163 Keefer Street
T: 604 688 0876
Brief Description: A funky, Chinatown-based restaurant offering non-traditional Chinese fare in tapas style. Bao Bei appeals to those who aren’t necessarily looking for an authentic Chinese experience but more of a modern, up-market version of that experience. Prices are between $4 (for small “schnacks”) but most are around the $14 mark.
Bao Bei has been on the lips of every foodie in Vancouver for some time now. There are those that love it (they seem to be the majority) and there are those who question its value for money and the hype that surrounds it. I fall halfway between the two.
There is no denying that Bao Bei is a beautiful spot. Located in Chinatown, Bao Bei stands out from the crowd with its polished, chic look. The modern space has been thoughtfully decorated with interesting pieces of art used as accents and an eclectic mix of furniture styles. The vibe is young, hip, and financially well-off. How else could you get away with charging $17 for a bowl of fried rice in Chinatown??
Whilst the food is Chinese, you should know before going in that they aren’t serving traditional, authentic Chinese. It is more of a modern, almost fusion, take on some old dishes. It is also tapas-style so they do encourage you to order a number of dishes and share them with your table. The staff will tell you that the dishes are quite small but on the few times I’ve been there the sizes have been quite reasonable (check the pics out and determine if you think that’s enough for you). The one thing that does set Bao Bei apart from other Chinese restaurants is their use of hormone/chemical-free, locally sourced and ethically raised meat. I believe that is worth paying slightly more for.
Dishes that I recommend are the lamb Shao Bing, which is a crunchy sesame flatbread filled with a slightly spicy cumin lamb sirloin. I had tried the same dish when they offered it with pork and it just wasn’t the same – the lamb makes it.
The steamed prawn and chive dumplings were worth ordering, as is the ever-changing daily fried rice (although it is pricey). The duck and mushroom wontons in duck consommé, and the spicy stir-fried squid with pork belly and bok choi, were also pretty good. I’d give the potstickers a miss. I’ve definitely had better elsewhere.
The cocktails on offer are very unique and worth splurging on. Even their non-alcoholic drinks were tasty, complete with candied lotus fruit. Be aware that you can’t reserve a table in advance. I know, it sucks. And this place is especially busy so the wait is long but you can always console yourself with a drink at the near-by Keefer Bar (which also has awesome drinks) whilst you wait.
Final Thoughts: I like Bao Bei although I’m not as wowed by it as others are. I like the atmosphere and the cocktails, and yes, the food is decent but I don’t buy into the hype. It really comes down to what experience you are after. An authentic Chinese experience with large serving sizes and traditional dishes? You won’t find that here – keep walking. A fun, cocktail-filled night out with some interesting dishes to share and a cool space to boot? Then line up, my friends. Bao Bei has exactly what you are after.