Peckham's Mr Bao now has a sibling (well, more of a parent, actually), in the form of Daddy Bao in Tooting. Here, Mr Bao founder Frank Yeung explains why he named the new restaurant after his dear old dad.
I come from a food family. My Dad’s a classic first generation immigrant; super hard-working and always keen to fit in to his “new” country (even though he’s been here 35 years). He grew up in Hong Kong, in a one-bedroom apartment that he shared with his four siblings, parents and grandparents. They’d sleep like sardines on the floor. His first job was making plastic flowers when he was six. He had to push the stalks into the bud, and it made his hands red raw. With the first money he ever earned he ran to the street hawkers and bought a bunch of long-gnan (a bit like lychees) for his mum.
Aged 25 he headed to England. Not content with the first two jobs he landed working in restaurants, he added a third job to his schedule, working in a hotel. With the three jobs he was able to save up to realise his dream – opening his very own restaurant. Sure, he still needed to borrow from anyone who would lend to him, but the majority of the money came from him working like a dog.
Dad and I at The Jade in Salisbury, 1986.
His restaurant, The Jade in Salisbury, was on the site of an old chip shop – black and white tiled floors, stainless steel bar, the lot. It was all he could afford, but it worked. The food was excellent, the best of Cantonese cuisine. At the time it was also totally revolutionary for a town like Salisbury. The Jade had live lobsters, scallops and crabs coming in daily. The locals lapped it up and soon Dad’s reputation grew.
People came for the spectacle as much as the food. Dad is a character and has a way of entertaining people. He’d walk them through the dishes that he was having prepared for them, casually waving a live lobster at the diners, who would squeal with excitement. He’d pop the livelier lobsters in the laps of the livelier customers before taking them off to the kitchen (the lobster, not the customer) saying, “sorry for the delay, chop chop!”
I was 10 months old when he opened The Jade. We lived in the flat above the restaurant looking over the busy road outside. Opening the fridge and finding a crab looking back at me was commonplace when I was young, I thought nothing of it. Nor the stench of congee around the flat as it cooked for the requisite five hours. As I grew up I learned that I came from a family that was different. My sisters and I went to the best local school, where our friends’ parents had office jobs. (Dad, for all his lack of education knew its value from having grown up in Hong Kong and was adamant that his children would have the best.) They all knew our dad, his restaurant and his food. And Dad could charm them all. As I grew older I’d have friends’ mums say how handsome my father was!
At Mr Bao, shortly after we opened.
Dad worked 12 hours a day, six days a week to ensure the restaurant kept its standards impeccably high. We wouldn't see him as much as we’d like to during the week, but Sundays were dedicated to family and food. We’d mix it up between cheap and cheerful dim sum, roasts at local pubs and the occasional fancier venue. Regardless of where we were eating, we would always dissect what was good and bad about the place – the food, the atmosphere, the staff, the decor. I guess it was all those years of exposure to restaurants that meant it was inevitable I’d end up in the industry, too. Many moons later (another blog for another time) I find myself running Mr Bao, my very own restaurant.
Not that I’d have ever got there without Dad. His business experience, culinary expertise and sheer eagerness to get involved meant I had a massive head-start when it came to planning and opening the restaurant. Even after we opened, he’d still pop in every now and then, lending a hand wherever he could.
Even after he finally retired, he couldn’t just relax. It’s been a year since he sold his restaurant and now he’s bored stiff of not working. He joined a gym and pretty much wore his membership card out. He decided to learn Mandarin (being from Hong Kong, he spoke Cantonese). And when I told him I was planning a sister venue to Mr Bao, he was full of ideas about what it should be.
Taking a well-earned break after putting the finishing touches to Daddy Bao. Yep, that's Dad's face on the bottle!
One thing I didn’t need his advice on, though, was what I should call it, because there was no way I couldn’t name it in his honour. Dad, for showing us the power of hard work and dedication, and for all your help so far, Daddy Bao is for you.
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