Over the past year, Hong Kong has seen the addition of many new fantastic restaurants, and during my recent trip, I had a hard time trying to fit in as many places as I could in my list of to-eat restaurants. One of the most hyped-about restaurants in Hong Kong right now is Little Bao at Staunton Street in Central. Think an American diner with a modern Asian twist, dishing out familiar and comforting renditions of our Asian favourites over the counter and in many refreshing manners. The place may be tiny, but never dead. If any, it is full of energy, and is the kind of swanky spot which will easily fit into the linear of New York or London.
Dinner was a spread of some of their most popular options, and amongst them were the Pickled Mushroom Salad (HK$78), Eggplant & Shiso Pork Tempura (HK$88), Orange Chicken (HK$98) with a salty egg yolk honey glaze and Short-Rib Pan-Fried Dumpling (HK$128). They were decent, but nothing spectacular.
What blew our minds, however, was the Mac & Cheese (HK$108). Little Bao’s interpretation is not your typical melted cheese atop macaroni. What makes it really special is the usage of steamed rice rolls as the main ingredient, generously covered with a layer of mentaiko cheese sauce. This dish alone has created a new arena of ‘good’ in our dictionaries, and it is almost illegal to leave without having a serving.
Fries are always a crowd-pleaser, but it takes something to elevate from good to oh-my-God-we-need-a-second-portion. The LB Fries (HK$68), accompanied with a roasted tomato sambal and kewpie mayo sauce, is exactly that. We loved that it had an after note of the lime lingering in the mouth, almost like marking its triumph all the way to the back of our throats (and minds). Addictive; very addictive.
The signature Pork Belly Bun (HK$78) also lived up to its billing. The slow-braised pork belly was tender and melt-in-the-mouth, and the humble bun was dressed up with a leek and shiso red onion salad, sesame dressing and a unique hoisin ketchup sauce. It puts the famous Momofuku’s pork bun to shame. This is one of the best pork belly buns I have ever had. The Fish Tempura Bun (HK$78), with tamarind palm sugar glaze and pickled lemongrass fennel salad, was equally good.
The LB Ice Cream Sandwich (HK$48) was a good way to end the meal. It is essentially green tea ice cream sandwiched between two deep-fried bao. In other words, brilliance.
Little Bao has gained a strong following since its opening in October 2013 and it is not just because they serve good food in a lively setting. What makes Little Bao stand out is the passion of and extraordinary management by its owner, May Chow.
Finding the right staff is always one of the key challenges in the F&B industry. Yet, May seems to be juggling it well, and it is probably due to her meticulous understanding of humans’ needs and mentalities.
Little Bao hires mostly young staff without experience. The reason, May explained, is because as long as someone is hospitable and willing to serve, he/she will be able to do a good job. I like the fact that she values every worker, and understands that everyone wants something different. Quite unlike any other, she does not tie them down with boring and predictable contracts. She speaks to them upon hiring them, and she personalises every letter of offer.
For example, one of the staff at Little Bao loves clubbing, and May is able to get her on the guest list at one of the most popular clubs in Hong Kong. Another loves sashimi, and May buys take-outs to reward him every now and then. It is actions like these that go a long way and make staff feel that they are being valued.
It makes me wonder why there aren’t more restaurants in Singapore which go the extra mile to value their staff. Ultimately, if staff feel that they are being valued by the establishment, they are more motivated to work hard and provide good service to customers – all these on top of their genuine passion for service. This will, in return, improve the restaurant’s business, and Singapore’s service industry standards in totality. We do hope that more restaurants will take up May’s lead and do more to value every worker.
May and her team at Little Bao may still be raw in the Hong Kong food scene, but I have no doubt that they will go far. When you are in town, come here for a drink. Get some nibbles to share. Or better still, order everything from the menu. Little Bao has a no-reservation policy, so try to get there before 7pm to get a table.
This message is part of a ladyironchef x Labour Movement project where we seek to share with you insights on the different initiatives by the Labour Movement to give workers in Singapore better jobs, better pay and better work-life balance.
G/F 66 Staunton Street
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2194 0202
Mon to Sat: 6pm – 12 Midnight
Nearest Station: Central MTR