Bao Boy: Ugly(-not-so-ugly) Delicious
I love Netflix's Ugly Delicious. Aside from how amazing all the food looks, David Chang's commentary keeps me glued to the screen. It's hilarious at times of course, but more often than not I find some of the things he said, the most casual of comments even, to really resonate. Like how he reiterates through the docuseries that the ugliest, messiest, grubbiest of foods are in fact the tastiest. He seems to say, fuck the Michelin guide, fuck fine dining, you gotta head to the streets for food really worth eating.
In an episode on fried chicken, he aggressively declared his hatred for non-Korean Korean restaurants. "How could you possibly make Korean food better than the Koreans? I hate it, I absolutely do." I gotta admit that stuck with me. I get so annoyed with I see ang moh chefs listing local dishes on their menus, doing their own little fusion takes which, to me, completely lets down the origin dish.
But then I had dinner at Bao Boy yesterday, and I completely enjoyed it.
A concept by Cure's Andrew Walsh, Bao Boy is very much like Park Bench Deli: messy, saucy sandwiches best enjoyed getting in elbows deep. Only difference is they're championing the Chinese bao, the lotus leaf bun to be precise, and the owner ain't local. See that's where it ticked at me.
A big part of me hoped the meal would be good, cause if you've been following me you'd know I love it when someone pulls off fusion grub; but there was also a nagging suspicion that dinner would end up a disappointing affair — an extremely expensive one as well.
Mama's beef rendang fries, creme fraîche (S$14++)
Let's just say I was proved wrong right off the bat. Dinner kicked off with a bang when this beef rendang fries was served. Yeah the fries weren't hand cut and obviously from one of those run-of-the-mill food suppliers, but they were crisp and golden, superbly seasoned, and came topped with an absolutely delicious dry rendang kinda mince. And that was the beauty of it all. It ain't atas fries, it's what I can see momma whipping up for me at home. Sure it wasn't an authentic makcik-standard rendang, but the spices came through distinctly and I couldn't stop reaching for more. If anything I'd wish the rendang was a little wetter or had some gravy for me to mop up.
Fried chicken & cheese bao, yuzu kosho (S$16++)
Next was their most popular fried chicken bao. Buttermilk fried chicken thigh that's fatty, juicy, and succulent, topped with some cucumber pickles, coleslaw, and a slice of good ol' American cheese. Need I really say more? It was grubby, it was hearty, it was downright delicious. A pity though that I couldn't really get any citrus notes from the yuzu kosho, the salty cheese pretty much dominating all the other condiments.
Halibut fish & chips bao, house tartar (S$16++)
Despite the lacking yuzu component, I must highlight that I was, at this point, suitably impressed with the first bao I tried. Then came this fish & chips number, which I gotta say is absolutely fantastic if not for the slightly disproportionate portion of tartar sauce. The battered halibut was sweet and utterly tender, perfectly golden, disintegrating with a slight nudge and releasing a flood of juices in every bite. I’d down a fish & chips like this any day, which really is the point isn’t it. The coleslaw was light and refreshing, lotus leaf bun was soft and fluffy (though oddly cold, like out-of-the-refrigerator kinda cold), and the housemade tartar was super tasty. My only beef was they really slapped on that tartar, so much that it was completely overwhelming the fabulous fish.
Lamb bao, Korean hot sauce, pickles (S$16++)
If I had to recommend just one bao to try though, this'd be it. Their lamb bao was hands-down my favourite, which came as an utter surprise cause I wasn’t expecting to love it this much. Made with pulled lamb, the breaded lamb terrine was equally fried to perfection, juicy and packed with flavour, and without any of that intensely gamey smell you’d sometimes get from lamb. Round that off with the slightly sweet and spicy not-very-hot sauce, some crunch and acidity from the pickles, a fluffy sweet bao to carry all the flavours, and we've got ourselves a winning bao.
Now if you completed Ugly Delicious, you'd know that the series rounded off with a discussion on how food evolves. How it adopts flavours, techniques, and ideas as it crosses borders and cultures. How a Korean chef pioneered a bangin' Korean barbecue taco stand that could rival the Mexicans'. And I guess Bao Boy reminded me of that. Sure you'd notice I find room for improvement in every bao I'd tried, and as a critic and nitpick on everything; but I can't in good conscience not admit this ang moh-led establishment whips up some pretty damn good fusion baos.
31 Hong Kong Street