When the dining crowd tires of degustation menus and white tablecloth affairs, it turns to the less elegant but warm embraces of emerging restaurants and eateries. There’s no glamour in this, it’s simply about the sinful pigging out to comfort food.
These are the Artichokes, RVLTs and Park Bench Delis of Singapore. A trip to these don’t just warrant a torrent of Instagram shots, but one might be tempted to take home some merch: a couple of coasters or a t-shirt brandished with the restaurant’s brand.
Bao Boy, the newest project by Cure’s Andrew Walsh, seems to be trying on this route. This hole-in-the wall eatery, located along Hong Kong Street, is a squeezy spot with only 15 bar seats and another 15 more outdoors. Graffiti, concrete and neon lights are peppered all over the walls here.
Fans of Walsh’s other restaurant, Butcher Boy, will recognise a few things. Lotus leaf buns stuffed with anything but braised, fatty pork slices, are popular highlights. These easy bites are quite like the Asia’s tacos — anything goes between the recesses of these billowy buns.
Hong Kong’s Little Bao by chef May Chow proved that the cult/crowd appeal of these modern baos worked. At home, there’s Bao Makers, a cafe with a local touch to this formula.
Now, it’s up to Bao Boy to blow it out of the park.
The food isn’t immediately appealing on paper. On the order chit, the range of dishes goes from mouth-watering to questionable. A bikini bao stuffed with truffle, ham and cheese seems straight-forward. On the other hand, the beef satay bao with peanut sauce and mango is a bit of a head-scratcher.
But do dine with an open mind. You’ll find unexpected gems worth enjoying here.
Salmon Tartare Nachos, Wasabi Avocado
This is just one of few dishes ported over from sister restaurant Butcher Boy. What looks like a mess of nachos is really a carefully piled up tower of deep-fried wonton skin with plump salmon cubes spooned over. The thought of deep-fried wanton skin doesn’t excite us initially, but they’re nicely seasoned, crisp and all is forgiven. On each chip, there’s always a scattering of salmon tartare that’s generously mixed in with sesame oil. It’s followed by dollops of spicy Kewpie mayo and neon-green wasabi avocado teetering off the edge.
Fried Chicken and Cheese Bao
- When it comes to baos, the Fried Chicken and Cheese is a sure-fire way to draw in wary diners. Buttermilk fried chicken is the star here, with melted cheddar draped over it. There’s also a spread of yuzukosho to spice things up a bit. The fluffy bun offers a nice break from the usual brioche buns and adds a slight sugary, crisp sweetness in this combo. A word of caution: eating is supposed to get messy. Let fillings spill over onto the plate and get to work with chopsticks. There’s no much need or time for dining etiquette here.
- Pulled Pork Banh Mi Bao, Sriracha
It’s not immediately reminiscent of the Vietnamese sandwich, but its enjoyable nonetheless. Between chunks of juicy pulled pork, made from Iberico pork jowl, there’s slatherings of sriracha. We’re told that there’s also liver parfait in it, though there probably wasn’t much of it inside: we didn’t taste any. Though it is important to note that our bao was portioned three ways and we got the short end of the stick — precisely why Bao Boy insists on not cutting up its buns. Point duly noted.
- Chilli Crab Mac & Cheese
If you’re up for more carbs, consider sharing the Chilli Crab Mac & Cheese. It is as it sounds, macaroni, cheese and a whole lot of crab. Sweet chunks of de-shelled crab are thrown into a sauce that’s more spicy and sweet. Nothing’s tune down for the expat crowd.
- Beef Short Rib, Bossam
The Beef Short Rib here is perhaps one of the more ‘normal’ items on the list. Like the Korean dish, it comes with lettuce, rice, dips and some assembly is required. The meat comes up a little dry, which could be saved with the garlic and ginger sauce on the side. It’s not the most ideal to have on the counter table when the space gets packed (and it will get packed). It’s a safe choice for those who are not up for beef satay baos.
- A familiar treat? Fried Peanut Butter & Jelly Bao
For dessert, there’s another bao. This time, the buns are deep-fried and come with a thick peanut butter ice cream parfait with a raspberry jam hearty in the middle. It bears an uncanny resemblance to another dessert at Little Bao. But if you put that aside, this is one heck of a treat. Hot buns and ice cream set hearts racing for more.
- Our verdict
- Bao Boy is one of those places that doesn’t require much thinking as you eat. You can trust that there’s some element of fun and deliciousness culminating in each dish. Bao Boy isn’t trying to be authentic, though it takes its buns seriously. Currently, the lotus leaf buns are hand-made and supplied from a shop in nearby Chinatown. The restaurant’s hoping to make its own soon, though one can’t help but wonder if they can still keep to this endearing arrangement. Now, on to more light-hearted affairs: where’s my Bao Boy t-shirt at?
- Tuesday – Saturday
- 5:00pm – 12:00am
$65++ per person
Vibrant and lively.
Casual, chatty and friendly. Go sit by the counter.