9/09/2012 06:25:00 PM

***Edit 10/09/2012: After a few people told me they had trouble finding Wonderbao, I decided to put a map, with directions and photos at the bottom of this post. I hope this helps in your quest for doughy goodness!***

A little while ago I saw some great pics of Wonderbao on Instagram (I'm sarahcooksblog, follow me!), and thought it would be worth skipping my usual brought-from-home lunches to try it out. It sure was worth it, and I ended up going twice in the one week. Yay!

Shop 4
19–37 A’Beckett Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000

Wonderbao is a new-ish little shop in a laneway near the big green RMIT on Swanston street, specialising in the fluffy goodness that is bao. I really like the concept: there is a short, sharp menu - all bao, all the time.
Giant steamers
There are five savoury baos (i.e. closed steamed buns with a filling, like the char siew bao you get at yum cha), two sweet baos, and three gua bao (a steamed piece of dough folded around a filling, much like David Chang's pork buns).

In terms of drinks, they sell the little Yeo's cartons that I grew up drinking, and soy milk (hot or cold).
"F.O.B. Drinks" - $1.60
The Yeo's drinks are amusingly referred to as "F.O.B. drinks" on the menu - it's funny that that's cool now. When I was a kid in the 80's/90's, I hated displaying my Asianness. I would have withered up and died if an Aussie kid were to have seen me drinking a Yeo's in the playground, turned up their nose and asked: "aww wot's that?!" Now it's cool to be proud of your heritage and to share it - or perhaps I'm just more self-assured now - either way, I think it is a Very Good Thing.

Soya milk - $2.80 a cup
I absolutely love soy milk, whether it be sweet Malaysian tau chwee, hippie-food Bonsoy, or even plain ol' supermarket So Good, so I was really keen to try Wonderbao's hot soymilk. However, I was definitely not a fan - it was incredibly thick and barely sweetened, almost like drinking mashed up soybeans, rather than a smooth sweetened drink. (And this is coming from someone who doesn't even like sweet drinks, doesn't take sugar in her coffee or tea, and routinely asks for less sugar in things like bubble tea!)

I also thought the process of preparing the soy milk was kinda strange: to serve it, a staff member uses a soup ladle to scoop the soy milk out of the big soup tureen into a little jug, and then pours it through a tea strainer into the little takeaway paper cup - it takes ages and seems a bit cumbersome and difficult in such a small space.

Ok, so let's get onto the good stuff: the baos! On my first visit, I had a classic char siew bao (don't worry, I didn't eat it with chopsticks, haha), and a roast pork belly gua bao.
Lunch! Hot soya milk, char siu bao, roast pork belly gua bao
I thought the branded bao wrappers were pretty cute!
Branded bao papers!

Char Siew Bao - $2.00
I really liked the char siew bao - the dough was nice and fluffy, and the filling tasted exactly like I expected it to. It was a comforting, well made bao. Although I should add that the friend with whom I visited later in the week commented that they could have been a bit more generous with the filling. (Apparently nearby Nam Loong's char siew bao have a higher filling-to-bun ratio).

Roast pork belly gua bao - cucumber, pickled carrots & daikon & hoisin sauce - $3.80
I was also impressed by the roast pork belly gua bao - it was pretty big (especially compared to Momofuku's pork buns), and had a nice balance of flavours from the fatty pork, the sweet hoisin, and the crunchy veggies. The roast pork itself wasn't crackly like I'd hoped, but I found that I didn't miss it - there was enough texture and flavour going on already.

I found that two bao were enough for me for lunch, but I decided to splash out on a sweet egg-custard bao too. (For the sake of the blog, you do understand!)
Nai wong bao - egg custard - $1.70

Mmm... custardy
The nai wong bao was very good. Sweet and smooth, with the perfect filling-to-bun ratio. And at only $1.70, you can't really go wrong!

On my next visit (two days later), I decided to mix things up a bit, and tried a a chicken bao and a braised pork belly gua bao.
Da chicken bao - egg & shiitake mushroom - $3.20
The chicken bao was generously filled, with a very firm ball of chicken, mushrooms and egg on the inside. I liked it, but did think that all the other bao/gua baos I tried were even better.

And speaking of which... here's the dee-licious braised pork belly gua bao!
Braised pork belly gua bao - pickled mustard, coriander & crushed peanuts - $3.80
I wasn't expecting to like the braised pork belly gua bao as much as the roast pork belly, but it was actually fantastic! The square of pork was tender, with a good balance between meat and fat, and I loved the sticky dark sauce in which it was covered. The crushed, sugared peanuts (like a muah chee coating) were an unexpected, but very tasty addition, and the fresh coriander complimented and cut through the sweetness and richness. So good! I was in the middle of an animated conversation with my friend, and after taking one bite, I do believe I stopped myself and said: "Oh wow, this is really good. Ok, you talk now, I need to eat this!"

However, whilst the concept and food are both great, they don't seem to have quite nailed the execution yet and are still finding their feet. The staff, for example, have all been really nice and friendly, but a bit unsure, without the confidence and speed that I'm sure time will bring.

