Opened in 2012, Little Bao in Hong Kong is credited with helping kickstart the global trend for Chinese bao burgers. To this day the 20-seat diner commands queues for chef May Chow’s playful, fast food-inspired take on traditional Chinese fare.
This first foreign outpost for the brand, tucked on the ground floor of Thonglor’s 72 Courtyard dining complex, shares much the same cool and casual vibe, as projected from the neon-lit smiling baby logo out front. Inside has all the kitsch appeal of a Hong Kong-style diner, thanks to upright wooden seats, metal bar stools, open kitchen and candy-color palette of green and pink.
The star bao buns are split in half, buttered and griddled, then stuffed with one of four fillings imported from the Hong Kong branch: pork belly, crispy Sichuan chicken, fish tempura and shiitake tempeh (B260 each). Chowing down on the delicious pork belly bao, there’s no doubting Little Bao’s reputation: the succulent braised pork is slathered in hoisin ketchup, sprinkled with shiso leek salad and sesame dressing, and jammed between a soft, fluffy white bun. It’s an explosion of tastes that, frankly, the other bao options struggle to match.
But while these trendy, tiny handfuls take the limelight, we’re actually more impressed with the hot and cold sharing plates. The cold, smoked eggplant salad (B240) features a delicious interplay between chili garlic miso, yogurt, pine nuts and shiso. The fried cauliflower (B220), coated in caramelized fish sauce, is sweet yet spicy, crunchy and still relatively guilt-free. Not so the truffle fries (B320), a fusion hit that mixes tempeh nuttiness with creamy mayo.
Amid such rich flavors we appreciate the drunken clams (B360), whose mellow miso broth is peppery and heartwarming owing to a liberal dose of Shaoxing rice wine. Dessert is limited but that hardly matters, as the golden-fried ice-cream bao (try the salted caramel, B140) arguably upstage their savory counterparts.
As for drinks, the syrup-heavy cocktails, served in plastic tumblers, keep to concept. Chrys’ Lemonade (B320) is a mix of Cana Brava rum, chrysanthemum, honey and lemon that’s not too sweet and might bring to mind your grandma’s iced tea. Even in Bangkok, Little Bao is not alone in fetishizing retro Chinese flavors (see Chairman, Bao & Buns, Xiao Chi), but it’s both the most fun and the most rewarding.
This review took place in November 2016 and is based on a visit to the restaurant without the restaurant's knowledge. For more on BK's review policy, click here.