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Little Bao: Sweet, Tangy Cantonese Fusion in a Cool Venue
January 20, 2022
Little Bao on Shin Hing Street promises an elevated experience freestyling the recipes and flavours of traditional Cantonese dai pai dongs with Western hearty classics, replicated in a cool, laidback setting. At their Soho diner, chefs distil the varied international tastes and recipes of Hong Kong into bitesize Cantonese-inspired comfort foods.
Hong Kong’s favourite venue for contemporary and accessible Cantonese-fusion saw a return to the streets of Soho in November 2021 with the creation of their upscale open-kitchen for relaxed lunches and intimate dinners.
The brand’s move to the cosy streets in Central represents efforts to elevate and personalise the Little Bao experience of cross-cultural fusion dining in a space, delivered under the stewardship of famed chef and founder, May Chow.
Little Bao’s Soho location exudes cool and young vibes. It is a space to enjoy al fresco meals with drinks sat on the steps of Shin Hing Street and indulge in a sampling of fresh bites sat at the bar in front of the chef’s creations and experimentations.
The high-top booth seating and open- kitchen style of the Soho joint embraces the traditions of Japanese dining, harbouring an intimate connection between the chef and customer. The tiled floors and walls, stainless steel kitchen, bar stools, and prominent blue façade were designed by Sean Dix and elevate the brand to a new standard of class.
With only 10 bar stool seats, and 10 seats located at the back for larger groups, Little Bao is a comfortable choice for an intimate exploration of traditional Cantonese fusion.
Food and drink
Little Bao’s menu, divided into "shares,” “baos,” “greens,” “fried chicken,” “ice-cream baos,” and a rotating limited and cocktail special menu, offers customers with varying appetites and likings a healthy, wide-range taste of Cantonese and international blends.
Starting our savouring of Little Bao’s creative menu, we first tasted LB Caesar (HK$78), a Cantonese take on the Western classic, with fresh romaine lettuce, cured harbour fish, fermented black bean, and flaky panko, coconut, and garlic.
The Hong Kong-twist of the traditional creamy salad is emphasized with the introduction of the black bean and cured fish, which help to draw out tangy and salty flavours. The salad packs a pungent kick with a tarty taste with each bite, followed by an oniony aftertaste dulled by the base-mayo sauce and wet salad leaves.
Continuing with our culinary journey, we tried Little Bao’s most popular “shares” dish, the vegetarian Truffle Fries (HK$98), a melange of thin French fries, braised and crunchy shiitake tempeh, truffle mayonnaise, sweet, pickled daikon, and scallions. According to Little Bao’s philosophy, it is a dish instructed to be mixed and be messy with.
The dish blossoms with earthy, garlicy, and creamy flavours with the truffle mayo and braised mushrooms, that help to soften the crunch of the fries, which lack a dominating salty coating. A very colourful dish with the aid of the yellow daikon and charred tempeh; however, the sweetness of the raw vegetable does not match the dish’s highlight of a strong truffle aftertaste.
In the exploration of Little Bao’s mainstay selection, we tuck into one of their signature baos, the Fish Tempura Bao (HK$88), a Little Bao take on a traditional British fish meal with sloppy tartare and curried sauces. The flaky tempura fish is brought together with a tamarind palm sugar glaze, pickled lemongrass fennel salad, grilled onions, and sandwiched together with a slightly charred white bao.
The sweet and sour of the bao sandwich, with the fennel salad and mayonnaise dressing, works well to create a flavour palate for a burger dominated by the sponge of the bao. However, the crunch of the tempura fish batter and vegetables helps to counter the softness. A salty kick to the fish would be a welcome addition if the recipe is altered.
Next, we delved into exploring the restaurant’s prolific Lamb Tartare (HK$148), a colourful and savoury burst of creamy and umami flavours, with the Iberico lamb and fermented bean curd mayonnaise, topped with takana and tofu chips that glisten under the soft bar slighting.
This dish is addictive, with the right creaminess and tang to satiate the salt-toothed customers seeking fresh meat. The tofu chips look better than they taste, lacking a necessary crunch for scooping up the mountain of lamb and pickle.
Ending our meal in classic Little Bao style, we dived into one of the most popular limited specials on offer, the Skirt Steak Beef Tataki (HK$158), a thin cut of skirt steak, marinated in a kombu shitake soy vinaigrette and served with pickled shiitake, shiso, leek, and fried shallots.
Each cut of beef is bitesize, which lets out of a pleasant beefy and sour juice on bite, mellowed out by the fresh shiso and leek salad. Served on a cast iron skillet, helping to transfer the metal charr to the crisp beef skin, the dish is best enjoyed with a partner.
Little Bao approaches their signature menu and recipe booklet in a cool and equable manner with their Soho venue. With half of the restaurant’s seats facing the chef’s playground, and his melange of fresh ingredients, customers are invited into the activity of seeing the freshness and creativity explored in the fusion recipes. The servers and chefs are highly knowledgeable of what flavours and combinations work for the customer.
A funky playlist of almost every genre from ‘80s pop funk to 2021 ditsy top 40 chart beats play, designed by lead server Mons, drowning out the nearby street cacophony; inside, the tunes emulate the vibes of a retro listening room, with a rotation of tasty bites to complement.
Little Bao’s open kitchen, soft lighting, and curated tangy selection of international treats is elevated with the sleek design and attitude to cooking at their Soho venue. The Shin Hing Street diner scores excellently for a long and cosy exploration of four or five dishes with intimate ones.
A social dining venue at heart, Little Bao offers fused Chinese and interpretations of international dishes that are meant to be discussed with chefs, picked apart, and enjoyed over a long lunch or dinner. Every dish at Little Bao Soho has a story to tell – international flavours and recipes are taken and given a sweet, sour, or tangy Hong Kong kick to them. For a balanced sampling of Cantonese and European flavours, we recommend the Lamb Tartare (HK$148), LB Caesar (HK$78), Crab Bao (HK$128), Short-rib Pan-fried Dumplings (HK$128), and Pork Belly Bao (HK$88).
This food review is based on a complimentary media tasting provided by Little Bao in exchange for a truthful review and no compensation. The opinions expressed within represent the views of the author.
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