Bao Bei
Some friends and I took a trip to check out the new restaurant in Chinatown called Bao Bei. Based on some internet research, Bao Bei (meaning precious) is the creation of Tannis Ling from Chambar, with Paul Grunberg (previous GM of Chambar, and Jean George's Market) running the floor.

Parking in Chinatown was easy but I am a little choked that I now have to pay meter parking till 10:00pm. We got in late on Saturday night (which I found out was Bao Bei's only second night open) and had just a short wait at the tall tables before our table was ready. The restaurant looked fantastic, a long space with beautiful lighting, walnut tables, comfortable seating and some vintage cabinets.

I ordered what was called "the best damn gingerale" ($8) which was stiff and tasty, and an order of toasted dried squid with garlic mayo ($4) and sichuan cucumbers ($4). The drink was great and the squid was fantastic, an incredible texture and a wicked flavour. A pleasant surprise.

About 10 minutes later we were seated at our table and my friends went to work and ordered a bunch of items off the menu.

Steam Prawn and chive dumpling - $7.50
Won Tons in spicy, black bean broth - $6.00
King Pea Tips - $6
Watercress - $6
Omelette with salted turnip and butter - $4.00
Mantou - steamed buns with braised shortrib, hoisin, scallions, pickled cucumber and roasted peanuts - $9.
Ellie's Belly - slow braised pork - $8
Shao Bing - Sesame flatbread with braised pork butt, Asian pear, pickled onion and mustard greens - $7

The whole meal was fantastic. I was kinda worried when I didn't seen an old Chinese person in the kitchen but you could tell every dish was well thought out because every ingredient really complemented each other. It was one of those sittings where people were pointing at the food showing their amazement. The highlight for me was the mantou which completely blew my mind away but my friends loved the Ellie's Belly (according to our server was a creation of Eleanor Chow from Chambar and Dirty Apron) and the spicy won tons.

Price wise, this place is obviously more than Congee Noodle House but the atmosphere is beautiful and is perfect for hanging out, sipping on a drink and eating good food. Call it the Guu of Chinese food with easier parking. We walked out paying 45 bucks each which covered myshare of the food, 3 drinks and tip not bad at all!!!

I definitely recommend paying Bao Bei a visit.

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie
163 Keefer St
Chinatown, Vancouver

Bao Bei on Urbanspoon



Tia said... @ January 19, 2010 at 11:35 PM

i'm looking fwd to trying this place out based on ur review.

Giorgio Moroser said... @ January 20, 2010 at 9:45 PM

I tried Bao Bei, loved the room, love the idea, but didn't quite love the food.

When I see something approximating Chinese food, my point of reference is the traditional. I was hoping Bao Bei would bring a fresh, contemporary take to these dishes, which they did somewhat, but not quite enough.

I too had the dried squid with garlic mayo, and it's basically the same dried squid that one can get at any Asian dried snack stores (y'know, the ones that sell those salted prunes in bulk), but with a side of garlic mayo. It's nice to see as an alternative to peanuts, but nothing spectacular.

I also had the mantou and shao bing. The two seemed like contrasts in salt, with the former being overly salted and the latter not enough. The mantou are pretty average, though the braised shortrib was a nice idea despite the execution: too much salt, average bun. The pulled pork in the shao bing was great, but the actual shao bing wasn't flaky enough, cold, and the whole thing played out more like a pulled pork sandwich with sesames.

I tried the tea eggs too. These were marinated in soy sauce, with nary a hint of star anise (which it should have), and it didn't seem like they were marinated for long enough.

I'm chalking it up to opening wrinkles that need to be ironed out, and still hopeful that Bao Bei will become something beautiful. Let's hope it's not going to end up being a hipster joint for those craving Chinatown kitsch.

Etienne de Cochon said... @ January 21, 2010 at 1:00 AM

The "dim sum" prices are atrocious. Dim sum is traditionally peasant cuisine and even the prices at upper tier chinese restaurants in Vancouver are half of what this place is charging.

7.50$ for prawn and chive dumplings? Give me a break. Are prawns and chives now precious commodities?

How does one price "atmosphere" into the cost of the menu? This price point is meant to create an aura of exclusivity right?

Anonymous said... @ January 21, 2010 at 10:33 AM

it's mediocre chinese food served in a trendy environment. good for those who have no background knowledge and don't have anything else to compare it to. there's not much creativity to it, a lot of it is just northern chinese dishes that people aren't used to eating because they're used to cantonese style restaurants. props for the drinks though...

