Not having ventured to Verity Lane Market since it opened in October last year, I was curious to check out its newest resident and recently launched lunchtime service. With school back and family routines re-established, I reinstituted one of my favourite end of the workweek practices, getting out from behind my laptop and going out for lunch.
Located in the Sydney Building, the historic civic space has had many incarnations, having housed the renowned Private Bin, Insomnia, ICBM, Meche and North Bar.
But it’s now been stripped of its sticky floors and seedy reputation. In its place is an open plan sophisticated food hall complete with plenty of natural light streaming in, bentwood chairs and cosy table configurations.
The premise is the same as your local shopping centre food court: communal seating, individual vendors set up to sell their wares, but the execution and experience have been heightened. Chain restaurants and plastic cutlery have been swapped for some of the city’s best chefs pumping out restaurant-quality meals in a beautifully curated environment anchored by a sexy bar.
It is the kind of place you would smugly congratulate yourself on finding when exploring a new city overseas, (remember travel?) It is unpretentious and relaxed while delivering a delicious feed.
I am here for the launch of Super Bao as the purveyors of big flavours in a small bite with their homemade baos and fillings have opened their second eatery. They join Ramen Daddy, Project Enoki and Pizza Artigiana as the fourth food vendor at Verity Lane Market.
Founded by advertising creatives turned restaurant owners Paul Xu and Angel Zhang, Super Bao first launched as a market stall before opening a permanent restaurant in Dickson two years ago. The duo created a menu of soft, fluffy, handmade bao buns filled with Asian flavours inspired by memories from their childhoods in Shanghai and family recipes passed down for generations.
The Super Bao menu at Verity Lane includes their most popular handmade baos, bao-gers and dishes from the Dickson restaurant. The condensed express menu has five bao options, three bao-gers and a few snacks.
There are two of us for lunch and we agreed to share the food and settle on three different baos, a bao-ger and a non-bao option of popcorn chicken. With the order placed, we are given a pager and trot off to get drinks from the bar and claim a spot.
We settle on a table outside, taking full advantage of the new deck overlooking Verity Lane. It is novel to have a laneway view in Canberra and I am enjoying the urban surrounds as the casual backdrop to our meal.
When our pager buzzes announcing our food is ready to pick up, it takes one of us two trips to collect all we ordered. Tantalisingly plated, with different colours and textures presented throughout the dishes, we dive right into the popcorn chicken. The bite-size tender pieces of chicken coated in starchy goodness are perfectly fried with no oily residue. Served with crunchy Thai basil leaves and a chilli lime mayo dipping sauce, it is the epitome of simple food done well.
Next, the baos, fluffy and springy, the surprise among our selection and the best of the lot was the unassuming battered eggplant. Battered and deep-fried, it is served with pickled cucumber, mixed leaves and that same moreish chill lime mayo served with the popcorn chicken. One bite reveals the eggplant’s silky, creamy flesh, which makes an excellent pairing to the freshness of the other vegetables and spice of the mayonnaise.
To finish, the black soft-shell crab bao-ger. The dish is new on the Super Bao menu and not available in their Dickson location. It is a striking plate with the black burger-shaped bao bun, which is coloured with cuttlefish ink, overflowing with the deep-fried soft-shell crab legs sticking out in every direction. There is a richness and familiarity to the wasabi mayo sauce and pickled daikon mixed with fish roe.
All these luxe ingredients become instantly comforting and reminiscent of eating a good hamburger. Just like a good burger, once you pick it up, you cannot put it down for fear of it all falling apart and it is all too good to waste a single bit of those flavours.
Super Bao is located in Verity Lane Market and is open Tuesday to Saturdays from 5:00 pm to late and Thursday to Saturdays for lunch from 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm.