Nestled in Hong Kong’s hipster heaven and expat central location Soho are roads of very cool restaurants. These aren’t the fine dining Michelin star restaurants that this country is also made up of, but rather these are the kinds of places that are innovative in an unpretentious manner. They’re all about food and soul – and making the kind of food that might seem street but is delicious and impressive.
Following on from our 10 nights in Taipei with so many of my relatives, Jeremy and I decided to stop over in Hong Kong for 4 nights to have some time just us. If you’ve read any of my other holiday posts, you’ll know that our holiday so far was just pure unadulterated gorging. Feasts and feasts and feasts. So when we got to Hong Kong we decided to rein it in a bit and focus on street snacks and a couple of key restaurants that would impress.
For me, the one restaurant that really called out to me and demanded my attention was Soho’s Little Bao. Yes, perhaps I shouldn’t have been craving boa since this Taiwanese snack made up a large portion of our diet when we were there but I just loved the innovative menu and knew that it was my kind of place.
Arriving at Little Bao around 7pm we knew immediately we’d be hard pressed to get a table straight away at this no reservation, no more than 20 seat restaurant. So we put our names down at the door and within an hour we were contacted to come back.
The branding here is strong and as a marketing girl I love the continuity between the chubby faced logo out the front to the matching uniform t-shirts (which they sell!) and even labels on the condiments. Little touches like this are something that don’t go unnoticed on me – well usually anyway.
Sitting at the bar is definitely the ideal location when you’re eating here which we are lucky to do. The menu is your placemat and immediately I note that the kitchen is right in front of us and amazingly tiny. Each of the four staff members inside the working space have a specific role to play. You have one taking orders, making cocktails and delivering food.
He’s also the prep guy for desserts. The next chef is all about frying things and preparing dishes that have said fried things inside. Then you have the “bao master” who constructs the namesakes of this venue. And finally one more staff member is there to clean up tables, take more orders and also pull together take away phone orders. Wow. Like a well oiled machine.
Immediately we note that the music here is amazing – songs flitting between older Kanye West to Empire of the Sun to Curtis Mayfield. I love every melodic moment!
While nodding away to the beats we decide to start the night off with a drink. I choose to start on something non alcoholic going for the hibiscus iced tea and Jeremy chooses their lone cocktail on the menu, simply named ‘Gin & Juice’. We clearly have some hiphop heads on our hands here.
My iced tea is gorgeous and light, a balance of sweet and sour. But when I have a sip of my boy’s gin cocktail I immediately down my drink and order one of his! A gin cocktail made with smooth, fresh cucumber juice and flavoured with notes of lime and ginger. This becomes our drink of choice for the night and we have way too many of these as the night winds on!
We start things off with a serve of the LB fries (HK$68 = AUD$9.50) which are coated in the most amazing concoction of maple syrup, chilli flakes, spring onions and coriander. They come with side sauces of roasted tomato samba and kewpie mayonnaise.
How can fries be so yummy! Thin, shoestring strips of potato are so moorishly crunchy, a tug of war of flavour between the sweetness, saltiness, chilli and fresh herbs. The sauces for me were the perfect accompaniment, especially when you mixed them together for flavoured creamy perfection.
Also from the sharing side of the menu is the “mac & cheese” (HK$108 = AUD$15) which cleverly substitutes your standard macaroni pasta with steamed rice rolls and coats it with mentaiko cheese sauce, breadcrumbs and spring onion slivers.
This for me is one of the highlights of Little Bao and made me fall in love in seconds. The steamed rice rolls are so soft, holding their shape but without stubbornly clinging together. The sauce is the real winner here, cheesy and decadent, but with a distinct taste from the mentaiko. Mentaiko is the marinated roe of cod and something that elevates this dish from ordinary to extraordinary.
We pick three different baos to start off with sharing between the two of us. The first to come out is the pork belly (HK$78 = AUD$10) which is slow braised so that the fat has become soft and gelatinous. Piled in that soft bun is a leek & shiso red onion salad with sesame dressing and hoisin ketchup.
You can see in one bite just how this restaurant has created an entire concept around these heavenly buns. Everything is so well balanced and cooked in a manner that is both true to the traditional methods but also incredibly innovative.
The second bao we share is from that day’s specials – spicy fried chicken bao (HK$78). It comes out with a crisp, juicy round of chicken with chilli, garlic & black bean mayo and scallion coleslaw. While the pork belly bao was wonderful and very reminiscent of your traditional Taiwanese gua bao, this spicy chicken was definitely my favourite of them.
The only downfall was that the chicken was so hot that when I bit into it, a stream of steaming hot juice shot into my mouth and burned my tongue! Damn! But once I got past that shock, I let myself swoon over just how good it tasted. The mayonnaise in particular is like saucy crack – it’s just a flavour bomb in my mouth.
Our third bao is the fish tempura (HK$78) which is composed of fresh market fish, tamarind palm sugar glaze and pickled lemongrass fennel salad.
