A couple weeks back Scott and I risked heading to Bao one day for lunch. If you’ve ever read anything about Bao, then you’ll know all about the crazy queue and how people are prepared to wait for about an hour to get a seat in the Taiwanese street food joint. I guessed you could say I tricked Scott into going… but we won’t go that far.
There’s no reservations and we queued for almost half an hour, which was spent by Scott flicking through his phone trying to deter me from my mission: ‘how about Nopi?’ ‘Or Palomar?’ – I had my eyes set on one thing only, and that was Bao.
About a year ago, the Taiwanese milk bun sensation moved from a street food stall to opening their first restaurant on Lexington Street. It’s tiny inside, only has around 32 cover and is decked out like a Muji showroom with minimalist wooden panelling and backless stool for seats which discourage lingering.
If you’ve spent a decent portion of time queuing to get into Bao, then you might as well drive right in and order the whole menu.
We started with the pickles, which I wasn’t a fan of. I’m afraid I found them really bitter, nor do they look particularly appetising – maybe they would have tasted better as an accompaniment to a dish instead of on their own.
Next came the pig blood cake, which I’ve been drooling over on my Instagram feed for ages now. It’s a chunky piece of black pudding which has crispy edges and topped with a egg yolk. Make sure you mash the egg into the pudding before you eat it, it’s simply delicious.
The trotter nuggets are basically fancy chicken nuggets – but they’re so moist and come in a light, crisp, oil-free batter.
The chef’s at Bao avoid all the usual traps when delivering the sweet potato chips as they had the right crunch and they’re served with a plum pickle ketchup.
Next up came the fried chicken pieces – they’re fiery and sour but delicious. For my taste buds I would have preferred the chefs to turn the heat down as I found them really hot.
Now for the bao buns themselves… (wipes are available, so dig in with your hands).
First off, the Classic Bao. It’s a heavenly combination of a pillowy soft, steamed bun which is stuffed with braised pork, then and flavoured with peanut powder and coriander.
Then came the confit pork bao – these were so good I went back and ordered seconds. It’s a slice of pork belly topped with crisp shallots and a fruity hot sauce.
We also ordered the lamb shoulder bao – which I only got a nibble off as Scott wolfed it down! It was served with a coriander sauce, garlic mayo and chilli.
There’s only one dessert option so I couldn’t resist ordering it. It’s a fried bao which has been sweetened and a scoop of Horlicks ice cream is sandwiched between the bao. It’s incredibly hard to eat and neither of us were sold of the flavour and texture – there’s a good basis for a dessert here, but it needs more finesse to really soar.
So, to queue or not to queue? The food is great but not as fantastic as over reviews have made it out to be. But you’ll be hard pressed to find someone else like it with well-crafted, reasonably priced dishes, just make sure you go on your day off when it’s quiet.
Bao, 53 Lexington St, SoHo, London W1F 9AS