On the very first ever day of Island East Markets, I fell in love. It was a true, honest kind of love, not for any knight in shining armour or Prince Charming, but for a delicious, fluffy bun filled with succulent pork belly; I fell in love with Little Bao.
For those who didn’t have the pleasure of tasting one of these bundles of delight at Island East Market or at Clockenflap, think char siu bao, crossed with burger, crossed with pure awesomeness, and you have Little Bao.
My love for Little Bao never faded nor died away, despite us being parted for so long. Now, thankfully, Little Bao’s owner and chef, May Chow, has realised that I need it in my life as a permanent fixture and thus has opened a restaurant on Staunton Street.
The space, which is as small as its name suggests, is designed as an American diner with a modern Asian twist. You can’t miss the pink neon light of the adorable logo outside, whilst inside, casual bar seating surrounds a small open kitchen and lines the opposite wall.
Since May’s market days, she has expanded her menu to include interesting sharing plates, as well as the famous baos, of course. These are either based on traditional Asian dishes with a modern twist, or Western dishes with an Asian twist; either way including May’s own style she developed during her career at Bo Innovation, Yardbird and TBLS.
We began with a plate of LB Fries – thin, crispy chips, dripping in maple syrup and sprinkled with chilli flakes, spring onions and coriander. The combination of the sweet yet salty flavours with a gentle chilli kick and the freshness from the herbs worked beautifully, so that it was impossible to avoid licking our sticky fingers after each bite. Although I wasn’t taken by the accompanying roasted tomato sambal, I couldn’t get enough of the kewpie mayo.
The orange chicken, made using fried “running chicken” (a cute alternative to the term ‘free-range’) was certainly an interesting dish. The fried outer layer was coated in salty egg yolk and honey, and sprinkled with orange zest, creating, yet again, a sweet versus salty flavour. Whilst we loved the flavours, we were a little put off by the chalky texture of the egg yolk.
Give me a pan-fried dumpling with pretty much any filling and I will usually be content; give me a pan-fried dumpling filled with slow-braised organic OBE beef short-rib and I will be ecstatic. The beef was unbelievably tender and full of flavour, pairing wonderfully with the celeriac coleslaw.
Coming back to the restaurant’s pride and joy, the pork belly bao was everything I had dreamt about over the past year… and more. The pork had the perfect balance of meat and fat, laced in a gorgeous sesame dressing and a sweet hoisin sauce, topped with leek and shiso red onion salad. The fluffiness of the bun made it seem light and easy to eat, even after all of the preludes.
The fish tempura bao may have even better than the original. The batter on the fresh fish fillets was delicately light yet crispy, drizzled in a sweet tamarind and palm sugar glaze with pickled lemongrass and fennel salad.
It’s impossible to really say which of the two I preferred and, as Little Bao has a strict ‘no bao cutting’ policy, I recommend either going exceptionally hungry, or with someone you don’t mind sharing germs with, so that you can bite your way through half of two baos – or even three, as I hear the vegetarian ‘Sloppy Chan’ bao is also remarkably tasty.
The only dessert on the menu was a deep-fried green tea ice cream bao. As I am not usually a fan of green tea ice cream, this didn’t initially appeal to me, but obviously I couldn’t leave my readers in the dark! Laced with lashings of condensed milk, the flavour of the green tea wasn’t overpowering and the crispy yet fluffy bun worked perfectly with the creamy ice cream, leaving a bao-fuelled smile on both our faces.
A big meal for two, including cocktails and wine, cost us about $830. In line with Little Bao’s friendly, relaxed vibe, no service charge is added to the bill, although staff are equally as friendly and deserving of a tip. I left Little Bao as happy as the little baby in the logo, pleased to be reunited with my love and already planning my next visit. One thing is for certain – I definitely won’t wait another year for my next bao!
66 Staunton Street
Tel: +852 2194 0202
No reservations, walk-ins only.