Bao – Wow
Picture the scene: it’s pouring with rain and not even midday yet from a distance I can spot a queue at least ten people long outside a restaurant. This is in Soho, where, within half a square mile, there are probably at least 100 other dining options. Wow, I thought, joining said queue, Bao better be good. Either that or all these fellow waiters-in-line must be as stupid as me. Fortunately, it was. Even, maybe, excellent. And my simple recommendation would be to brave the queue and savour every moment of this culinary sensation. From humble roots as a stall in Hackney, Bao has now established formal premises, helped by the family that has backed other notable London successes such as Trishna and Gymkhana. Far from any nod to India, Bao is Taiwanese. Most people would probably struggle to find Taiwan on a map, let alone tell you in what sort of food it specialises. Its closest culinary brethren are probably Korea followed by China. Here, the format is simple. Diners are given what looks like a betting slip and asked to tick which options they would like (yes – the concept works) from a menu of around 15 dishes. These comprise small sharing dishes and also steamed buns full of enticing-sounding fillings. The even better news is that nothing is priced above £8. My comrade and I were wowed with every offering brought to the table. The scallop, served in its shell, was light, but packed a punch; the pigs’ blood cake a beautiful take on British haggis/ black pudding, enhanced with spices and topped with a sunshine-yellow egg yolk; the fried chicken was light and non-greasy, evidence of both sourcing of high-quality poultry and good kitchen preparation. The accompanying chilli spice was among the best I have sampled. Onto the buns, and we were equally full of plaudits, in each a harmonious marriage of flavours. The coriander spice with my lamb filling worked a treat, for example. By the end, we were well satisfied and it felt as if we had eaten relatively healthily, even if the carb-overload may have belied this. My one quibble would be that the atmosphere and service felt somewhat clinical, but when the food is this good and there are hungry bellies that need satisfying, this can be easily overlooked.