Dinner at Xu

Considering my obsession with all things food, you won’t be surprised to hear that recently, I fell down a bit of an Ugly Delicious rabbit hole.

Recently launched on Netflix, the series is all about the interactions between food and culture, and it truly is fascinating. Each episode is better than the next, and it’s probably the best programme about food I’ve watched since Masterchef Australia (back end of April, I’m so excited)!

One particularly interesting episode is the one where David Chang and friends look into the stereotypes around Asian cuisine, often considered unrefined and ‘cheap’ by Westerners.

And though some of the assumptions are offensive on both sides of the board, the premise still rings true, and that despite the fact that China, India and the like actually are masters at matching complex flavours and textures.

Proof (if there ever needed one) can be found at Xu, the latest venture from the incredible successful Bao London team.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + WhiskyDinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

Set out in wood-panelled rooms inspired by 1930s Taipei tea rooms, Xu brings the refined flavours of Taiwan to the heart of London.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

The menu isn’t especially long but is of the intriguing variety through and through.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

From the Xiao Tsui section, we started with the Beef pancakes.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + WhiskyDinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

Melt-in-the-mouth shortrib, bone marrow, pickles, spring onion and potato crumbs to be wrapped up in a pancake and devoured.

A DIY, deeply umami affair and a very good one at that.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

Xian Bing – pipping hot pan-fried aged pork pancakes served with vinegar & chilli oil.

Very porky, with a touch of ginger, the filling reminded me of my favourite pork dumpling recipe, but wrapped up in the crispest, most delicately folded pastry.

A little dangerous to eat but well worth taking the risk!

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

But the incontested winner of the small plates section were those little Sweet potato & miso taro dumpling beauties.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

Served in the most vibrant kow choi chilli dressing, there are a masterpiece of balance and depth of flavour.

So sort of dish you want to order doubles of so you don’t have to share!

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

The other highlight of our dinner at Xu was the signature Shou Pa chicken dish.

A beautiful plate of marinated chicken with drippings, ginger and spring onion with white pepper and chicken skin topping, it’s the epitome of roast chicken dishes.

The perfectly cooked meat and the sticky jus took me back to Sunday lunch with my parents, but with added layers of flavours thanks to the Asian aromatics.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

Delicious in its own right, but even better atop some lardo fried rice.

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

The Mapo tofu was nice and spicy, but paled in comparison.

(It might also have been a classic case of over-ordering, as we enjoyed it much more re-heated the next day…)

Dinner at Xu, London / Taiwanese restaurant review / Cake + Whisky

We finished things off with almond ice cream and black sesame sauce – a combination both delicate and funky!

And the ultimate proof that Far East cuisine is far more complex and elegant that it’s usually given credit for.

It might not be the ultimate ‘grammable restaurant, but it’s a good one when it comes to substance over style. There are no flower walls, but some truly spectacular dishes to be found and I urge try their chicken ASAP. It’s a game changer.

Ugly? Possibly. Delicious? Absolutely!

Xu, 30 Rupert St, London W1D 6DL

(Xu accepts bookings (miracle!) and when we visited (post-theatre on a weekday) there were plenty of tables available for walk-ins)

Other great restaurants near Xu:

The Palomar

Hot Pot Chinatown

Jen Café

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Dinner at Xu

Bao Soho – To queue or not to queue?

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + WhiskyTo queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

Now, if you want to get your hands on some fluffy buns, there’s only one piece of advice I can give you.

Go early.

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.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

If you’re going to queue, you better made the best of the opportunity, tick all the boxes and incidentally order the whole menu…

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

Which is pretty much what we did (picture above was only the first round! ?)

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

Starting with refreshing homemade soft drinks, including some pretty fantastic and zingy Salted Lime Soda

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

And pretty-as-a-picture, sweet and tart Peach Soda, followed by a smogasbord of Xiao Chi (small eats).

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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!

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

And of course, a visit to Bao wouldn’t be quite right without ordering a few of the restaurant’s namesake steamed milk buns.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

The Classic Bao (slow braised pork, fermented greens and sweet peanut powder).

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + WhiskyTo queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

Towering Fried Chicken Bao with hot sauce and pickle.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

Confit Pork Bao.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + WhiskyTo queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + WhiskyTo queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

…at least, not the way they were delivered to the table, pushing us to bring out our inner Masterchefs.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + WhiskyUndescriptive 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…

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

Guinea Fowl Chi Shiang Rice

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

Last but not least, 40 Day Rump Cap with Aged White Soy Sauce.

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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!).

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

A real showstopper of a dish in all its simplicity, and definitely one worth braving the queues for!

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

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 Soho53 Lexington St, Soho, London W1F 9AS

PIN FOR LATER:

To queue or not to queue at Bao, London | Cake + Whisky

Bao Soho – To queue or not to queue?