Bar review: Bao Bei, Central – a triumph of marketing over matter
While this China Cute concept bar may have struck a chord with its target clientele, the intriguing-sounding drinks we tried were anything but a success
The vibe: Bao Bei is an affectionate, familiar term for your sweetheart in Putonghua and this new bar/restaurant’s concept could best be described as China Cute. The main seating area is decorated with a modern version of traditional wooden wall decorations and big, graphic-art style paintings of Chinese girls. “Bao” also means “bun” and buns are among the list of snacks and small plates. At the end of happy hour patrons throw dice to determine what discount they get – throw a one and you get 10 per cent off, a two, 20 per cent, etc.
The drinks: the signature cocktails continue the theme, featuring Chinese ingredients and fancy presentation in porcelain tea cups or rice bowls – a drink which includes Vitasoy is even served in Vitasoy bottles with straws, much to the delight of a group of girls who’d ordered them – much giggling and selfie-taking ensued.
The drinks sounded intriguing on paper, but the proof of the cocktail is in the drinking and the ones we tried were not a success. The barrel-aged bijou (HK$128, citrus peel infused gin, vermouth, Chartreuse, orange bitters) was a misjudged take on a negroni, medicinal and unbalanced. China town (HK$138, Shaoxing wine, red vermouth, orange bitters, kumquat) arrived in a tea cup looking like puer tea which had been left to stew too long and tasted as murky as it looked. The rice wine and the vermouth clashed with each other, while the citrus elements were undetectable.
We persevered with a som tam (HK$138, gin, green papaya juice, chilli and pepper syrup, lime). Again, there was no balance – fiercely spicy at first sip, by the end the drink was just juice, with little sign of gin at any point in the process. Mango pomelo sago (HK$128, white rum, mango, pomelo, sago) sounded like a safe bet – how could they go wrong with my favourite local dessert plus alcohol, I reasoned? Well, they managed it. What arrived was a bowl of insipid mango mush with no discernible rum, no pomelo I could find and crunchy, undercooked sago.
The verdict: there are plenty of places on Wyndham Street with better drinks, better food and better prices. That said, Bao Bei was doing brisk business, so the concept has clearly struck a chord with its target clientele, a triumph of marketing over matter.
Bao Bei, Basement, Carfield Commercial Building, 77 Wyndham Street, Central. Tel: 2801 7779
Open: Monday to Saturday 5pm-2am. Happy Hour: Monday to Thursday 5pm-8pm
If Bao Bei isn’t your kind of bar, try these nearby