A trendy, hip restaurant where exciting flavour combinations dominate, with a modern spin on traditional Chinese ingredients.
On a recent trip to China, I spent a few days in Hong Kong. When researching how to spend my short time in this exciting and buzzing city, I came across Little Bao, a trendy restaurant specialising in bao – a type of steamed bun. I was surprised how tiny the restaurant was – knowing how popular and in demand it is I expected something much larger. But the tiny, crammed 20 seater restaurant added to the charm of the experience, creating a sense that although this stylish and hip place was difficult to get a seat at, it is all the more worth the struggle because by simply getting a seat you’ve achieved something before you have even ordered.
The atmosphere of the restaurant was exciting – bustling and crammed, augmented by the tiny size of the restaurant. The decor was stripped back and functional, with the stainless steel kitchen taking up half of the floor space and the counters wrapped around the edges. The pink neon sign on the outside of the restaurant, proudly emblazoning the baby head logo on the shop front, was the only external décor, while inside the restaurant a few photographs of plastic containers reclaimed as mailboxes served as the only visual enhancement to the interior. Although sparse, the clearly carefully selected décor enabled the restaurant to appeal to the stylish, trendy cosmopolitan crowd who queue for hours to get a stool at the restaurant.
The stripped back interior allowed the food to dominate the dining experience. The menu was simple, with only a few different flavor combinations of the famous ‘bao’, and a few carefully selected side dishes. The choice was difficult to make, as the menu was rife with intriguing flavor combinations, but I settled on the Pork Belly Bao and the Szechuan Fried Chicken Bao, with a Green Tea Ice Cream Bao to finish.
Pork Belly Bao: Slow-braised pork belly, leek & shisho red onion salad, sesame dressing, hoisin ketchup
The pork belly was cooked so it was falling apart, which was just what the bao called for. The hoisin ketchup was the highlight of the dish, injecting it with a tart sweetness to contrast with the smoky pork. The onion salad added a sharpness which cut the other flavours.
Szechuan Fried Chicken Bao: Chinese black vinegar glaze, Szechuan mayo, coleslaw
This was my personal favourite. The chicken was coated in a batter which contained Szechuan seasoning, adding flavour even in the main building blocks of the dish. The Szechuan mayo added more of the slightly smoky spice to the overall dish, and the black vinegar glaze added a deep sweetness, contributing a Chinese element to the largely western flavours and adding a different dynamic to the dish – absolutely genius flavour combination. Pickled onions added sharpness to this dish as well which seemed the perfect garnish for the dish.
The fluffy steamed buns which held the fillings took a back seat in terms of flavour as they only really added a squidgy texture to the dish and a means of presenting the fillings.
Ice Cream Bao: Green tea ice cream w/ condensed milk
This was a creative and ingenious take on the savoury bao which the restaurant specialise in. The bao bun was deep fried and coated in sugar, almost like a donut. The green tea ice cream was not overly sweet, yet the condensed milk added the right amount of sugar. This dish seemed an opposite to the savoury bao I enjoed, as the sugar coated bun took centre stage with the fillings acting as a way of completing the dish and complimenting the bun, not the other way around.
So, if you are in Hong Kong (or Bangkok for that matter – they have recently opened a second restaurant there) I would urge you to make the effort to get to this restaurant. Get there early, however, as the demand for seats results in a long wait time if you get there much past 6pm – I learnt this the second time I attempted to visit the restaurant!