Recently I went to a wedding and my friend’s daughter proclaimed very adorably, ‘I would die without wontons’. We all laughed and agreed, but I have to say she really did declare something I believe wholeheartedly: what is life without dumplings. Being half-Taiwanese I find myself craving these little parcels of goodness, seeking them out – and being very happy when the flavours are nailed.
So when I heard that a new Taiwanese dumpling house had opened in the recently revamped Carousel shopping centre in Cannington, it’s safe to say my interest was piqued. And in a moment of some good timing, the owners from Little Bao actually contacted me to invite me to visit – so it seemed that the stars had aligned!
Located in the new top floor food section, Little Bao sits in company with many other Asian restaurants. What I like about the Carousel set up in particular is you seem to be able to sit at any establishment to eat, or you can order dishes from different places and congregate in the centre area instead. Feels very consumer-centric.
Jeremy and I sat inside Little Bao, relaxing in one corner as the owners chatted to us about their passion for Taiwanese and Chinese cooking, and their modern approach to bao and dumplings. As we sipped on some delicious tea, we both were getting very hungry!
We left the ordering in their hands, but we actually were served everything we would have chosen for ourselves – the star menu items really do jump out on the page. First up: 8 pieces of their original Shanghai style pork xiao long bao ($13.00). If you haven’t had this type of dumpling before, in my opinion, you haven’t lived! They’re easily one of my favourites, juicy inside with soup that pools inside the thin dumpling wrapper.
Little Bao’s version was so tasty! The filling was really morish and flavoursome, working well with the house chilli oil and the slivers of fresh ginger. There really was so much to love about this!
What really brought it home for us though were the spicy oil covered prawn and pork dumplings with peanuts ($13.80 for 10 pieces). I just love the absolute flavour bomb that these are – the oil coats your mouth and leaves the best aftertaste – soooooo satisfying and delicious.
The filling was absolutely succulent, working well with the crunchy peanuts and the scatterings of fresh spring onion. If you only order one thing at Little Bao, I highly recommend that this be it.
We finished things off with the set of five bao ($30.00) which comes with all five flavours available (or you can double up if you have your heart set on certain ones in particular). This is great for sharing – and while my snaps don’t look the best, trust me when I say they look really impressive!
The bao buns are all made in house, and while they are different shades of the rainbow, it’s natural colours used like pumpkin or taro. I really like that they’ve taken a modern approach and made it quite fun.
First up we had the traditional tiger biting pig bao – which is basically like the OG of all baos, gua bao. Filled with braised pork belly, coriander, pickled vegetables and peanut crush, this really hit the spot. I always say when I’m judging bao, this is what I need to try to see how it matches up against what I’ve had in Taiwan at street markets and stalls. The peanut crush is what makes this dish, and quite often is forgotten, so I was happy to see it on the bun here as it really made it feel more authentic.
Our next bao we tried was the Asian mild chicken in a Southern sea shell bao, which featured roast chicken, red onion, walnuts, pineapple and lettuce. It was very yummy – though a touch too much sauce for my liking, but that’s more of a personal taste than anything. I liked the addition of the nuts, which brought added texture and crunch to each bite.
The third bao was a return to pork with the crackling golden pork belly bao with tomato, red onion and pickled radish. There’s not really much you need to say when it comes to pork belly with a strip of oh so satisfying crackling! You know it’s always going to be a crowd pleaser.
Our second last bao was a soft shell crab one with lettuce, spicy mayonnaise, basil and pickled radish. This is a seasonal offering, but I’m glad it was there when we had it! It kind of reminded me of a contemporary seafood style burger thanks to the mayo, and once again I did find it a little sauce heavy, but that didn’t deter me from devouring this quickly. I love, love, love soft shell crab and this one was really crispy and well seasoned.
Right about now we were struggling pretty hard, but with one bao left on the plate we knew we could push through somehow. We finished up with the veggie tofu bao with tomato, lettuce and a special sauce. It’s really good that they have a vegetarian option on the menu – and I personally love tofu so I was happy giving this a whirl.
All in all, I really liked our visit to Little Bao! I definitely want to go back and try the noodles out, but to be honest I’m not sure I’d be able to go past those tasty dumplings. They left me so damn satisfied!