Food & Drink

Eating Out: Go crazy for bao buns at BaoBun Deluxe

BaoBun Deluxe - pillowy soft bao buns, with added seats. Picture by Hugh Russell
BaoBun Deluxe - pillowy soft bao buns, with added seats. Picture by Hugh Russell

BaoBun Deluxe,

269 Upper Newtownards Road,

Belfast, BT4 3JF.

028 9691 9111

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If you’re going to name your restaurant after a particular dish, then you really need to make sure you get it that particular dish right.

When BaoBun opened on Botanic Avenue in Belfast it did so to mainly sell those bao, the fluffy Taiwanese bread roll stuffed with different bits and pieces, and it still does, giving the student and lunch crowd an alternative sandwich experience there, as well as not far away on the Lisburn Road and in Dublin between Temple Bar and St Stephen’s Green.

The bao is still the star of the show at their latest Belfast venture, across the city on the Newtownards Road, but with expansion to a table service restaurant – and the addition of the ‘Deluxe’ to the sign on the front – the menu has been overhauled too, with small plates, pho and rice bowls on offer, as well as  boba tea and cocktails. 

More recently they’ve branched out to a Sunday brunch offering, providing a cultural mishmash of avocado and pico de gallo with a bao, bao French toast, or the “Full Taiwanese”, which is a fry with a toasted bao instead of potato or soda bread.

Why anyone would want to replace potato bread with anything is open to question, but you can also get sausage, egg and bacon stuffed into a ‘Baofast bap’ with sriracha on the side. The commitment to the bit deserves credit.

BaoBun Deluxe. Picture by Hugh Russell
BaoBun Deluxe. Picture by Hugh Russell

But we’re not here for brunch. Rather, it’s the other side of brunch, bumping up against an early dinner, where BaoBun Deluxe’s full menu is on offer in the smart, red-accented, wood-panelled space 

It’s an up and down experience, with more of the former, though it’s all up with the friendly, efficient service, which does the job crucial to every ‘small plates’ place perfectly – giving sound guidance on how much to order.

The most expensive of those small – called ‘deluxe’ on the menu – plates that range from a fiver to £8.50 is the tempura squid, which has a pleasing crunch to the batter but has a bit more chew and a bit less flavour than you’d like. The wasabi tartare with it also underwhelms.

It’s not bad, but maybe suffers next to the deep-fried comparison of the popcorn cauliflower, which is nothing of the sort. Popcorn this size would be mutant. 

But it’s a good thing. It’s not a nothing vehicle the way so many cauliflower ‘wings’ seem to end up as they try to con vegans into believing they’re getting anything like the real thing because they’re drowning in hot sauce.

These little boulders of cauliflower actually taste of the vegetable, with the batter crisp, if a little thick, but adding complementary spice. 

A ponzu chilli dip comes with it but we have fortuitously chosen some extra katsu curry sauce and the lumps of brassica dredged through it are excellent.

One of the rice bowls features a bigger portion of the veg with the sweet, warming sauce. It’s hard to imagine how that could go wrong.

Spiced fries taste merely seasoned but they’re thin, hot, crisp and pretty good.

But we’re not in a restaurant called ‘Spiced Fries’, we’re in one called BaoBun.

‘Pillowy’ gets thrown around in reviews like this to describe all sorts of things but you could absolutely catch some shut-eye with your head down on one of these soft, bouncy steamed beauties.

One does a fair impression of a perfect chicken burger with a juicy piece of bird in a crackling batter, a spiky Szechuan mayonnaise and the crunch of cabbage and daikon.

Another comes with fall-apart roast duck, spun in a pungent hoisin sauce with cucumber and scallion as the refreshing counterpoint.

They’re superb, but the bao show-stealing isn’t done yet with the banana spring roll and granular mango ice cream that was searching for mango flavour blown off the table by the ‘baonuts’ – bao dough turned into perfect little doughnuts to be dunked into an inviting pot of molten chocolate.

It’s wise to take a hint from the name, and even with the move to pastures and plates new they haven’t taken their eye off the bao. Neither should you.


Tempura squid £8.50

Popcorn cauliflower £7

Chicken bao £6.50

Duck bao £7

Spiced fries £4.50

Katsu sauce £1.20

Banana spring roll £6.50

Baonuts £6

Blood orange San Pellegrino £2.50

Strawberry lemonade £2.95

Vietnamese coffee £4

Boba tea £4

Total: £60.65