More than eight years ago, Chef May Chow debuted her unique Chinese spin on American diner classics with her OG pork belly bao at Tong Chong Street Market and created a cult following. Flash forward till now, Chef Chow has expanded her empire to three restaurants and has gained numerous accolades, including being named Asia’s Best Female Chef 2017. She has starred in television programmes the likes of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, MasterChef Asia, MasterChef UK and Top Chef and has been featured on BBC and CNN and in Vogue and Forbes magazines.
This month, Little Bao returns to its original SoHo location following a two-year hiatus. The new venue is tucked away along the stairs just off Hollywood Road, sharing the neighbourhood with popular eateries like BEDU, CENSU and Kau Kee. Staying true to the original Little Bao concept, the restaurant is small, with bar seating wrapping around the slender open kitchen. An additional few tables at the back offer more space to eager diners.
The menu also stays true to the original concept, using familiar ingredients in surprising ways, with Chinese flavours blended into indulgent classic Western dishes.
Our meal began with rounds of cocktails from the new menu, with highlights being Bao Cha! Hey Bao! ($100), a blend of Fernet Hunter, oolong, mango and cheese foam, and the Kyoho G&T ($100), a concoction of Widges London Dry Gin infused with Kyoho grape and yuzu.
Bao Cha! Hey Bao! is a play on the sweet and savoury cheese-foam toppings from wildly popular tea shops such as HEYTEA, and the slight herbal bitterness from the Fernet Hunter is a refreshing contrast to the mildly sweet oolong tea and mango.
The Kyoho G&T is incredibly refreshing and fragrant, with the aroma of Kyoho grape uplifted with yuzu. The addition of three plump, juicy Kyoho grapes to the glass further enhances the flavour.
We love how lightly sweetened the cocktails are, allowing the individual flavour profiles of the ingredients to really shine through without an overbearing amount of sugar. The drink menu also features small-batch brewers and distillers, adding to the bespoke, curated feel.
The skirt steak beef tataki ($158), made with tender slices of USDA beef dressed in a kombu-shiitake-soy vinaigrette and topped with pickled shiitake, shiso, leek and fried shallot, won over even the non-beef eaters amongst us. The richness of the flavourful, juicy beef is undercut by the umami-packed dressing, with the shiso and leek adding pops of freshness.
The fruits of the sea ceviche ($168) is a hearty combination of salmon, tuna and scallop tossed in a white soy vinaigrette infused with kombu and salted lemon. Freshly fried blue corn tortilla chips are the perfect crunchy vessels for scooping up the flavourful ceviche.
The Cajun hairy crab cake ($240/$380), served in a skillet over a warm salad of cabbage and Indian lettuce, is fried to golden perfection and topped with indulgent hairy crab roe. This crab-on-crab dish is perfect for the lazy; you can enjoy maximum umami crab flavours with none of the work. A drizzle of sweet Chinese black vinegar reduction heightens the sweetness of the crab and also cuts through the grease.
The bao that started it all! The pork belly bao ($88), filled with juicy, slow-braised pork belly and smothered with sesame mayo and hoisin ketchup, still inspires the same euphoria it did all those years ago. Melt-in-the-mouth tender and packed with flavour, the richness of the pork is counterbalanced by the pickled onion, shiso and leek salad on top.
Another favourite, the fried chicken bao ($98) is a hearty stack of juicy, crispy chicken, crunchy coleslaw and numbing Sichuan peppercorn mayo. We couldn’t get enough of the peppercorn mayo, especially when mixed with the sweet, tart Chinkiang black vinegar glaze.
There’s also a crab bao ($128) on the specials’ menu, featuring a crab cake topped with a salted egg yolk and lemongrass dressing, but since we’d already indulged in the giant crab cake, we decided to forgo this one. But we definitely want to try it on our next visit!
We’d like to note that the bao are of a slightly larger size than before, but even so, no bao cutting, please!
Also on the specials’ menu, the hairy crab Sichuan fried chicken ($380) is heart-stoppingly indulgent. Juicy local yellow chicken is coated in rich salted egg yolk, then flash-fried and topped with irresistibly creamy hairy crab roe. Local Chinese chicken is packed full of flavour and is much juicier than Western chicken varieties. The salted duck egg yolk somehow seals in all the juices of the chicken, and literally every bite is dripping with hot chicken juices. This is a must-have dish – you can worry about your cholesterol count later.
A meal at Little Bao isn’t complete until you order one of their ice-cream dessert baos. We never fail to order the original salted caramel ice-cream bao ($38); in our humble opinion, no other dessert bao can compete with this delectable combination of hot fried bao, ice cream and savoury, buttery sauce.
The limited-time holiday bao ($38) features festive ruby-red raspberry purée and is a strong dessert contender.
Welcome back to the neighbourhood! We’re excited to see Little Bao return in its original format – a small, local joint serving up eye-popping, indulgent eats. The larger Little Bao restaurant in Causeway Bay still stands, although we prefer the smaller, quainter neighbourhood appeal of the SoHo location. The menu is faithful to the brand’s cult favourites, but it has plenty of interesting new takes on classic comfort eats that will keep the crowds queuing up time and time again (and now you can also book!).
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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