J-Free said... @ January 21, 2010 at 7:34 PM

i really don't expect this to fly around here, it makes sun sui wah seem cheap, which is sort of embarrassing.

jj l said... @ January 21, 2010 at 9:35 PM

this post sounds like a paid advert...

Gyromite said... @ January 21, 2010 at 9:50 PM

There is a price to pay for atmosphere and that is consistent with just about everything. It is the reason why you pay more for Margiela than Joe Fresh.

You have to be careful when comparing Bao Bei to dim sum.

First, dim sum is only available during the daytime so it is like comparing lunch value vs dinner value. Dinner is usually more, often for the exact same thing.

Second, I can't really drink at Kirin or Sun Sui Wah. Its too bright, I dont like drinking to Chinese music, and the overall vibe screams drink tea not beer.

What I like about Bao Bei is that I can go for some drinks and order some food, knowing that the food will be tasty. Gastopubs too often let me down.

Using Guu as a reference point, karaage at Guu is twice as much as the karaage you get at Hi Genki. So why can't a place like this work? Is it just because cheap Chinese food is readily available compared to cheap Japanese food.

In any case, taste is subjective and Giorgio M is a way better writer than me.


Etienne de Cochon said... @ January 23, 2010 at 12:59 AM

The majority of people who buy designer clothing do so as a form of social signalling, a way to tell other people that they are different or special. This concept certainly transposes onto food; we hear people boasting about the expensive restaurants they can afford to eat at all the time.

Arguments that qualities as intangible as 'atmosphere' fail to pursuade me that food should cost twice as much as its regular market value. A Michelin star on the other hand might pique my interest.

Value, like taste and style may be subjective qualities but with all this moaning about the burden of the HST, I would have exepected a deeper evaluation.

Gyromite said... @ January 23, 2010 at 1:24 AM

touche pussycat.

my issue with the HST, is with the larger corporations prospering and the small establishments really feeling the bite so I would consider the situation quite different.

In any case, I do enjoy the dialogue. My initial hope when starting this blog would be that readers would post their experiences after the post to provide are more comprehensive review.

Giorgio Moroser said... @ January 23, 2010 at 10:33 AM

Etienne, Matt,

Hate to disagree, but:

- your analogies to designer wear have negated one point: in some (many) instances, higher priced clothing actually does have a higher quality, both in terms of fabric, cut, etc.;

- certain higher priced restaurants can validate such price points over and above what the true cost of their food actually is. This is why even the Michelin guide uses such a loose criteria as the "personality" of the food. While the Michelin guide purports not to take atmosphere into consideration, any survey of how lux the 3 star places can obviously negate that a disclaimer a fair bit; and

- going to a higher priced restaurant can actually be based on something other than social signaling, even if the food alone can't justify the price. For example, I personally would pay an extra couple of bucks for added comfort.

With that said, I would never pay $15 for a bowl of BBQ pork noodles, particularly if it doesn't have the requisite amount of innovation or quality behind it to back it up, which is why Bao Bei was such a disappointment, at least in my opinion.

Etienne de Cochon said... @ January 24, 2010 at 8:46 AM

15 CAD for a bowl of BBQ pork noodles is more expensive than what I have to pay in London. Is it garnished with fois gras and puffer fish and served with platinum chopsitcks? My mind is blown.

helly said... @ January 24, 2010 at 5:19 PM

I love Bao Bei. Food and drinks are yummy. Atmosphere is excellent. You don't see a room like this in Vancouver.

Gyromite said... @ January 24, 2010 at 10:49 PM

Giorgio, My analogy to fashion neglected many points, as it was a heavy generalization. There are many companies that will source out the same fabric, copy the design and make a garment soo similar to the original it should be called the same. Anyways, both our points are valid, and this isn't a fashion blog so lets leave it at that.

In any case, I respect your opinion. You defended your opinion and you actually tried the food.

My friends and I all thought the food was great, and it was a great place to have a drink. In regards to quality, the service was on point and I didn't walk away with the MSG shakes or crave a can a coke when I left.

If you ever want to blog for slop, let me know.

Anonymous said... @ January 26, 2010 at 8:39 PM

After dinner at Bao Bei, our group of 5 was still hungry and had to go to Phnom Penh to fill up.

