioli actually worked to overpower the distinct flavours of the crab. A little bit disappointing actually, and I found myself wishing that I had ordered the beef short rib bao like Julie!
Overall, while Belly Bao provides a strong food focus in Sydney’s small bar scene, its offerings a little bit hit or miss. Some dishes are really more-ish (hello, sweet potato fries), while their signature baos don’t always hit the mark. It’s quite pricey for what it is as well – $7.50 for a single small bao that you could devour in two bites.
I wouldn’t go rushing back to Belly Bao for the food alone, though I may stop in for a quick bite if I end up deciding to sign up for a Beyonce dance class at the Goodgod Danceteria…