Bao – Buns of Steel
The best street food in London finally sets up and vividly dominates as one of the most exciting Taiwanese restaurant London has seen in a while.
Going to Bao is like going to watch a boxing champion at the height of their powers: every movement is impeccable, a win is assured, the quality of meat is second to none, and everything is in the company of a mass of electric enthusiasts. In terms of space, this tiny restaurant is not too far away from its origins as a London street food vendor, but the cleanness of design and calibre of the food is so high that it ends up adding to its charm. The popularity is immediately apparent from the winding queues outside that resemble a restless line of well-dressed ants. If critic reviews compromise one half of the truth of a restaurant, the rest can be found in the length of a queue outside an establishment. When it comes to Bao and its according Bao review, both of these gauges are at maximum capacity. Since it’s opening last year, Boa has become the immediate darling of critics and casual diners alike. So much so, that they’re already scheduled for the opening of another venue in Fitzrovia this June.
The format of Bao is based around small, satisfying dishes that seat the fluffy Taiwanese bun at the throne of the menu (neat little ‘Bao buns’). Remarkably reasonably priced, all dishes tend to hover around the £6 mark so that you can afford to take risks with some of the more alien dishes to the Western diner (the pork blood cake with an egg yolk on top is as delightfully rich as Richard Branson, whilst the trotter nuggets are succulent and crisp; both are rewarding experiences for the diner not afraid to push the gravy boat out). It makes sense with the fast turnover that everything revolves around efficiency, as seen in the simple method of ordering by ticking your menu sheet. The benefit of this is that your food comes fast and hard along with the inevitable realisation that you’ve over-ordered. This is no bad thing, as everything on the Bao menu demands a good tasting. The smaller dishes such as the seared scallops in yellow bean garlic sauce (a delicious and vibrant melt-in-your-mouth texture), the 40 day rump cap (decadently laissez-faire fatty slithers of pink beef pelted onto your plate), and the spicy fried chicken with hot sauce will have your stomach finding space you didn’t know it had. Of course, the bao are the main state of affairs, and there’s no going wrong with any of them. The light, puffy base for all the buns are filled to bursting point with lamb, pork, chicken, and daikon whose juices are absorbed into your hand-held ticket to heaven with lashings of sauce.
Those with a sweet tooth will be thrilled to find that they have invented a dessert bao filled with fried Horlicks ice cream: a very adult version of childhood bed-time soothings. In terms of drinks, the ideal accompaniment to the spicy dishes comes in the form of creamy peanut milk that greets the tongue like a cool symphony of saccharine complex flavours. Other sumptuous bedfellows take the form of their compact selection of beers and ciders: the concept of the drinks menu cleverly focusing on calm counteractions to the flavourful heat of the food.
Bao is located at 53 Lexington Street, London, W1F 9AS (ask for ‘Bao Windmill Street’ if in doubt as it’s the nearest most easily recognised street).
Bao opening hours: Monday-Saturday 12pm-3pm, and again at 5.30pm-10pm.
Bao does not accept reservations, but does provide an excellent Dim Sum delivery service if you’re not able to get a table or are consumed by bun cravings.