First of all, the food is mediocre for chinese fare. Those that have tried the more authentic versions of these dishes will find that the dishes are lacking a bit in flavour. It's not bad but it's not quite there.

Add to what is lacking in flavour is a ridiculous price tag. $15 for a bowl of beef noodles? 5 pieces of dumplings for$7.50? Do they not realize that T&T is just 3 blocks away? What about a vietnamese sub for $8????? Balle is literally blocks away and they have arguably some of the best Vietnamese subs in town for less than $3!

We were all stoked to go and try this place out, but we were all sorely disappointed and will definitely not be back.

human bean said... @ January 28, 2010 at 2:55 PM

My friend really wanted to go - I wasn't so keen on it. Had read a review in Ethnic Eats. The room was decorated nicely, but the food disappointed. Like one of the other reviewers said - they had to go somewhere else to eat after - I had to eat something when I got home. We paid around 90 bucks for what I considered to be a bunch of VERY small dishes plus a couple of drinks. The grilled pineapple was a good idea with the chili/salt but there were only two pretty modest skewers, pineapple wasn't grilled enough. The eggplant was also tasty but the portion was chintzy - not even half a small japanese eggplant cut up there....
dumplings were the most disappointing. And, there were five - a difficult number to share. The prawn or shrimp ones (?) were mostly green inside....little seafood. The dipping sauce was too vinegary and lacked subtlety entirely.
I'd rather have something more traditional when it comes to Asian food, and much prefer places like Guu - authentic, less 'posing' - this place had a somewhat inauthentic, ego-y vibe. Sorry about that. I feel kind of bad dissing the place as I know restaurants are difficult....and I did think the owner was friendly.
The drinks - meh. Both 'cocktails' we had tasted like medicine.

Another thing I liked besides the decor was the soft porn in the men's washroom which I accidentally ended up going into - hard to tell which is which. So - there are some lovely touches, but the food and the vibe lack heart in a big way.

Anonymous said... @ January 29, 2010 at 2:39 AM

I think that people need to get a little bit more educated before publicly voicing their opinions for everyone to read. Everyone is entitled to their opinons, but too many random people on the internet think that they're food writers nowadays, and too many other people listen to what they say. I could go on forever but I'll just make a couple quick points.

1. comparing the prices of a restaurant like Bao Bei to a strictly takeout sandwich shop or a GROCERY STORE is asinine. If you want to pick up some frozen dumplings from T&T, and a premade to-go sandwich from Bale, and go watch TV at home..then DO THAT. Don't go to a nice restaurant and expect to pay the same prices as a GROCERY STORE. Sorry for the caps, but I'm just trying to stress how stupid of a comparison that is.

2. learn to appreciate quality. let's take the Bale comparison again. Have you ever looked around that place? To your immediate right when you enter is a fridge full of giant pails of margarine. The front case has Schneiders Ham and shitty mass produced pate and mayo. Bao Bei is using ALL ethically raised, hormone free meat and everything is made in-house. If you want to put that shit in your body, feel free..but don't rag on a restaurant for trying to use happier animals and make quality products. Things like that are always priced accordingly. How can you expect local, small farm pork for the same price as Schneiders ham?

3. stop comparing the prices (and food) to Chinese restaurants. the overhead costs don't even come close. you need to compare it more to places such as Wild Rice, or even La Brasserie or Bin941. You're forgetting a key part to their name. Chinese BRASSERIE. The decor, the service, the atmosphere, the approach to food, EVERYTHING is way more similar to those restaurants than they are to any Chinese restaurant. whether you like it or not, you're paying for all of those things when you order a menu item. Those things cost owners money. That's why places where you get $5 bowls of pork noodles. If you don't care about that stuff, DON'T GO. have none of those things. yeah, $4 can get you a lot at a random Chinese restaurant (where they're getting their meat/veg etc from god knows where). But at any contemporary restaurant, it's VERY rare to find $4 menu items. so to say the portions are "tiny" is a bit ridiculous. if you think any of those other places are overpriced, then this style of dining is obviously not for you..stick to your hole in the walls.

that's all I got. I'm sure I'll get attacked, and feel free..but some of you are being borderline ridiculous with your comments and comparisons. and what you're also all forgetting is that they places has been opened for barely a week. To write off a restaurant that quickly, is stupid. In most big cities, real food critics won't even enter a restaurant for the first month of business. It's considered respect. As a diner, and a foodie, I know what I'm getting myself into when I get to a certain restaurant. just try to have a good time when you go out and stop being so damn cynical.