Like with that soymilk example I mentioned above, the systems they have in place aren't that efficient, which contributes to long queues and waits at peak times. For example, (and I'm sure you'll forgive my Business Operations-speak) the gua bao aren't made in a production-line, but rather with staff members making individual ones, all reaching into that central condiment trolley at once, and then having to squeeze past each other to get them to the customers.

Another example: menus are only placed near the register, and not posted up anywhere - slowing things down as customers can't decide what they want until they get up to the front. (Although you know me, I'd googled the menu beforehand and already knew what I wanted! Hehe). I'm sure in time all these little kinks will be worked out, and they weren't necessarily dealbreakers for me... but I just thought it was worth mentioning in case you need to work around a short lunch break!

But as I'm sure you can tell, I really like Wonderbao. The baos are great, and really well priced. The baos range from $1.70 to $3.20, and the made-to-order gua bao are only $3.80. The individual items are all pretty big, and I find that two make a decent-sized lunch. A delicious, handmade lunch in the CBD for less than $7? Yes please!

***How to Find Wonderbao***
Added 10/09/2012

Here are some little scribbles I did on a map I printed out from Google - I hope this helps those of you who have struggled to find Wonderbao! I am less than useless with directions, and it took me a lot of wandering around to find it the first time, hehehe. If I can find it, you can too. Wonderbao themselves put a map up on their Instagram feed, but it's a bit stylized, and because I'm bad with directions, I find referring to a standard Google map much easier.

Wonderbao (the "W" in the map above) is in a little arcade with one entrance on A'Beckett Street and one on Literature Lane. If you need more direction... please check out the below photos and directions!

1. Getting to Wonderbao from A'Beckett Street
The A'Beckett Street entrance to the arcade looks like this, and you have to walk through it to get to Wonderbao. (Wonderbao is at the back). It's pretty nondescript; I walked past it the first time until I saw the little yellow "Wonderbao" signs stuck in the windows.
A'Beckett street entrance to the Wonderbao building
2. Getting to Little LaTrobe Street
The other entrance to Wonderbao is on Literature Lane, but to get to Literature Lane you first have to find Little LaTrobe street! (Heeey Melbourne laneways!)
It's easy to get to Little LaTrobe street from Swanston or Elizabeth streets (Little LaTrobe is clearly signed), or you can walk through this lane off LaTrobe Street:
Laneway to get to Little LaTrobe Street
This lane is directly opposite the entrance to Melbourne Central on LaTrobe Street - just cross the street, walk straight down that lane 'til you get to the end, and you will be at Little LaTrobe Street!

3. Finding Literature Lane
Whichever way you choose, once you get to Little LaTrobe street, you'll need to find Literature Lane. Just keep walking until you find Cafe Stax. It's bright red and Little LaTrobe street isn't that big. You'll find it. Go down the cobblestone street and you will be at Wonderbao!
Literature Lane (Wonderbao in the back)
Hope this little set of directions helps! Forgive me if it is too basic for you, hehe, but if you're directionally-challenged like me, I'm sure you'll appreciate it!

Wonderbao on Urbanspoon

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  1. YEO'S BOXED DRINKS!!!! Oh my friggin gosh you know what, I was just discussing with my friend over lunch today that I really want to try Wonderbao. And only because I couldn't stop thinking about it since you posted those piks on Instagram few days ago. Awesome location too. Definitely eating as many pork ones as I can. That pork belly one is drooolsome

  2. Hehe despite the fact that I keep reading it as Wonderbra (I know, how silly!) these sound great! Yet another place to add to the list! :)

  3. open on saturday? LOVE to sink my teeth into that fatty pork belly

  4. I tried to find this place a few weeks ago and I couldn't! I even asked some people wandering around RMIT, to no avail. Sigh. All these years and I'm still stumped by Melbourne's laneways...

  5. Winston - haha, I love yeo's too! Let me know what you think of wonderbao when you go, would love to hear your opinion!

    Lorraine - omg!! It hadnt even occurred to me to think "wonderbra", but now I can't unsee it! Lol!

    Penny - I think they're still only open weekdays, so you'll have to make a 3-day weekend next time you visit Melbs! :)

    Leaf - omg I'm directionally challenged too! I'd suggest google-mapping it then wondering around til you see the yellow signs, that's how I found it! I'll do a little map and add it to the post when I get home tonight. :)

    xox Sarah

  6. I've wanted to go here purely because of the name! haha, can't wait to check it out :D

  7. Ok I am there - this place sounds fabulous - love your super detailed directions as well Sarah - bet I would still get lost!

  8. Shellie - It's really cute, isn't it? I really like the whole concept. :)

    Cara - Oh yay! I'm glad you liked the map, hehe! Let me know if the directions helped once you do get down there! :)

    xox Sarah

  9. I went 3 weeks ago and loved it as well! Too bad it is so far. I was lucky and found it with no troubles tho hehe

  10. I love the map! Thanks Sarah :) I can't wait to try it out but will have to rush over after work cuz they close pretty early :(

  11. Gosh, how good is hot soy milk. Though, id it bad I also add a heap of sugar as well? Soy geeewd.

    This is a neato lunch place especially for your city workers! Damn you! LOL

    You are too awesome with the directions. No wonder you make such a great guide during long drives



My email address is sarahcooks [at] hotmail [dot] com.