May 8 2015

BAO

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BAO is probably one of the most popular restaurants in London at the moment. It is a Taiwanese restaurant serving a range of Taiwanese dishes but focusing on bao, a “pillowy soft cloudy steamed bun” which at BAO is made using milk. The restaurant is located in Soho and for dinner opens at 5.30. We arrived at 6pm to face a queue and could get into the restaurant at around 6.30. The lady at the door was lovely and explained that each table takes around 45min to 1h and the restaurant is very small, but the queue does move. When we left the restaurant at around 7.45 (more than 1h for us), there was still a huge queue and BAO has had the luck of being loved by food bloggers, since it opened, which has contributed to this craze for BAO and the constant queue at any time of the day.

BAO started as a street food stall and around a month ago transitioned into a restaurant. The three founders (sister and brother who grew up in Nottingham with Chinese parents, and his girlfriend who arrived here with her family from Taiwan aged 14) of Bao teamed up with the team behind Trishna and Gymkhana to help them set up their restaurant. The three founders have spent a summer travelling around Taiwan, giving them inspiration for their dishes. The dishes are interesting, especially as Taiwanese food is not very well known in London with only a few restaurants.

At BAO you could either sit by the bar (not really a bar, but a place where waiters were pouring some drinks, mainly peanut butter milk), or on separate tables and the smaller parties, like us, got placed by the “bar”. The ordering was straight forward, you were given a piece of paper with all the dishes on there and you could tick the ones you wanted to eat and then place the piece of paper on the bar and the waiters would register your order and your dishes would be brought to you, when ready, in no particular order. The menu consisted of Xio Chi (or Taiwanese small eats), bao (6 different types of buns) and 3 sides. The small eats cost £3.5 to 6, bao buns were £4 on average and sides were £3 on average. Needless to say this restaurant is cheap for what it offers, which is probably helping the massive queues. We literally ordered everything there was on the menu – 8 out of 9 small eats, 4 out of 6 buns and 2 out of 4 sides, were completely full (ordered food not because we were hungry but because we wanted to know what it is), had drinks, and then managed to barely pay £70. This is a great value for money restaurants in Soho.

One of the first small eats we ordered was the “scallop, yellow bean garlic”, which cost £3.5 and because it was just 1 scallop they encouraged us to order another one, as it was hard to share it. The scallop was meaty and big and it was pretty served in the shell, and the black bean sauce definitely made it nicer. The waiters encouraged you to slurp the scallop out of the shell and drink the sauce.

The next small eat was “beef soup, braised daikon”, which had a very pleasant strong beef/Asian flavour, but compared to the other dishes was probably less impressive. We also ordered “Eryngii mushroom, century egg”. Century eggs are preserved duck, chicken or quail eggs, and they have a strong flavour and dark greyish-green colour. I was really divided about this dish, had I not known this was a century egg, I would have enjoyed, it but as I was thinking about it, it turned me off the dish a bit, even though the taste was good. My fiance had totally missed the fact this was a century egg (I did not tell him) and this was one of his favourite dishes. BAO did very skillfully insert it into small pieces among the beautiful thinly sliced big mushrooms.

The “40 day rump cap, aged white soy sauce” was the most expensive dish on the menu at £6. The meat was very soft and easy to eat (I later found out they get their meat from Warrens butchers in Cornwall, which apparently is great) and I liked the slight hint of white soy sauce imported from Taiwan. It did not taste like beef with black soy sauce at all. The taste was amazing, but as by now I had seen their elaborate and skillfully created dishes from many many ingredients, I sort of thought it was a bit strange to eat the beef just on its own with the white soy sauce, it was very good though.

The waiter also encouraged us to order their “Taiwanese fried chicken, hot sauce” which with the buns is one of their signature dishes. I have had loads of these fried chicken dishes over the years, in KFC, Korean restaurants, Wishbone and other places, and I always think the outside batter can overpower the chicken and be too thick for the inner chicken breast. Out of all these before mentioned fried chicken dishes, BAO did the best one, and the chicken inside the crunchy crust of light, crispy batter than had occasional hints of malt and ginger, was extremely moist and tender and the crispy batter was not too thick, it was a very good fried chicken dish, if you are into these.

After these small eats we later decided to order 3 more – “Aubergine, wonton crisp”, “Pig blood cake” and “Guinea fowl chi shiang rice”. I had seen many food blog pictures where a runny egg yolk was shown and so I asked the waiter which dishes featured this egg yolk and he told me it was “Pig blood cake” and “Guinea fowl chi shiang rice”, I ordered both (with the encouragement from my fiancé). The pig blood cake was very cute, it tasted like Scottish black pudding and the lightly cured runny egg yolk in a slightly dark colour was fantastic, it was amazing to get the yolk so round on top of the cake without breaking it. Once you got the cake though, you were encouraged to break the yolk and mash it all together. When I did not think about the fact this cake was made out of pig’s blood, I loved it, it had a crispy and quite a nice flavour to it, but the moment when I started thinking about the ingredients my stomach turned and I enjoyed it less.

The “Guinea fowl chi shiang rice” was a fantastic dish. I genuinely very much like rice and meat mashed up together, and the Hainanese chicken fried rice dish I had in Singapore still brings back warm feelings to me. The guinea fowl chi shiang also had a wonderful round runny egg yolk that you mashed into the rest of the dish. The meat was tender, the rice moorish, it was such a wonderful dish to demolish. I was less impressed with the “Aubergine, wonton crisp” dish. The aubergine dip and the wonton crisps were served separately, and I guess you were supposed to add some aubergine dip on top of the wonton crisp. The aubergine dip had a smoke-y flavour, but it didn’t quite work for me. The only small eats dish we did not order was the “trotter nuggets”.

Now the bao. We ordered three different savoury buns, the classic one, the lamb shoulder one and the confit pork one. My favourite one was the lamb one, even though it is not the most traditional meat to use for these buns. I also loved the zesty sauce that went with it, overall an excellent bun. The bun itself was also soft and I could sort of tell it was made out of milk. Both the classic bao and the confit pork bao had pork in it. The classic one had a dusting of crunchy nuts, which made it stand out from the other buns. Due to the use of pork though it was similar to the confit pork one. All these buns are very cute and pretty.

I ordered 2 sides – turnip tops and salted egg salad and a plate of Taiwanese pickles. The Taiwanese pickles were nice, my favourite one was the tomato. The turnip top leaves were very crunchy and the egg had a very strong taste and acted like a strong seasoning for the salad. It was quite interesting, I would not eat this every day, but I am glad I ordered it.

There is only 1 dessert in the menu, under the bao section, and it is a fried Horlick’s flavoured ice cream in a bun. The Horlicky flavour made the ice cream sweet and the bao also was different to the savoury buns, it was sweeter and also a bit smaller and soft without being oily. We pressed the 2 bun sides together and ate the ice cream like that so it would not fall out, but still it was messy, but quite interesting. However it was not a stand out dessert, and not as impressive as the main courses BAO had created.

I very much enjoyed BAO, as I don’t know much about Taiwanese food and was eating everything with great surprise and enthusiasm. Also as I said, it is not an expensive restaurant, worth a visit. My fiancé agrees with my 4M rating but thinks the bias is down (to 3.5M).

Price for 2 people with some alcohol: £70.31
Location: Soho
Date: 08/ 05/ 15

Bao on Urbanspoon

Maija rated: 

4.00

Location: 

BAO
53 Lexington Street W1F 9AS
London
United Kingdom
GB
BAO Reviewed by Hungry Bee Maija on . Rating: 4