From the creative mind of chef Andrew Walsh (of Cure and Butcher Boy) comes a hip new concept different from the other two Keong Saik Road stalwarts. A twist on the burger craze, Bao Boy is the result of Walsh’s experimentation with bao sandwiches at Butcher Boy, which apparently turned out to be a rousing success.
So that brings us here, to a tiny 29-seater cramped into Hong Kong Street. It’s a hole-in-the-wall type place, with just 15 bar stools indoors, where concrete walls feature a neon #IncrediBao sign and a mural collage painted by a local artist. Titled “Great Leap,” the painting takes inspiration from its neighbors, with a collection of visual elements surrounding its female revolutionary protagonist.
As the old school rock ‘n’ roll bangers blare from the speakers, you’ll settle into your seat and feel like you could be there all night, just sipping on cocktails and chowing down on baos. It’s that kind of casual, no-frills joint that’s just the right amount of cool for a Friday night hang, yet there’s no pressure to get all dressed up and be on your best behavior.
In fact, you’ll be getting your hands dirty as you dig into the pillowy steamed buns. Forget cutlery; the bao burgers are generously stuffed and taste best when they’re happily crammed into your mouth. To keep each creation intact, the eatery even insists that “No Bao Cutting” is allowed, so you’ll have to get on board with the communal experience and share a couple of plates.
On the compact menu, snacks like salmon tartare nachos with dollops of wasabi avocado ($12) elevate the bar bites section. Because who needs minced meat when you can have fresh chunks of salmon crowning those crisp discs?
The beef short rib, a nod to Korean bossam (pork wrapped in cabbage) that comes with rice and lettuce ($26) hits the spot too, with spicy gochujang and ginger and scallion dips to complement the juicy, flavorful meat. Just don’t go overboard with the rice, or you won’t be able to make space for the chilli crab mac and cheese ($16), a creamy plate of pasta that’s been given a spicy kick. You’ll wanna share this, though — too much of it can get overwhelmingly rich real quick.
All of it’s good stuff, but what really shines are the baos, done up here in kong bak bao (Chinese braised pork bun) style.
The beef satay one ($14) is packed with tender slices of meat dripping with the familiar flavors of peanut sauce, and goes down easily, much like inhaling a burger version of everyone’s favorite street skewers. The lamb version ($14), sandwiching breaded lamb terrine and a splash of Korean hot sauce, delivers a delightful crunch with each bite, with zesty pickles to cut through the spice.
Putting a spin on the Vietnamese classic, the pulled pork banh mi bao ($14) uses a plump slab of Iberico pork jowl and pairs it with liver parfait and sriracha for that rich, fatty bite tempered by tangy purple cabbage strips.
However, the fried chicken and cheese bao ($14), although said to be a popular favorite at Butcher Boy, is a bit of a letdown. Maybe it’s just us, but what could’ve been lovely buttermilk fried chicken complemented by citrusy yuzu kosho ends up a tad overpowered by the cheese.
If you’re not ready to bao out of the meal just yet, there’s a dessert option waiting for you. The only sweet item on the menu, this one’s a smaller, fried bun with jelly drizzled on a peanut butter parfait center that’s topped with peanuts for crunch. The parfait is smooth and easy on the peanut butter, so it won’t sit too heavy in your stomach. Just as gloriously messy as its savory sisters, it’s a fitting end to your time at Bao Boy.
Since you can’t have burger-like baos without a cocktail in hand, browse through the drinks menu for Asian-esque cocktails ($15) such as the Fash N Dash (bourbon, soy syrup, bitters), Ryokucha (roasted green tea gin, vermouth, campari), and Chai Masala Tini (masala Earl Grey gin, milk, cinnamon, maple). Beers, sakes, and wines of the natural, biodynamic, and organic variety are available as well.
Bao Boy is at 31 Hong Kong St.
6226-1395. Tues-Sat 5pm-midnight.
MRT: Clarke Quay/Raffles Place