There’s someone bringing Asia to Bristol and a massive thank you to them. The founder of Khao Bao (formerly Baowow) and Sticks & Broth has injected a vibrant sprinkling of spice to Baldwin Street.
The Bristolians are clearly fans too as the burgeoning empire shows no sign of slowing down with Vietnamese banh mi on the menu around at the recently-opened, Hanoi Coffee Shop.
My first experience was in Baowow. Really this feels aimed at quick bites and the lunch trade and the lunch deal makes a great case for it – £5 is an absolute steal.
However, you can quite easily spend longer sat in the little café reading menu on the wall (something of a USP at this string of eateries) whilst you chomp down on delicious warm squidgy bao buns filled with delicious spiced meat or veggies.There are specials to tempt you back if hopping around the regular menu isn’t enough but I think I would find it hard to tire of it myself.
A hop and a jump across the pelican crossing and you’re at Sticks & Broth. The décor feels a bit more contrived but the space is much bigger and is more of a sit-down proposition.
We had high hopes after Baowow and the starter didn’t disappoint. The tempura prawns were pretty decent, popcorn affairs with a dipping sauce that was probably the best thing put in front of us. The wasabi mayo was in such short supply if you weren’t careful you could have missed it and lacking in the gutsy mustard bite I love.
The special Japanese ramen which was essentially katsu chicken on noodles was middle of the road. The chicken wore the slightly unpleasant taste that smacked of just too long in the fryer and the noodles cloyed and stuck together at the bottom of my bowl which was a shame. If it had a saving grace it was probably the pink ginger which, luckily, was also on the table.
The satay ramen, I’m told, was also just ok.
I touched on it in the first sentence, the best thing is this place is just great value which is where I am inclined to think Sticks & Broth falls over.
Baowow is great because it does what it says on the tin, expertly, and for a reasonable price. Sticks & Broth… not so much. Ramen is what this place hangs its hat on and there’s nothing wrong with sticking to one thing and doing it well but in all honesty you can get a better noodle broth across the road in Baowow for half the price or a £3.50 bao bun. All in all, the stingy portions and fairly average food left us feeling pretty disgruntled. My boyfriend hit the nail on the head, ‘overpriced and underwhelming’. Too true.
When your sister restaurant is your own competition and prices you out of the water for a better product it’s maybe time to reassess. You’re stepping on your own toes!
* Khao bao is a little different, pick between buns and khao which means rice. Prices are on a par but the ambiance is a little flatter which is sad. Why meddle with a winning formlula?!