Lai Bao serves up comfort food that gets the job done
Baoshi F&B Management, which is behind the likes of Founder Bak Kut Teh, Wee Nam Kee and Monga Fried Chicken, has launched Lai Bao, a brand it built from the ground up.
While it usually operates in malls, Lai Bao is housed in a coffee shop between Toa Payoh and Braddell MRT stations.
This heartland location works for the homely comfort food it offers. It also means the prices are wallet-friendly.
Lai Bao offers zi char dishes with recipes that hark back to the past. But they have some modern touches.
You can place your orders online via a Quick Response code on the table, and pay for it online with your MasterCard or Visa.
Make sure you try the signature item - Sixties Fish Head Charcoal Steamboat (from $15 for grouper). It is a dish worthy of the status.
It is a winner because of the robust, flavourful soup.
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The recipe calls for 10 hours over a charcoal fire, with the special touch of hand-minced pork patties.
When I tried it, I did not get that icky cotton-tongue MSG-overdose feeling afterwards.
I am also a fan of the Ginger Spring Chicken ($6 for half).
Steamed chicken is already good, but this is steamed with ginger, which adds an aromatic kick to the meat.
Then, more ginger - laced with garlic - is piled on top of it. That subtle spiciness is enticing. Have this with rice and you are set.
I am normally not a fan of sweet and sour pork, but the version here (from $8) is good.
I like that it is neither that sweet nor that sour, but more of a hint of tart, thanks to the vinegar.
I do not understand why it needs charcoal powder though. Those blackened cubes do not make for a palatable presentation.
On the other hand, I love hor fun, and the Seafood Lala Ying Yang Hor Fun ($7) is instantly visually appealing, and tastes just as good too.
Some of the noodles are deep fried and added as croutons, giving the dish texture.
Hor fun works because of wok hei (or the smokiness from wok frying), and this has plenty of that.
The Lai Bao 13 Spices Black Pepper Crab (one crab for $30, two for $50) is one offering that I thought would be an easy score, but alas, it is not.
With 13 spices in the mix, you would imagine that there would at least be some personality. Wouldn't just one of those spices bring on the heat and move this dish out of tepidity?
Still, $50 for two crabs is a great deal, so if you are really hankering for crab and are looking for something wallet-friendly, this could work.
The food here is simple and straightforward, and more often than not, competent. I am not holding my breath in anticipation of a Michelin star for Lai Bao, but it does deserve a round of applause for effort.
Block 168, Lorong 1 Toa Payoh, #01-1040
Opens noon to 10pm