July 22, 2017
Taking advantage of the preciously few hours of sunshine available before Typhoon Roke strikes, we feel compelled to do something we haven’t done in a long time — take a stroll on the touristy Hollywood Road and give ourselves a reason to finally try two mightily popular eateries near PMQ.
The first one is Little Bao, just opposite of the former police dormitory on Staunton Street where there is always a queue whenever I pass by. Chef May Chow opened this small diner in 2013 after a favourable test run at a farmer’s market, with a simple menu mostly revolves around guo bao, the humble white Taiwanese bun. Given Chow had worked at Yardbird and remains close to Matt Abergel, it is to be expected that Little Bao doesn’t take reservation and tip is discretional.
Little Bao’s signature item is the pork belly bun, something numerous people have tried already, including a very successful variation more than a decade ago in New York. Is Chow ripping off David Chang? The mastermind behind the Momofuku pork bun himself readily admitted his idea was also far from original.
Regardless how it comes to be, Chow’s execution of this fusion of East meets West wins her the somewhat controversial Asia’s Best Female Chef 2017 award by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna. Detractors say this dubious award is only created to deflect criticism from the male-dominated World’s 50 Best Restaurants programme, but it is always good when more female are being celebrated, especially in predominantly male fields.
Arriving well past lunch time doesn’t guarantee a seat at a popular place like Little Bao. Instead of waiting we choose to order our buns to go. Everything is 10 bucks cheaper to go; Pork belly bun $78; Fish tempura bun $78; Green tea ice cream bun $38.
The pork belly bun does look very similar to Momofuku’s; the main difference is Little Bao’s looks more like a burger upon Abergel’s suggestion. The size is about 2/3 of a standard McDonald’s burger which I can hold comfortably with one hand. Despite its tiny stature it does pack quite a lot between the buns — two pieces of pork belly, red onion, leek and shiso salad and a healthy dose of Japanese sesame dressing. The fattiness is somewhat balanced out by the sourness of the sauce and the red onion, and you don’t need to feel too guilty — it goes down in four or five bites. By the time I am done my fingers are dripping with sauce, but messiness is a small trade-off for a bao that is without a doubt better than Momofuku’s.
The fish tempura bao, a glorified Filet-O-Fish, couldn’t live up to the pork belly’s lofty standard. There is only so much one can improve upon the age old recipe of bun + fried fish + tartar sauce, and the addition of a piece of pickle doesn’t move the needle much.
The ice cream bao, around half the size of the other buns, is an imitation of deep fried mantou with condensed milk. Adding ice cream gives the piping hot pastry a sharp contrast in temperature, but I feel the frozen dairy becomes a little bit of wasted calories as it is overwhelmed by the condensed milk’s excessive sweetness.
Some say Little Bao is overhyped and overpriced. A sit down meal can easily cost more than $300 per person. I have no interest in braving the ever-present queue, but a 10-minute wait for a $78 bun that rivals the best burgers in town is hardly outrageous. Just stick to the pork belly bun and think of it as a snack and you will probably enjoy it as much as I have.
Address: 66 Staunton St, Central
Opening hours: 18:00 – 23:00, Monday – Sunday; 12:00 – 16:00, Saturday – Sunday
It has been years since I last stepped foot on Gough Street, and apparently the retail apocalypse has spread to this narrow Mid-level street where printing presses formerly clustered. For such a well-known area it is staggering to see so many vacated addresses, although some quality shops and eateries have remained, including our destination the gelato shop Oddies.
This is not your run-of-the-mill gelato joint; it successfully combines the king of local street food egg waffle with gelato into a single cup of sundae. I don’t know who started this trend, but nowhere else has mastered this niche quite like Oddies. After shutting down its Wan Chai location, the Gough St. store is the only one remaining. The choices are numerous — on this afternoon there are 12 gelato flavours and 7 choices of egg waffle, as well as four variations of sundae.
We order a large “Kido” ($88), a sundae with Lemon Nutella gelato, pie crust, milk chocolate semifreddo, oreo crumbs, Nutella fudge and of course egg waffle. Considering it is large enough to be shared by two people a $88 sundae is really not that much more expensive than the going price of $50 at places like Via Tokyo. This is some seriously decadent stuff — I can feel my waistline expanding after I have finished my half. There are too much pie crust and chocolate fudge, but overall I like the mix, which isn’t overly sweet. The egg waffle rivals the best in town and it is fun to mix and match it with different toppings.
Note: Apparently Oddies is the Chipotle of Hong Kong. It has failed an E. coli test for the third time within a year in August 2017. My initial score was 3.5, but I will now downgrade it to 1 until the situation improves. Nothing justifies the risk of pooing blood, least of all ice cream.
Address: G/F, 45 Gough Street, Central
Opening hours: 12:30 – 22:30