We all know the BGC area is known for its bars and nightlife scene — but imagine our surprise when we rolled up to Uptown Mall last Thursday morning and felt the party vibes going strong.
It was coming from the intense drumming, and traditional lion dance, being staged in front of the newly opened Bai Nian Tang Bao, a Shanghainese restaurant with locations across China (under the name “Bai Nian Long Pao”), plus franchise shops in the United States and South Korea.
This new Manila branch is the first in the Philippines.
Coconuts Manila stopped by for the grand launch last week, and immediately noticed that it looks and feels completely different from the conventional Chinese restaurant in this country. This place is adorned with marble walls, wooden tables, and has a muted color scheme throughout — a stark contrast from most Chinese restaurants in the Philippines that are decked out with red tablecloths, dark woods, fake antiques, and aquariums.
The lion dance is a custom for new businesses owners who want to launch with a bang — it’s believed to usher in good luck and prosperity, but at Bai Nian Tang Bao, it’s probably the restaurant’s giant tang bao (PHP258/US$4.83), or soup dumpling, that will bring in the Instagram-ready customers.
Apart from the novelty, the XL bao — which covers the entire circumference of the bamboo steamer that it comes in — has that delicate tang bao wrapper around it. It’s surprisingly strong enough to handle the steaming broth, the weight of all that meat filling, and a dash of crab roe on top.
It’s filled with minced pork, crab meat, and native chicken soup, which co-owner Paul Li said is their specialty.
“The soup, we cook [for] 12 hours,” he told Coconuts Manila.
He also said that their tang bao (and the smaller xiaolongbao) is made with a special variety of crab flown in from a particular lake near Shanghai. While we can’t vouch for the crab meat’s origins, we can report that the bao’s filling is nicely rich and savory.
It bears noting, though, that this giant tang bao is not easy to eat.
Customers are given paper straws, which (trust us) become useless after it is soaked in the hot liquid for a few minutes. Props for saying no to plastic straws, Bai Nan, but a waste-free option like bamboo straws may be more effective here.
Once the soup is all gone, consumption gets much messier. The wrapper turns limp and the meat bits get all over the place. Each morsel that makes it to our mouths feels like a small victory for the chopstick-challenged among us.
Look, we’re not going to lie — the giant tang bao got its share of oohs and aahs from us when it got to the table. But then reality sets in, and you notice: 1) it’s not as easy to eat as the single bite-sized original xiaolongbao, and 2) it doesn’t provide that ideal ratio of dumpling wrapper to meat filling to soup broth that the traditional does, either. Unless you’re getting this XL guy for staging IG shots, or as an alternative to a birthday cake, then we’d suggest sticking with the classic xiaolongbao, which are tasty and unencumbered by logistical issues.
In other menu offerings, there’s also braised pork belly (PHP329/US$6.16), a classic Shanghainese dish that, despite all the nice jiggly fat coming in each bite, failed to blow us away. We will say that an underdog on the menu is the Shanghai-style Fish Fillet (PHP199/US$ 3.73), which maintains its crispy skin even when tossed in a sweet and sour sauce, and pairs especially well with the beef fried rice (PHP219/US$4.10).
The restaurant also serves scallion oil noodles (PHP179/US$3.35), a dish found in many traditional noodle shops in Shanghai, but is rarely found in Chinese restaurants in Manila. Bai Nian’s version has a thick texture that is difficult to navigate with chopsticks, but does carry just the right amount of the sweet scallion-infused oil to make it full of flavor yet light in texture.
Bai Nian Tang Bao is worth checking out — there’s that novelty of its giant soup dumplings, the tastiness of the original tang bao, and great lesser-known dishes like the fish fillet and scallion oil noodles.
Makes a pretty good spot for Sunday lunch with the family, but also ideal for filling up after partying in clubs at The Palace (which is nearby) — Bai Nian is open until 3am on Friday, and midnight on Saturday and Sunday.
Nothing like hot soup to sober you up, right?
Uptown Parade, 36th Street Corner 9th Avenue, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig
Monday – Thursday: 11am-10pm; Friday: 11am – 3am; Saturday and Sunday: 11AM-12mn
Telephone Number: +6328381716