This first south London branch of Baozi Inn (following Soho and Market Halls Victoria) is the expanding mini chain’s biggest yet, with 120 covers spread over a three-floor restaurant and bar not too far from London Bridge station. As at the other branches, the menu crisscrosses China to alluring effect, blending crowd-pleasing Cantonese dishes with the more challenging flavours of Hunan and Sichuan provinces.
House speciality dumplings come as signature ‘big soup dumplings’, colour-coded with natural vegetable dye according to filling – green for pork, purple for beef, white for mushroom – and submerged in a saucer of stock; satisfyingly messy, though our all-time favourites here will always be the delicately pleated Chengdu dumplings bobbing in a vivid puddle of hot and sour chilli oil and bracingly scattered with raw spring onion.
Classics such as salt and pepper squid and prawn are crisp and springy while tangles of egg noodles (flown in weekly from Hong Kong) come topped with juicy wontons. Best of all are the bowls of roast meat simply presented atop steamed rice with pak choy; try the succulent char siu or the rich and rounded cherry-wood smoked duck. Our only dud dish was a plate of lamb chops coated with an aggressive blast of cumin which seemed out of kilter with the subtly complex spicing on display elsewhere.
The location, rather marooned on Southwark Street away from the main Borough Market action, struck us as better as a local lunch option; a follow-up evening visit when the place was almost empty felt a little bleak, though Baozi Inn is very conveniently located if you’re seeing a show at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Prices, however, are steep for the casual surroundings – the sweet and sour pork, though excellent, is only a couple of quid less than what you’d pay at Michelin-starred Hakkasan. Still, the canteeny setting is fine for a quick lunch of a roast meat rice bowl; head to the loungey first floor if you’re after something that feels (slightly) more refined.