Flavour-busting buns by two ex-Test Kitchen chefs.
How Bao Now is one of those restaurants you really want to succeed, given the blood, sweat and 15-hour-long shifts that went into its launch. Owner-chefs Matt Van den Berg (27) and Carla Schulze (25), were working at Luke Dale Roberts’ erstwhile The Test Kitchen when the first lockdown was announced back in March 2020, which sent shock waves throughout the hospitality industry.
For the next four months, while all restaurants were prohibited from trading, the two young chefs hatched a plan to open a bao bar with a twist. “We both love Asian flavours,” explains Matt. So they came up with some flavour-bursting combinations (BBQ pork belly; crayfish Malay; brisket and kimchi; Szechuan fried chicken and beef short rib), decided to go with a slightly bigger bun, and approached the Oranjezicht Market, which seemed like a perfect fit. Within two weeks, they had their own stall, and were doing a roaring trade.
Two months later, when TTK reopened, Matt and Carla went back to working long restaurant shifts. “Everyone thought we were crazy running a new business while working the fine-dining hours,” recalls Matt, “but we were up to the challenge. Luke was incredibly patient and supportive of our new venture.”
When Luke announced TTK’s closure in September 2020, Matt was offered a job at La Petite Colombe in Franschhoek, which he accepted (he still works there). Similarly, Carla was earmarked to run The Pot Luck Club pop-up – in Switzerland, no less – where she currently lives and works!
A place to call their own
A breakthrough happened on 1 December 2021, when a space at the Old Biscuit Mill became available for rental. “It’s a cool, hole-the-wall that can seat up to 25 people,” says Matt. “The space has so much untapped potential,” adds Carla. “We have big plans in store!.”
Laidback street food
In their own space, Matt and Carla were able to roll out their baos-with-a-twist concept fully. “Fine-dining will always have a special place for us; it’s where we started, and what we love,” says Matt. “But Carla and I decided to venture into street food because of its punchy flavours and accessibility. So we applied our fine-dining techniques to this style of food.”
In addition to pork belly and beef short rib, they offer a jackfruit bao that’s vegan but “very meaty”. “It’s one of our most popular sellers at the market,” says Matt. “On more than one occasion we’ve had people come back to check that the contents are, in fact, vegan!”
Matt says they have received great support from their customers since inception, which he credits to their hardworking employees: “We have an amazing team looking after things.”
They’re in the process of applying for a liquor licence so, for now, BYOB! Baos are priced between R75 and R85, and they often run specials to diversify their offering, making sure to keep customers coming back for more.
If you’re wondering when the best time to try a bao is, how about now?
Opening times Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 4pm
Where to find it 375 Old Biscuit Mill
Discover all of the Cape’s hidden gems – subscribe to our weekly newsletter.