About a year ago, Taiwanese milk bun sensation Bao went from street food stall to brick-and-mortar and opened their first restaurant on Lexington Street.
And people have been queuing ever since.
That is, in fact, the main reason why, despite my overriding curiosity to find out the reasons behind the 32-seater’s success, we didn’t make it to Bao earlier.
Because it takes a lot to convince the Mr. to queue up. Especially when said queue goes all the way around the building within 30 minutes of the restaurant opening its doors.
The only way to get him to do so, really, was to say that Bao was were I wanted to go for dinner on my birthday.
Which is exactly what I did.
Now, if you want to get your hands on some fluffy buns, there’s only one piece of advice I can give you.
We arrived before 6:30 PM on a weekday and still had to wait for about 35 minutes before we got seated. By the time we did, the queue was at least twice as long as when I arrived.
The restaurant itself is very no-frills, small but perfectly formed, with loads of warm wood and clean aesthetics, very similar to the style most Japanese spots go for nowdays.
By no way impressive, but the perfect surroundings to let the food shine.
If you’re going to queue, you better made the best of the opportunity, tick all the boxes and incidentally order the whole menu…
Which is pretty much what we did (picture above was only the first round! ?)
Starting with refreshing homemade soft drinks, including some pretty fantastic and zingy Salted Lime Soda…
And pretty-as-a-picture, sweet and tart Peach Soda, followed by a smogasbord of Xiao Chi (small eats).
Taiwanese Fried Chicken & Hot Sauce.
A favourite amongst Bao’s many fans, and with good reasons: piping hot fried chicken, deliciously crispy and not one inch greasy, drizzled with the best hot sauce I’ve had in a long long time.
Fiery, sweet and sour all at once, I’ll be the first in line if it ever becomes available for retail.
Perfectly cooked plump Scallops in Yellow Bean and Garlic.
Fresh and saline shellfish in a very dark and umami dressing, the unusual balance of flavours works wonders and the dish is an absolute triumph.
Sweet Potato Chips with Plum Pickle Ketchup is much less challenging a dish, but equally satisfying.
Bao’s chefs avoided all the usual traps (soft or overly sweet chips) and delivered crisp and moreish sweet potato fries, prooving once and for all that they leave nothing to chance.
The Pig Blood Cake, besides being an Instagram sensation, is a deeply umami, rectangle of black pudding, seared until crispy on the edges and topped with a rich, soy-aged egg yolk.
This one’s probably much of an acquired taste, and black pudding haters gonna hate, but I’m definitely on the black stuff lovers side, and if you are too, there’s no doubt you’ll love it as much as I did!
And of course, a visit to Bao wouldn’t be quite right without ordering a few of the restaurant’s namesake steamed milk buns.
The Classic Bao (slow braised pork, fermented greens and sweet peanut powder).
Towering Fried Chicken Bao with hot sauce and pickle.
Confit Pork Bao.
All to be eaten while doing your best impression of Bao’s infamous ‘hunched-over man eating a bao’ logo (which the Mr. clearly mastered!)
Now, I know the buns are Bao’s speciality but in my mind, they didn’t shine as bright as the small eats.
…at least, not the way they were delivered to the table, pushing us to bring out our inner Masterchefs.
Undescriptive House Pickles (I was told they were daikon, cucumber and tomato) failed to impress at first, but came in handy for our improvised ‘Fix that dish’ session…
Daikon pickle took the confit pork bao to new hights (and the chicken one was indeed much balance (and manageable) with far less chicken in it)!
Even if they were nowhere near as bao-tiful as the last two dishes to hit the (honey-coloured) table…
Guinea Fowl Chi Shiang Rice
With roasted poultry pieces, crunchy shallots, and a sun-like egg yolk on a bed of the best sticky rice, it’s a comfort food masterpiece and one you absolutely must try for yourself.
Last but not least, 40 Day Rump Cap with Aged White Soy Sauce.
A rather unassuming, two-ingredients sort of dish that could very easily be overlooked.
Don’t do that mistake.
You’d miss out on some of the finest steak you’ll ever have.
Tender yet packed with flavour, meaty, yet complex, I’ll have that over Hawksmoor’s any day (and that’s really saying something!).
A real showstopper of a dish in all its simplicity, and definitely one worth braving the queues for!
So good in fact that I almost wanted to get another portion to take away, but that wouldn’t have been very reasona-bao-le!
But then again, considering what it takes to get a table in this no-reservation world, once you get it, you better make the most of it.
Go early, bring your favourite person (nothing like good conversation (and maybe a sneaky bottle of something nice!) to mae queuing much more bearable!) and order every dish you (even sort of) want to try…
… forget reasonable, it’s really not what Bao’s a-bao-t!
Bao Soho, 53 Lexington St, Soho, London W1F 9AS
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