Anonymous said... @ January 29, 2010 at 6:16 PM

Interesting that you are "anonymous". I am not someone who eats regular awful/horrible food, just so you know. I found the place lacking in heart, period. This had more to do with the vibe than the food, which was, I still maintain, overpriced, even at 'organic' standards.

Anonymous said... @ January 30, 2010 at 3:52 PM

Anon (the one that works at Bao Bei),

It ain't just about the freshness of the ingredients, it's about what you do with them. And you ain't doing something extraordinary with them. So if you're not getting the love you think you deserve, step it up.


Another Anon.

Anonymous said... @ January 31, 2010 at 5:07 AM

I like that just because I've had good experiences at a restaurant that you did not, you accuse me of working there. No, I'm just a different type of diner than you. I also enjoy the fact that you cannot debate the points that I made, whatsoever. I never claimed any other food is "awful" or "horrible" but the fact is, when you eat at a standard hole in the wall Chinese place, you have no idea where any of the food is coming from. If you don't care about that, then continue going to those places and other people will go to places like Bao Bei or any other non-Chinese restaurant that uses quality ingredients. As far as the other person..it's totally your opinion that they're not doing quality things with them and you're entitled to that. But other people like it. The prices are very comparable to any other restaurant that I brought up in my last reply. If you think it's "lacking heart" that's your opinion but I didn't even comment on that. In fact, I wasn't really even replying to your post for the most part. Yours was pretty thought out and intelligent. others, not so much.

Etienne de Cochon said... @ January 31, 2010 at 3:12 PM

What the fuck is a chinese brasserie? Contrive much? Did Chairman Mao stop off at one of these things after a long day's march?

If you want to debate the quality of the food or the more subjective qualities of interior design then go ahead. Don't start accusing people of being philistines because they don't share your affinity for burning hard earned money. Do not attack people as being less ethical because they can't afford to pay for animals who were slaughtered in joy.

Anonymous said... @ January 31, 2010 at 3:42 PM

did you even read my post? I was not attacking anyone. I said that the people in this thread should not be attacking people who ARE willing to pay the prices to eat food that is better for you. whether you like it or not, there is a market for this type of restaurant. no one is telling you to eat anything..but you have to understand that if you DO want to eat ethically raised animals and such, you're going to have to pay accordingly for it. and furthermore, that it's not fair to compare the prices of a restaurant that serves that stuff, to one that does not. I eat both, but if I have the option, I prefer to eat animals from small, hormone free farms. if you would like to actually read my post, and create a nice debate based on my opinions, then feel free. But quit reaching for some sort of argument based on something that I didn't say.

Anonymous said... @ February 3, 2010 at 12:08 AM


"...some of you are being borderline ridiculous..."

"...people need to get a little bit more educated..."

"...comparing the prices...is asinine."


Anonymous said... @ February 3, 2010 at 12:55 PM

Quoting the Bao-friendly Anon:
"let's take the Bale comparison again. Have you ever looked around that place? To your immediate right when you enter is a fridge full of giant pails of margarine. The front case has Schneiders Ham and shitty mass produced pate and mayo."

Quoting foodosophy (http://foodosophy.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/foodography-banh-mi-in-vancouver/):
"Ba Le has an extensive Vietnamese charcuterie operation and are the usual meat source for much of the other banh mi operations in town."

I haven't been to either Ba Le location, so how do those two quotes reconcile?

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Anonymous said... @ February 10, 2010 at 10:11 AM

reading this post is sooo damn hilarious. this has got to be the most heated debate about a restaurant in vancouver.

however, i must say that


considering the prices in comparison to most other chinese hole in the walls, regardless of quality of ingredients, BAO BEI may fly in Yaletown, but definitely NOT in Chinatown

Anonymous said... @ February 13, 2010 at 6:59 AM

Dear cheap Anonymous guy: Bao Bei has an amazing drinks menu and the type of atmosphere that invites you to drink which is how they are going to "fly". Given the price point they are not aiming at locals who would eat at local hole in the walls but other urban vancouverites who would come to Chinatown for something different. $7.50 or $15.00 is not outrageous for a small plate or medium plate in a tapas style restaurant. If you think these prices are outrageous you are not the target market for this type of restaurant. Accept that. Be quiet and see how things unfold. If they don't fly you can can be smug but for now ease up and stop irritating the hell out of all the others who read the blog.
be smug but don't repeatedly trash the place.

