Bao London is a Soho highlight, launched in April 2015 from the humble beginnings of a six seat hut in Netil Market of Hackney. Brothers Wai-Ting Chung and Shing Tat Chung along with his girlfriend Er Chen Chang are the fabulous trio responsible for the hustle. The siblings grew up in Nottingham, whilst Er who, 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. 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 their Netil Market hut 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 were already pavement spilling opposite the restaurant for the 12pm lunch rush. We were seated shortly after opening as we managed to join the tail end of the first 30 diners.
The inside is a simple affair, like if we’re eating at an Ikea showroom, 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 our waitresses – I got bumped in the back every time she walked past, which is quite unnerving when you’re trying to wolf down some bao!
The menu is simple, just enter the amount you would like of each item on the provided form. Very Ikea indeed.
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. As you bite into the spiced crispy battered chicken and sweet sesame bun, every mouthful makes you go back for more. The sichuan mayo and sour funk of kimchi gave the extra punch in flavour to the tender chicken.
Everything was washed down with a cold brew palate cleaning, yet refreshing baozhong tea. 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 savoury and 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), came with a rich soy and mirin marinated hen’s yolk. What you get is rich and complex flavours with the rice within giving good body to each bite.
Sweet potato chips, plum pickle ketchup (£3). The experience is 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. It’s type of fried snack that would nourish and make you very happy at 2am, let alone 12pm!
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). The mirin-soy marinated yolk features again and working wonders with the soy dressed sticky rice, house pickles & 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 on using a spoon for this one!
When did I go? Oct 2015
The damage: Expect to pay £30/40 per head.
The good: It’s a fairy tale 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 which are conducive of anti-lingering. Maybe this is their strategy to get people out quick for the next patrons in line? Take your time with the horlicks ice cream bao otherwise brain freeze will render you speechless.
Would I go again? Not happened yet
Address: 53 Lexington St, Soho, London W1F 9AS