I once did an internship in Soho. Lunchtimes were a dizzying excitement of food options – popular market stalls and cafes, fragrant pop-ups and busy boutique delis, all vying for my lunch order. If Bao had been around then it would have been a big contender on my lunch list.
Bao began life as a humble street food vendor, serving up simple but irresistible steamed buns filled with indulgent pork belly, sticky sweet sauce and onions. I tasted their fare at Netil market and then enjoyed their short stay in the Harvey Nichols Food Hall. Now they are proud owners of a neat little eatery on Lexington Street, and the vast queue outside proves their success. The Bao team have been helped by the business minds behind Gymkhana and Trishna, but after trying their offerings at the new permanent home, I can assure you it is the food and stylish venue that is bringing in the customers.
The venue is heavily influenced by slick Japanese design, with simple wooden tables and chairs and shelves displaying the range of exotic beers on offer. Diners tend to come and go within an hour, with such fast and flavoursome food, it’s not a lingering all-evening affair. This means the queue moves at an encouraging speed.
The cute custom cartoons suggest it is all about the filled fluffy white steamed Bao buns, but the concise order slip also illustrates a range of hot and cold small Taiwanese dishes (known as Xiao chi). Special delicacies include Eryngii Mushroom with Century Egg and Pig Blood Cake.
You will be invited to annotate the order slip, numbering how many of each dish you would like. I would recommend at least three plates per person, and a can of Taiwan Gold Medal beer each. Try all the Bao variations if you can… there is even a fried Horlicks ice-cream option for dessert! My favourites were the Confit Pork which is stuffed into the bun with pork sauce, hot sauce and sprinkled with dried shallots. The fried chicken with Sichuan mayo, golden kimchi and sesame BAO bun is also divine with the magical soy milk marinated chicken. Vegetarian delights include Aubergine and wonton crisp, a mushy intensely spiced aubergine with light crispy crackers. Trotter Nuggets must not be missed, tender rich slow-cooked pork with a crunchy breadcrumbed edge and a khaki burned chilli sauce dip on the side.
Both times I have visited there have been dishes that have already sold out. Foam tea (a chilled light oolong tea topped with foam cream) is a favourite but never seems to be available, and the century egg seems to go fast too. Soon they will be offering a takeaway service but until then, I hope they can keep up with the demand. I will definitely be returning soon for my bao bun fix.
More information about Bao here: www.baolondon.com