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.
Set out in wood-panelled rooms inspired by 1930s Taipei tea rooms, Xu brings the refined flavours of Taiwan to the heart of London.
The menu isn’t especially long but is of the intriguing variety through and through.
From the Xiao Tsui section, we started with the Beef pancakes.
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.
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!
But the incontested winner of the small plates section were those little Sweet potato & miso taro dumpling beauties.
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!
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.
Delicious in its own right, but even better atop some lardo fried rice.
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…)
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)