Bao London is a Soho highlight, launched in April 2015 from humble beginnings, a 6 seat hut in fact at Netil Market of Hackney by the fabulous trio Wai-Ting Chung, brother Shing Tat Chung and his girlfriend Er Chen Chang. The siblings grew up in Nottingham whilst Er who is still in her mid 20’s arrived at the tender age of 14 from Taiwan to study design. Inspired by their travels around Taiwan and growing up in Cantonese restaurant they became renowned in the street food scene for delivering delectable gua bao. For those who aren’t in the know, they are steamed buns filled melt-in-your-mouth ingredients which are simply addictive. Before their 30 seater Soho eatery they made a big splash at one-off events such as Street Feast as well as KERB, but now they gain further recognition with their permanent residency which is backed by the Sethi family for an undisclosed figure. It turns out Karam Sethi of Trishna, Gymkhana and most recently Hoppers in Soho is a big fan of the young trio’s cooking, visiting countless times before investing. Karam is no small fry either with 3 other restaurants in his portfolio including Kitchen Table/Bubbledogs and Lyles of Shoreditch.
We arrive at 11.30am during one Saturday morning in October, and the queues are already over-crowding the pavement opposite the restaurant for the 12pm lunch rush. We were seated shortly after 12pm though as we managed to join the tail end of the first 30 diners.
The inside is a simple affair and the service is brisk, with the dizzying buzz of wait staff collecting plates from the cubby hole of the kitchen. We faced the side wall and you will feel the presence of the waiters – I got bumped on 2 occasions.
The menu is simple and friendly as is the ordering system of entering the amount you would like of each item on the provided form and pencil.
We kicked off with the Soy Milk Marinated Chicken, sichuan mayo, golden kimchi with sesame bao. (£5). It is 3 mouthfuls of celestial chicken porn. Every mouthful addictive, as you bite into that spiced crunchy exterior of the chicken and sweet sesame bun. The sichuan mayo and kimchi gave it that extra lift and moisture to the tender chicken.
Washed down with cold brew baozhong tea was a divine thing, a bit steep at £3 a glass though.
House pickles (£1.5) provided a nice little interlude before the next dish..
Cavolo nero with salted egg (£2.5) was pleasant and a guilt free thing seasoned with vinegar.
Trotter nuggets (£4) were genius, delicious crunchy things with a deeply unctuous filling.
Aged beef rump cap, aged white soy sauce (£6). So tender you could spread it on your toast and tasted as good as it looked. Melt in your mouth stuff.
Pig blood cake (£3.5). It came with a rich soy, mirin marinated hen’s egg yolk. Rich, complex flavour with a textual element provided by the rice and made unctuous by the yolk.
Sweet potato chips, plum pickle ketchup (£3). Totally naughty but nice with this batter coated root vegetable. The ketchup had a sriracha taste to it which isn’t a bad thing at all.
Confit pork belly, pork sauce, hot sauce, dried shallots (£4.5). A perfectly cooked slab of moist pork belly that melts in your mouth, glazed in sweet sticky sauce and smokey sweet shallots. Only a fool would dislike it.
Guinea fowl chi shiang rice (£4.25). It’s that mirin-soy marinated yolk again working wonders with the soy dressed sticky rice, house pickles and slithers of gamey fowl. An excellent little dish.
Lamb Bao (£5). Lamb shoulder, coriander sauce, garlic mayo, soy pickled chilli. Sadly I didn’t try this one but my fellow diner was very content with it, there’s always a next time as they say.
Fried horlicks ice cream bao (£4). Deep fried bao with a buttery smooth malty ice cream. I’ve always been a fan of hot on cold deserts and this one doesn’t disappoint. Our waiter suggested that we go at with vigour, using our hands before the ice cream melts. Possibly not his finest moment suggesting this, unless head-freeze is your thing. I would advise using a spoon for this one!
The damage: Expect to pay £30-£40 per heard with drinks.
The good: A fairy tail story for an ambitious self-taught trio who serve up some unbelievable comfort food from Taiwan. They firmly establish themselves in an already fiercely competitive Soho restaurant circuit as a ‘ciao chi’ (small eats) no nonsense dining experience. The soy milk marinated chicken bao are a must as are the trotter nuggets.
The bad: Don’t expect 5 star comfort as the wooden stools are a pain in the arse – conducive of anti-lingering. Take your time with the horlicks ice cream bao otherwise brain freeze will render you speechless.