It becomes apparent when eating this one that at Little Bao they understand the need for both flavour balance and texture contrast. They manage using some really intensely flavoured ingredients and never over saturate your mouthful.
Though we’d already ordered fries earlier in the evening we decide on a whim to add a last minute savoury order of the special fries. I’m so glad we did because these were the dish of the day!
Truffle fries (HK$98 = AUD$13) come to the table with shiitake tempeh, truffle mayo and pickled daikon. Piled high, we’re told to mix all ingredients in the bowl together before diving in. After we do so they don’t look particularly pretty but by god do they taste amazing. And when I say amazing, I really do mean it!
Creamy and decadent from the mayonnaise, zingy from the pickled daikon and crunchy from those perfectly cooked fries. In my opinion they definitely should add this to their permanent menu it’s that good!
Once we’re full from the savoury items (and a little drunk from those gin cocktails!), we find ourselves getting talked into ordering dessert. Obviously when I say ‘talked into’, I mean our server said dessert and we immediately replied with gusto – YES!
At Little Bao they only have one dessert option – LB ice cream sandwich (HK$48 = AUD$6) which you can get in two different ice cream flavours. We pick one of each with my choice being the salt ice cream with caramel sauce, and Jeremy choosing the green tea ice cream with condensed milk.
When it comes to bao, deep fried bao is pretty damn delish! These ice cream sandwiches are a funky sweet bite to finish the night on – crisp outsides, creamy sweet insides and yummy sauce to round it all out.
All up our night at Little Bao was an utterly satisfying evening of fun food, great tunes and a showcase of cooking talent. I had a blast, and am happy to say it was worth the wait to get in and I’d definitely go back again for sure.
After a great night at Little Bao, Jeremy and I decide to head back to Soho a couple of night’s later to another hotspot known as Yardbird. The owner of Little Bao used to be a chef at Yardbird so we can only hope this means great things!
We arrive at Yardbird early around 6.30pm but already it is pumping. The space is bigger than Little Bao but we’re still told it’s about 45 minutes until we get a table. Lucky for us that time actually gets cut down quite quickly and soon enough we’re seated. Though we have time for a cheeky cocktail before then!
I choose the Jolly Rancher (HK$90 = AUD$12.60) which is ume/shiso infused rice shochu and watermelon. It definitely tastes like candy like the name would suggest. So yummy that I devote most of my drinking capacity to these because my god they taste gooooood.
Jeremy chooses the Ringo (HK$140 = AUD$19.60) which is ringoshu, umeshu, barrel aged rum and lime. He really enjoys it, noting the balanced flavours and the real diverse flavour to your standard cocktails.
We start things off with a serving of edamame (HK$42 = AUD$5.80) which come coated in a liberal sprinkling of sea salt. The edamame are warm and delicious – they’re such a great way to start a meal and get your tastebuds prepared to feast. I love edamame!
Next up we get an order of the liver mousse (HK$130 = AUD$18) which comes with slices of crispy milk bread and crispy shallots. I love pate so this dish wins my tick of approval instantly. It’s well balanced and seasoned perfectly; spreading onto the delicious bread and working so well with those little onion rings which are naturally sweet but have a good lick of salt on them.
I can see why all the other tables around us are ordering this dish too!
Yardbird is famous for their yakitori where you can choose all different cuts of chicken to try on a skewer. We select the heart with spring onion and ginger (HK$42), liver with sansho and tare (HK$42) and the skin with sake and sea salt (HK$42).
All of them taste delicious and diverse. The heart is definitely both of our favourite, with the meat being tender and elevated in flavour from the accompanying garnishes. We did want to order the neck but that order was missed sadly much to our disappointment.
After our yakitori skewers we get a serving of Yardbird’s esteemed KFC – Korean Fried Cauliflower (HK$95) which comes with yuzu and chilli. I like this dish! It’s sweet but spicy, with a great texture. The name suggests it’s fun and I have to confirm that the flavours prove it to be so. I especially like the sour citrus kick from the yuzu. Mmmm…
Though I’ve eaten Aisuru in Perth’s sweet corn tempura more times than I can even consider counting, I was keen to try Yardbird’s version which comes as a giant ball and is simply seasoned with sea salt and pepper (HK$95).
While it tasted good, I think it definitely needed a sauce of some kind like Aisuru’s truffle aioli.
I’m full but Jeremy still has a bit of room left in his belly so he orders one of the specials – the duck hamburg. It comes out to the table with an abundance of yuzu kosho daikon and spring onion. It’s a nice enough dish but is a little lacklustre compared to everything else we’d already eaten that night.
So what did we think of Yardbird? Definitely enjoyable but not really as phenomenal as I’d been thinking it would be. Out of Yardbird and Little Bao, my heart definitely lies with the latter for sure. I’m actually wishing I could relive the experience all over again right now.