Bao Down isn’t just another weekend brunch sandwiched in a city filled with great weekend brunches. This one is original and familiar, comforting and exotic; the kind of place you can’t wait to share the pictures you’ve taken on your phone. Oh, wait, that might just be me.
We chose to make this one a group outing on the worst of all brunch days in Vancouver, the Sun Run. Luckily, they open at eleven and we arrived for opening. The line-up started about forty-five minutes later. I have to be honest, my first impression wasn’t positive. The music was loud. I mean, Friday night crowd loud, but we wanted to chat and we had the Brunch Blog Boss’ young Sir with us so I asked for them to temper the volume and they happily did so. That’s a service winner number in my books. (I should mention though, it’s a concrete space, so if it’s jammed, it’s loud anyway.)
The fourth member of our intrepid brunch gang was actor Elizabeth Bowen. Liz is a foodie of the most wondrous variety; she’s enthusiastic, and loves great food whether it’s fussy or not. The conversation was fabulous. I almost forgot to take notes… almost.
Bao Down Gastropub is the second location in the Bao Down chain, the first being a small location in Gastown. The Gastropub has an expanded menu, and like the original, it carries a variety of Hawaiian-inspired fare. At the heart of it though, is the bao bun filled with a variety of flavours and textures. A bao is a steamed and filled bun. It’s light and fluffy. You could call it the Chinese taco and not be far off.
The Boss and I ordered Bao Combos. You can order as many Bao Buns as you like with a side of hash browns. Here’s the fun part, their version of hash browns is really everyone else’s version of tater tots. Yes those glorious “direct-from-your-childhood” tater tots. It’s a fun change from the status quo of hash browns in this city. We tried both the Morning Glory (egg, cheese, longanisa, bacon, banana ketchup, garlic mayo, scallions) and the 3 Sheets (Korean glazed bacon sheet, egg and cheese). If neither of these fit your tastes, then feel free to order the Kona which includes ginger glazed spam, or the Banger that also has English Bangers as one of the items.
We loved both the Morning Glory and the 3 Sheets. The Korean glaze is what makes the bacon pop, and the longanisa was a nice addition. Longanisa is a Spanish sausage similar to chorizo. It all hit that perfect balance between sweet and spicy.
The young Sir had the Fairmont, something the menu describes as “a massive sandwich,” and they aren’t exaggerating. It’s filled with egg, bacon, sausage, tomato, lettuce and mayo on multigrain bread with tater tots — I mean hash browns — on the side. It’s so big none of us could understand how he was going to get his jaw around it, but like every good young lad, he gave it an excellent try.
I think the real revelation was Liz’s breakfast. She had The Hot Stuff which comprises of spicy fried chicken, crispy garlic, crisp waffles and eggs with macadamia syrup. This is chicken and waffles taken to a different level. It was de-boned chicken, deep fried with a sweet chilli glaze and it was everything you wanted it to be; moist and crunchy while packing a last second chili pepper kick to the taste buds. It was fabulous. The waffle is more cakey than fluffy with the scrambled egg layer in between. It’s dense enough to stand up to the syrup and heat from the layered eggs and chicken. We all had a taste and if our meals weren’t already great, we might have had to tackle Liz for her plate.
If there was one disappointment for me, it was the coffee. The flavour was decent but it wasn’t anything special, which is a shame because the food certainly is. I think they need to add an espresso machine because I would have liked to order an Americano with my meal but couldn’t.
The service did its best on a busy day and there are no complaints to be had. The room remained lively and fun right up to our exit.
I can’t wait to go back to Bao Down Gastropub to try some of the other items on the menu, whether it’s the traditional Hawaiian Loco Moco or the mind-boggling Knight St Delight, a meal built around the idea of turning Duffin Donuts into French Toast. Yes, you read that correctly.
Bao Down Gastropub is a breath of fresh air in Vancouver’s Brunch scene. This is one place that deserves to be on every top ten list. Give it a try. I dare you.
Movie Recommendation: Blue Crush (2002) features Kate Bosworth and Michelle Rodriguez. It’s an unapologetic Surfer Chick Movie about chasing the dream on Hawaii’s North Shore with accompanied by one of my favourite soundtracks of all time.
115 W 2nd Avenue, Vancouver
Brunch hours: Saturdays and Sundays, 11 am to 2 pm
Michelle Muldoon is a writer, filmmaker, and avid foodie. You can find her on twitter @chat2michelle.