Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Taking a "bao" - First Time at Little Bao
The restaurant was small, just as I have expected, but not as cramped as I originally thought. There were about a dozen seats around the L-shaped counter in front of the open kitchen, plus a few more seats at the back by the wall. The decor was basic, like a neighborhood diner, the open kitchen fits 3 people working somewhat comfortably and it also doubled as the bar. The seats were no comfy chairs but wasn't too bad either; while there shouldn't be any expectation of privacy, the seats weren't arranged as tight as you would get somebody's arm in your face.
When the waiter dropped in to take our order, he suggested us to pick 2-3 dishes to share and then a bao each, just as a party of 2 normally would do. Of course, we ain't listen to any of it and almost "swept" the menu, ordering probably twice as much as the amount he suggested.
Many attributes the "re-invention" of bao, or steamed buns to Chef David Chang of Momofuku fame, who probably took clue from a traditional Taiwanese street food called Gua Bao (刈包). But Chef May presented her version in a slightly different way here. Gua Bao took its name from buns cut in the middle and stuffed with fillings like a taco (the name literally meant "Cut Bun" in Taiwanese), but at Little Bao, the baos were presented like a mini slider instead. And while Gua Bao only involved steaming of the white buns, here it was slightly toasted on the griddle before being assembled.
My favorite among the four baos we tried was the Szechuan Fried Chicken. Of course, anything made of fried chicken is always a crowd-pleaser, but what I appreciated most was the Szechuan pepper-infused mayo giving it a mildly tingling sensation on the tongue without being overly spicy at all, which seemed to work well with the rich piece of chicken deep-fried with a beer batter prepared right in front of us.
I did shrug at first sight of the Beef Bao when it's landed in front of us. "It just looked like a regular burger with melted cheddar cheese, so what's the big deal?" I thought. But turned out it's nothing but regular, and what especially made a difference was the presence of the shiso leaf sandwiched in between the juicy beef patty cooked medium done and the mixture of tomato jam and roasted onion sesame mayo, giving the bun an interesting, somewhat exotic after-taste.
So my after thoughts overall? Well, we loved the food here and thought it largely lived up to its hype. We came here not only for just another weekend dinner but in a way to get my FOMO feeling quelled and curiosity satisfied. The unusual combination of east-meet-west styles using familiar ingredients was lined up perfectly and was eye-opening. Food was consistent, staff was friendly and cheerful which made all the difference too. It's a perfect spot for a casual, quick bite either early or late at night and I would love to come back every now and then, especially for those cute little dessert baos.
But I can also understand what the naysayers thought of Little Bao - that it's just badass street food with exorbitant price tag catered for the rich hipster crowd. Well, on face value it may be somewhat true (our dinner tab did come to over HK$500 per person - not the amount we would normally pay at casual diners), but looking at a few imitators around town that quickly came and vanished, all the while there's always a waiting line outside here every day of the week, I think Chef May's Little Bao team deserves more credit than being dismissed simply as just another overpriced joint.
More pictures on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/sets/72157649989389914/
When? May 2 2015
Where? Little Bao, G/F 66 Staunton Street, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? LB Fries, Szechuan Chicken Bao, Dessert Bao with Green Tea Icecream and condensed milk