Style & substance at this Taiwanese snack spot
Family run, Bao London originally had a street stall set up in Netil Market, Hackney, (which they still run today). With the backing of a well known restaurant family, the Sethis (who own Michelin Starred Gymkhana), the founders were able to set up permanent shop on Lexington Street in April of last year.
The space is super compact and has a minimalist look and feel – simple wood panelled walls, tables and low stools are the main takeout. Bao London on Lexington street is a lesson in how to make every nook and cranny in a space have a purpose, without feeling cluttered.
However, I was super self-conscious when I went to the toilet in the back of the space as I felt everyone in the dining room could hear me taking a whizz! That’s how small it is.
FOOD & SERVICE
Due to the tiny space, a wait is unavoidable unless you come a little while before it opens or perhaps late at night before they close. I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping on the 23rd Dec in Central, in the afternoon, so thought I’d grab some food. I decided to check out Bao, having heard so many good things about this spot.
I casually strolled in and was wondering why all the diners were staring at me, then I asked if I could sit down in what looked like a vacant spot; it all became clear when one of the waitresses pointed out of the window to the queue across the road. Aaaaah. So, I slinked off to the back of the queue and waited about 20mins in line before I got seated.
Whilst waiting, a man in a white lab style coat with the Bao logo printed on it, gave me a food list and pencil to tick off what items I wanted from menu. So, by the time I got seated, I just handed over my order.
Apparently, Bao London is modelled on Xiaochi ‘small eats’ restaurants that can be found in Taiwan. In fact, the menu / tick list is split up into three sections: section 1) Xiao Chi (small plates of food, all non bao buns) 2) Bao Buns 3) Sides
I ordered the Guinea Fowl Chi Shiang Rice and Scallops with Yellow Bean and Garlic from the 1st section and the Fried Chicken Bao from the 2nd section; they have a sweet bao made of Horlicks ice cream which I would have tried had I been a fan of Horlicks. I skipped on the 3rd section.
First to arrive was the Fried Chicken Bao. I had never had a steamed bun before so had zero expectations. All I knew after taking one bite of this bao was that I needed to order another one – immediately. It was seriously good and just so moreish. The Bao London lot describe their bun as “A Pillowy Soft Cloudy Steamed Bun…made using Milk”. Most of the buns have a white semi flat form except the Fried Chicken Bao, which has a dark hue and a puffier more compact look to it, resembling a slider burger (albeit a grey dotted tone). My chicken bao bun was soft and stuck a little to my teeth but I didn’t mind that at all.
If Salma Hayek took on a food form, she’d definitely be this chicken bao bun – small but seriously sexy. What it lacks in size it makes up in flavour. The chicken was pink on the inside and moist, with a perfectly crisp batter (a good crunch but not one that threatens to crack your teeth). A little bit of spinach and ginger sit on top of and the bottom of the pieces of battered chicken with a small smattering of homemade chilli sauce. This sauce is top secret apparently and only the owners know what goes into it; rightfully so, as it definitely gives the chicken bao bun an edge. Sweet and chilli tones whirr together and add a a wonderful zing to the bao bun; though I think they could definitely up the heat on the chilli side and spread on a little bit more as the portion was quite meagre.
Next up was a single scallop presented in a sea shell, seasoned with a yellow bean and garlic sauce. This was nice enough but nothing spectacular.
Then swiftly after this, I received a small bowl of the Guinea Fowl Rice which was topped with a semi cured egg yolk. The rice came with pickled cucumber, dried shallots, a little gravy, spring onion and a ginger dressing. You have to throughly stir in all the ingredients to get the most out of this dish. A nice mix of sweet and sour flavours here.
I didn’t realise until afterwards it had pork gravy in (I don’t eat pork, well until then I didn’t!) but it was a tasty, filling, little dish and I really enjoyed it. On a side note, Taiwanese steamed buns are traditionally filled with pork, so there are two pork buns on offer here and other porky bits on the wider menu (including Pig Blood Cake and Trotter Nuggets).
I finished off with my second serving of the fried chicken bao and to be honest I was getting full at this point. So, don’t go overboard with ordering too many things upfront, I’d say start with ordering three dishes and see whether you want to add more to your order after the second dish.
Overall my experience at Bao was positive. Everything is beautifully presented and equally delicious. I’d recommend going in a pair rather than a group. Brace the wait because it is worth it (coming from someone who HATES queues).
Pretty hip. Mainly Londoners but also in the know tourists.
Whilst I thought the chicken bao bun was a little on the steep side (£5 a pop), when the bill was totalled: my x2 bao buns, x1 scallop and x1 rice dish came, came in at £20 without any drinks.
Granted I didn’t eat that much so, you’d be looking more at the £30 mark for a meal here but that’s still very reasonable for dining in London.
This much hyped Taiwanese small plates joint in Soho delivers has got some banging buns and a cool teeny tiny space to match. You have to order the fried chicken steamed bun.
Cuisine: Taiwanese Snacks
Avg Cost Inc. An Alcoholic Bevvy: £26-35 [££]
Address: 53 Lexington St Soho, W1F 9AS
Tube: Leicester Sq /Piccadilly/Oxford Circus
Reservations: Hell no
Hours: Mon-Sat 12-3, 5.30-10
Phone: Can you guess? I’ll help you…NO
LAST VISITED DEC 2015