Dezeen Magazine

Cafe Bao by Macaulay Sinclair

BAO King's Cross pays tribute to Asia's Western-style cafes

The King's Cross outpost of London restaurant BAO features a wood-panelled interior designed by Macaulay Sinclair based on the Western-style cafes of Taiwan and Japan.

Set within a mixed-use building in Pancras Square, the 188-square-metre space includes a restaurant and bar, a baked goods counter and a workshop as well as a management head office.

Interior of Cafe Bao with wood-panelled mezzanine
The double-height restaurant features a wood-panelled mezzanine

Its menu and interior was informed by Taiwan's oldest Western-style cafe, Bolero, as well as Japanese kissatens, a type of tearooms that were popular in the middle of the 20th century.

Kissatens serve Yōshoku cuisine, an interpretation of western food seen through an Asian lens. Typical dishes include katsu sandwiches, omurice omelettes – made with fried rice and fried scrambled eggs – and hamburger steak.

Wood serving counter and glossy red floor in London restaurant by Macaulay Sinclair
A pastry counter next to the entrance extends into a bar

"It's the type of place that is disappearing fast, similar to the pie and mash shops in London," BAO founder and creative director Erchen Chang told Dezeen.

"But it's a heritage that is growing a new wave of nostalgia. The restaurant, Bolero, was the first and now oldest Western-style cafe in Taiwan and it's got such a history to it. It feels as though time has been frozen – in a good way. I love the decor, the old waiters and mostly the old menu."

Wood counter with coffee machine in Cafe Bao
Bespoke timber and glazed screens provide views into the kitchen

Chang and the team at BAO worked with Nottingham-based Macaulay Sinclair to create an interior that evokes the "nostalgic domesticity" of traditional Taiwanese kitchens, houses and eateries.

"All our restaurants are interpretations of culture in Taiwan," said Chang, who founded the restaurant chain alongside Shing Tat Chung and Wai Ting Chung.

"We like to use this as a starting point and point of reference for our restaurants and whilst our aim is to create that experience that transports you, it's not to create a direct copy of the references we take."

Wood serving counter with display cases in London restaurant by Macaulay Sinclair
Baked goods are displayed near the front of the space

When customers enter the restaurant, they are greeted by a baked goods counter showcasing a range of handmade pastries that they can take away or enjoy in the restaurant.

The counter extends into a bar and overlooks the dining area, which is set with simple square tables and dining chairs by Finnish brand Artek.

Light streams in through large floor-to-ceiling windows and a white-accented staircase takes diners upstairs to a mezzanine level overlooking the double-height restaurant.

On the upper level, guests can learn how to make the steamed buns that give the restaurant its name in classes led by BAO bakers.

Pastry chefs working at Cafe Bao
Diners can watch the chefs at work

The double-height space is wrapped in wood panelling, polished plaster surfaces and bespoke timber screens with glazed panelling.

On the ground floor behind the bar, the screens separate the kitchen from the restaurant, while on the mezzanine level they allow diners to peek into the workshop space.

Solid and veneered iroko wood is used throughout the restaurant, finished with a mix of timber stains and lacquer sheens, while the floor is finished with red epoxy paint in a gloss finish that BAO refers to as "Bauhaus red".

Dining area with white staircase and paper lanterns at London restaurant by Macaulay Sinclair
Paper lanterns by Isamu Noguchi hang in the dining area

"The bespoke timber and glazed screens are intended to be a playful yet functional barrier between kitchen and restaurant trading space," said Mike Sinclair, who founded Macaulay Sinclair alongside John Macaulay in 2003.

"Glazing provides considered sightlines into the theatre kitchen whilst flexible, openable apertures assist operational communication."

Dining chairs against wood-panelled walls in Cafe Bao
The floor is finished in red epoxy paint

All joinery featured throughout the restaurant and workshop space is bespoke and the paper lanterns that hang above the dining area are by Japanese designer Isamu Noguchi.

A museum-style glass display area under the staircase showcases some of the restaurant's bao buns and restaurant merchandise.

White staircase and wood-panelled walls in London restaurant by Macaulay Sinclair
A white-lacquered staircase leads up to the mezzanine

Macaulay Sinclair also worked on the nearby Dishoom restaurant in King's Cross, which is located in a former railway transit shed and channels mid-20th-century Bombay.

Photography is by John Carey.