‘Xiaolong’ literally means ‘small steaming basket’ while the dumpling itself originates from Eastern China. According to Angie, what you’re looking for in a good Xiao Long Bao is a light, delicate skin. When it’s undercooked all you taste is dough. The second most important element is the creaminess of the meat. What’s more, contrary to popular belief, in most good Xiao Long Bao you’re not slurping soup but pork juice and fat. It’s essentially all the good stuff you find in bacon. Just don’t tell your friends if they’re into pulses and vegetable shakes in the morning.
Din Tai Fung, Tsim Sha Tsui
Although the best branch is in TST, our first stop was Michelin starred Din Tai Fung in Causeway Bay. Angie met us with a smile and a determination in her eye that said she was ready for a feed. Even though Din Tai Fung is extremely popular, its Achilles heel is its consistency. Go when it’s busy and they’ll slightly undercook the dumpling (roughly 8 minutes instead of 10) whereas if you go in the low periods you’ll get an excellent Xiao Long Bao (HK$48). They hand roll them which is always a good sign and when we visited the skin was top draw. That said, in comparison to the original in Taipei where it all started (which is fantastic) it’s good but not great.
7/10 (Let down by its consistency)
Shop 130, 3/F, Silvercord, 30 Canton Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, www.dintaifung.com
Yau Yat Chuen Garden City Club, Kowloon
This is a private club so you’re not going to be able to just walk in but if you do, you’ll probably have the best Chinese food in Hong Kong. Seriously, it’s a level above the likes of The China Club and Shanghai Jade. Members primarily join the club for the food which is quite amusing when you think about it. Here’s a sports club whose popularity rides on eating rather than exercise. The food’s not that expensive (the membership is) and at HK$39, the Xiao Long Bao is phenomenal. If you ever get offered the chance to eat here, you should drop whatever you’re doing and skip breakfast too.
7 Cassia Road, Yau Yat Chuen, Kowloon, www.yycclub.org
King’s Lodge, TST
If you’re looking for a decent place that you can be in and out of in a hurry, King’s Lodge in TST is a good shout. Priced at HK$32/dish, you can see the bao steaming in the window and it always tastes fresh. The inside could be the interior of any number of restaurants in Hong Kong – complete with the one menu per table policy – but the food’s delicious. The skin’s good but it looks like it’s made from wheat based flour because it’s still a bit lumpy and the meat’s tasty too. It’s essentially a solid Xiao Long Bao without unleashing any fireworks.
G/F, A1, 67-71 Chatham Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, www.kings-lodge.com
Island Tang, Central
We love Island Tang (below) and it’s all in the presentation. Of course the Xiao Long Bao is very good – thin skinned with fluffy meat and a ‘soup’ that’s not particularly fatty – but it’s not just about the taste. The dumplings come in small, dim sum portions and they’re brought to you in a steaming basket with a vintage set of sauces that look like perfume bottles. It’s Moulin Rouge material so it’s a great place to go for a date or if you want a smart meal but have run out of mates who are member at The China Club. As far as high end goes (HK$88) it’s right up there.
Shop 222, The Galleria, No.9 Queens's Road Central, www.islandtang.com
Shanghai Lu Yang Cun Restaurant, Causeway Bay
We ordered the hairy crab roe variation but we could tell they hadn’t been freshly made because the skin was too thick: it looked more like a bun than a dumpling. According to Angie, when you see a particularly thick skin it’s likely to have been pre-rolled and kept in a fridge. The crab roe version is also cholesterol central so it’s best to avoid if you’re in the middle of the over indulgent festive season. The ‘soup’ was a nice yellow colour but at nearly HK$150 a portion - and considering the disaster that was the skin - we left disappointed.
11/F, World Trade Center, 280 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
Shanghai Jade, Central
This is actually where Angie got married which speaks of its quality. The dumpling is on the sweeter side (like the crab we had but far superior) and the service as well as the quality are consistently excellent. The Xiao Long Bao is divine and is served in individual bamboo steamers so you each get to enjoy a big one. A nightmare when you burst the ‘soup’ prematurely. All in all, it’s difficult to beat.
4/F, Block 1, The Forum, 8 Connaught Road Central, www.maxims.com.hk
Shanghai Hong Kong Noodle, Causeway Bay
We were supposed to go to the Shanghai Noodle Shop at 33 Jardine’s Bazaar but sadly it’s been swallowed by yet another Circle-K. Amusingly, however, we ended up two doors down at the Shanghai Hong Kong Noodle Shop, their age old rivals. Clearly, they weren’t going to distinguish themselves by name. It’s a run down affair and their Xiao Long Bao is very typical of what you’d get in Shanghai (HK$25). The skin is thick because the dough is once again made from wheat rather than flour and it’s the type of Xiao Long Bao you’d throw in a bag to eat with a toothpick. It’s traditional street food so depending on your mood it can be a good call.
6/10 (For its authenticity)
G/F, 29 Jardine’s Bazaar, Causeway Bay
Zhiwei Shanghai Restaurant, Causeway Bay
We decided to check out this restaurant because it’s very popular with visiting Chinese officials. An unassuming place, the Xiao Long Bao (HK$48) looked boiled as opposed to steamed and when we tasted them our concerns were realised. The skin was particularly challenging because it’s made from the same dough you’d use to make a wanton – but the meat was really good. It was sweet, fresh and well seasoned which helped bump up its score a bit. The atmosphere, however, was sadly lacking – and no Chinese officials in sight.
8/F, Jardine Centre, 50 Jardine Street, Causeway Bay, Facebook Page
Cyrstal Jade, Wan Chai
We couldn’t leave Crystal Jade off the list. It’s one of the destinations for Xiao Long Bao lovers in Hong Kong and for good reason. “I think Crystal Jade’s strategy of being around the airport is brilliant,” said Angie. "When I get off a very long flight the first thing I want is a bowl of noodle soup and Xiao Long Bao. It’s Chinese comfort food - it’s like mac ‘n’ cheese - so being at the IFC and the airport is very clever.” On top of that, the food quality is consistently high and it’s also cheap (HK$33): a combination in short supply in Hong Kong. The dough is light and the filling creamy - exactly what you’re looking for in a Xiao Long Bao - making it one of the best outlets in the city with our favourite branch in Wan Chai.
Shop 301, Tai Yau Plaza, 181 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, www.crystaljade.com