Bao Er Cafe: Wok-kissed Hokkien mee & tasty kaya toast at viral hole-in-wall eatery

I don’t usually have business in Balestier, the land of lighting and hardware shops as many might know it. However, there I was on a Tuesday afternoon for one purpose: Bao Er Cafe. If you’re all caught up in the food-o-sphere, you’ve probably heard plenty about this local eatery. And yes, it was finally my turn to check them out.

Bao Er Cafe - Storefront

Bao Er Cafe started out as quite the epitome of a hidden gem. Tucked away on the second floor of dingy ol’ Balestier Plaza, this no-frills eatery is minimally furnished and drably lit, exuding an unpretentious atmosphere all around.

However, ambience isn’t often an eatery’s main attraction; many would much rather let the food do the talking. What a great job Bao Er Cafe did at that — their delicious offerings proceeded to rack up much online buzz and media coverage that turned the eatery into somewhat of a local sensation. Long queues are essentially a daily affair there now.

In particular, many have raved about their kaya toast and Hokkien mee, vouching for their quality as some of the best in Singapore. As expected, much discourse has been sparked among locals; Bao Er Cafe’s take on these favourites has met with its fair share of cynicism as much as it has acclaim.

Needless to say, the only question on my mind was: is it worth the hype or not? There was only one way to find out!

What I tried at Bao Er Cafe

Bao Er Cafe - Kaya Toast Set

I had my sights set on the Kaya Butter Toast Set (S$5) ever since I came across images of it online. No joke, all I could think about prior to my visit was the moment I’d finally get to sink my teeth into those glorious-looking squares of famed toast.

Each piece of golden brown toast consisted of two halved slices of twice-toasted bread slathered in plenty of thick housemade kaya that spilled out over its edges. Sandwiched within each was a thick slab of cold butter. Oh, these really were gorgeous in the flesh.

Bao Er Cafe - Kaya Toast

First bite—or rather, crunch—in and I was sold. Toasted to a tee, the bread was perfectly light and crispy, flaking apart in my mouth like a delicate French pastry would. It was complemented well by the pleasantly sweet and aromatic coconut kaya, which had a velvety consistency that I’d liken to a lovely cross between custard and cake frosting. 

And then there was the creamy slab of cold butter, adding a luxurious smoothness and layer of richness that wonderfully tied it all together. This. This is how all kaya toast should be.

Accompanying the toast as part of the Set was a drink and 2 soft-boiled eggs that you can enjoy with as much soy sauce and pepper as you wish. You can also get the Kaya Butter Toast on its own for just S$2 — a steal in this economy and definitely what I’d go for in multiples on my next visit.

Bao Er Cafe - Deluxe Hokkien Mee

Next up on the chopping block was the Signature Deluxe Hokkien Mee (S$9), the “premium” version of the Chef-recommended Signature Hokkien Mee (S$7) — the other of Bao Er Cafe’s most raved items.

Though the eatery is a relatively new fixture in our local food scene, their Signature Hokkien Mee carries a seasoned touch. For a little context, Bao Er Cafe is helmed by the owners of Prawnography, a well-established Hokkien mee joint that debuted in 2022.

Bao Er Cafe - Deluxe Hokkien Mee (Seafood)

If you’re wondering where the Deluxe element comes into play, just take a look at those ingredients. Embedded in the noodles were squid, several prawns and plump scallops — the latter of which I’d never encountered in Hokkien mee before.

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Bao Er Cafe - Deluxe Hokkien Mee

And now, the moment of truth — will this live up to the hype like the Kaya Butter Toast did? Long story short: it absolutely did. As someone who appreciates a good balance of moisture in my Hokkien mee, this was right up my alley. 

The dish was incredibly robust, possessing a distinct seafood sweetness that melded with the smoky notes of its pronounced wok hei. Each spoonful, loaded with al dente noodles enveloped in rich umami gravy that was sticky in the best way, exploded with flavour in my mouth.

Let’s not forget the ingredients, too — the crunchy fresh prawns, succulent scallops, chewy squid and meaty slivers of pork belly all had a hand in elevating each mouthful.

Bao Er Cafe - Deluxe Hokkien Mee Chilli

If you crave a spicy kick, don’t hesitate to mix some of their vibrant house-made chilli into your noodles. Infused with zesty hints of lime, the blend not only adds a mild burst of heat but also imparts a refreshing touch of acidity that effectively balances out the flavours of the dish should it get cloying for you (although I highly doubt it would).

Bao Er Cafe - Sambal Kampung Fried Rice

My final dish, the Sambal Kampung Fried Rice (S$6.50), is one that few online reviews speak of in comparison to the Kaya Butter Toast and Hokkien Mee. I ordered it out of pure curiosity — could Bao Er Cafe’s acclaim extend beyond the buzz about its 2 most popular dishes? Besides, it seemed like a choice worth exploring as I’m a huge fan of sambal kampung fried rice myself.

If I were being completely honest, the plate that I was presented with looked rather underwhelming. The fried rice barely covered the whole plate — certainly not the best value-for-money with the S$6.50 price tag in mind.

The dish wasn’t the most vibrant either, just golden brown fried rice dotted with bits of egg, ikan bilis and purple shallots. Sporting minimal red flecks of sambal, it didn’t look nor taste as spicy as I’d have liked.

Bao Er Cafe - Sambal Kampung Fried Rice

Moreover, the briny saltiness of the ikan bilis scattered throughout lent the fried rice a predominantly salty flavour profile that overshadowed any sambal present. The occasional sliver of shallot cut through the saltiness with a welcome but fleeting touch of umami.

There was a discernible wok hei that didn’t taste overly burnt, though. The dish wasn’t too oily either.

However, there was still much to be desired from this plate of fried rice, both in terms of taste and texture. For one, I’d have preferred if the ikan bilis was fried a little crispier for a nice textural contrast. Above all, the dish could definitely have done with more sambal for more kick, acidity and flavour balance.

Sadly, the Sambal Kampung Fried Rice failed to wow me like its counterparts did.

Final Thoughts

Bao Er Cafe - Dishes

Detractors aside, the reviews really don’t lie. Bao Er Cafe’s most-raved-about dishes truly lived up to every bit of praise they’ve received, at least based on my personal experience. 

Both the tasty Kaya Butter Toast and wok-kissed Signature Hokkien Mee are must-tries and can easily contend for some of the best in Singapore. I can’t say the same for the Sambal Kampung Fried Rice, but a few tweaks in the recipe could definitely lift the dish.

Would I return to Balestier just for Bao Er Cafe? Absolutely. Who could say no to tasty local fare that’s priced so affordably?

Expected damage: S$2 – S$9 per pax

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Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

Bao Er Cafe

400 Balestier Rd, Balestier Plaza, #02-01, Singapore 329802

Price
Our Rating 4.5/5

Bao Er Cafe

400 Balestier Rd, Balestier Plaza, #02-01, Singapore 329802

Telephone: +65 8686 9777
Operating Hours: 8am - 8pm (Daily)
Telephone: +65 8686 9777

Operating Hours: 8am - 8pm (Daily)

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