Anonymous said... @ February 16, 2010 at 2:05 PM

i thought it was great.... its very reassuring to know that they use ethically raised, hormone free meat and make it all in house. the music was wonderful and the room and lighting was great.
its nice to get chinese style items that aren't plunked down by some bitter old lady who doesn't seem to care anything about customers or service, often the style in traditional chinese restaurants. sorry but its been my experience and i have lived in chinatowns in toronto and vancouver for years. a break from the 10,000. watt florescent lights is nice also.
i know its not cheap but i think they make an honest attempt at providing clean ingredients in a cool new urban setting.... i totally would go back....

Anonymous said... @ February 16, 2010 at 11:32 PM

People have obviously forgotten that traditional chinese restaurants (and there are a whole slew of different kinds of chinese cuisines dependning on region, which will take up another day's worth of discussion)exist very well along side upscale chinese food in CHINA. Pricy restaurants with gorgeous interiors that serve amazing drinks alongside fantastic traditional style chinese food is de rigeur in East Asia. So please when people describe chinese restaurants that are doused in harsh lighting and replete with bad service, please do not make that generalization about all chinese restaurants. It just makes for supremely laughable views and shows how unworldly you are.

Boon said... @ March 25, 2010 at 2:04 PM

"Using Guu as a reference point, karaage at Guu is twice as much as the karaage you get at Hi Genki. So why can't a place like this work?"

Possibly because some of us Asians and esp non-Asians those who pride themselves in being Asian food/culture connoisseurs think that all restaurants like these are white-washing "authentic" or "ethnic" foods for the Yaletown type crowd but with the aforementioned great example of Guu, we all know that all "fusion" or "modern" ethnic restaurants are not created equally. In fact, they can be dam good. Others might suck - pretty sure this type of difference is not exclusively relegated to food.

There is also this protectionist sentiment that that certain ethnic groups have over there culture even though western culture gets bastardized or adopted/coopted a lot more in non-western parts of the world. Isnt this why some gave Departed no credit while it was arguable a better movie than its Infernal Affairs (in my opnion, I like both for different reasons)?

"I tried Bao Bei, loved the room, love the idea, but didn't quite love the food."

Fair, honeset and knowing opinion, imo.

"15 for a bowl of beef noodles? 5 pieces of dumplings for$7.50? Do they not realize that T&T is just 3 blocks away?"

Why not throw in cheaper sushi prices at Fujiya take out vs that of Toshi? Or even better, Keg steak prices vs a steak you can buy from Costco (since in Bby, they are literally right next door).

That said, I havent tried this place but wouldnt mind checking it out. I wouldnt expect the greatest Chinese food ive ever had at the bestest value ever but with the level of our Izakayas, i think you could fairly hope it comes close to that.

fmed said... @ April 11, 2010 at 11:11 AM

Let's face it...there is a cultural divide between those who love Bao Bei food and those who don't.

I have been there four times now, and have tried perhaps half the menu. I do love the drinks and will definitely go back for that alone. I will not order the food though. Some of it is good, most of it is merely mediocre, and some of it is just badly executed.

There is definitely a novelty factor for some who try the food there. I wonder what will happen when the novelty wears off. I wonder if they know that you can get much better examples these dishes elsewhere.

PS - this same debate rages about many "modern" Asian joint (eg Momofuku, etc.)...and let's not forget Wild Rice.

Anonymous said... @ August 11, 2010 at 8:03 PM

Expensive mediocre food for yuppies
and the drinks are watered down

Destini said... @ October 28, 2010 at 9:23 AM

I had thought previous reviews to be pretty critical until I went there yesterday. There were fruit flies buzzing around (not like.. one or two.. which can be forgivable.. like 8... Its hard to be hungry around fruit flies.. I told the server and he just laughed...wtf!).

We ordered the noodle dish of the day, squid, shao bing, and chinese water spinach with a side of rice. The rice was rock hard, the spinach was bitter (old)... The chef clearly tried to cook it longer to make the hard older parts more edible.... but in doing so over cooked the young sweet parts to mush... It was terrible.

I really really enjoyed the Shaobing, but I think everything was foodwise was a fail, and I would find it hard to want to go back.

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