LONDON | Bao Soho has had lines down the street (and across the road in more recent weeks) ever since it moved its East London street food popup to a permanent Soho location in April. The place is tiny and doesn’t take bookings which half explains the lines and of course the natural question that arises from this is “does the food warrant the wait?” If you don’t want to read any more of this review then the short answer is yes but let’s be honest, you want to know more.
The Bao team have been helped in their transition from popup stall to a permanent location by the Sethi family, (Trishna and Gymkhana), so it was no surprise that the operation was going to be slick. Drinks were on offer to enjoy as we waited in line and menus were provided so that we could start deciding what we wanted before we even had a table. The inside is all about wood and clean lines and fits in with the overall slick vibe. The place is small and packed, but we never felt uncomfortably crowded while we were there.
Food wise, what Bao is all about is evident in its name – fluffy steamed buns, which in the case of Bao are ostensibly Taiwanese but no different than their famous Japanese and Chinese counterparts. More of the uniquely Taiwanese influence can be seen in the small options on offer that aren’t Bao, a few of which we tried. There are more than a few hints of David Chang’s Momofuku philosophy here and that’s not a bad thing – classics elevated by experimentation is the name of the game. Sake, cider, beer and tea ensure that those in need of a drink as well as a feed are well catered to.
House Pickles (£1.50)
To start with was a small selection of pickles – crunchy and a great way to get the taste buds tingling.
Fried Chicken Bao (£5.00)
This might not be the most conventional of Bao, but that’s never been the claim to fame here. The soft bun contrasted well with the crunch of the fried chicken coating and the addition of mayonnaise meant that this was a dish that was familiar yet foreign at the same time.
Pig Blood Cake (£3.50)
Pig blood is a delicacy in Taiwan and, well if you like black pudding then you’ll love this. It’s those black pudding flavours that you love with the egg yolk giving things a decidedly Japanese twist – indeed we were transported back to the Izakayas we visited in Japan with this dish.
Trotter Nuggets (£4.00)
The trotter nuggets were really tasty. Lusciously fatty interiors and super crispy coating. Not the most innovative of dishes on the menu but very moreish regardless.
Sweet Potato Chips (£3.00)
The sweet potato chips were the lowlight of the evening. There wasn’t anything “bad” about them per-se, they just weren’t anything all that special, especially when contrasted with some of the other things that we ate that night.
Lamb Shoulder Bao (£5.00)
The lamb shoulder bao represented a return to form, with the intense coriander sauce cutting beautifully through the succulent, fatty lamb pieces.
Confit Pork Bao (£4.50)
The succulent confit pork pieces were melt in your mouth fatty and this texture was offset well by the judicious use of fried shallots. One of our favourites of the night.
Horlick’s Bao (£4.00)
A most untraditional end to the evening’s meal was this Horlick’s Bao. This one was more like a doughnut filled with ice-cream owing to the sugared, almost but not quite glazed bao. An interesting twist that really worked well.
If you’re new to the world of Bao, and even if you’re not, it’s easy to see why there are lines outside this place almost every night. Even the worst dishes are very good, and the best make you think about ordering more even when you’ve made it well past the point of being full. London has been late to the Bao game so when somewhere like Bao opens its doors, it’s easy to see why the hype builds fast. Thankfully, it’s justified.
53 Lexington Street
London W1F 9AS
Mon – Sat: 12:00pm to 3:00pm; 5:30pm to 10:00pm