Of the all the British habits that I’ve picked up over the many years living in London, the most useful has to be the willingness and patience developed to wait in a queue. My endless quest for the best eats in town has found me standing in line on good many an occasion, from breakfast (for Bilbo Granger’s ricotta hotcakes, and boy were they worth it) to even for a street salad (fiendishly good, from Savage Salads).
So I suppose that it was inevitable that I would succumb to the hype surrounding Bao. The Taiwanese street stall (originating in Netil Market) recently set down permanent roots in Soho’s Lexington Street, with Time Out correctly predicting a Momofuku-style buzz and queues.
Strategically arriving well ahead of when the tiny eatery officially opens for lunch at noon, ensured that I was able to grab a spot at the very front of the very quirky Bao Stop; an (orderly) queue soon forming thereafter.
I was joined by the lovely Colleen, a fellow food enthusiast and blogger who recently made the move from Kansas City to London (hence her aptly titled blog, Blond Across the Pond!) I really love how warm and close-knit the blogging community is in this city, it’s given me the chance to cement some wonderful new friendships with really interesting and like-minded individuals, like her. And of course it’s an added bonus that there are no funny looks or grimaces when the camera eats first upon the food arriving!
Speaking of food, our appetites were sufficiently whet while we were waiting, as we glanced through the short and simple menu organised around xiao chi (small dishes); bao (signature steamed milk buns) and sides. The look and feel once inside is quite simple too, with a no-fuss minimalist decor.
Seeing as it was lunch time on a Monday morning, sake was forsaken for cold Oolong Tea (left to infuse for a full 24 hours before serving, slightly sweetened). Topped with a frothy milk foam, it was a refreshing choice given the humid weather outside.
With just the one vegetarian option on the menu, I went for the daikon bao and was not disappointed with the deep-fried, yet oh-so-creamy, panko-crumbed radish cake pillowed between the warm, soft and fluffy bun. Although, a bit more of the daikon pickle and coriander, and a gentle dash more of hot sauce could go further in bringing out these added flavours. To their credit, Bao’s kitchen also offered to conjure up another veggie combination involving kim chi – something for next time I suppose.
Meanwhile Colleen was one very happy customer with the confit park bao. Stuffed with generous strands of confit pork belly, pork and hot sauces with dried shallots, she found it sweet, salty and tangy all at once.
We also ordered the sides to share, which were brought out at random.
Cavolo Nero proved to be one of the best salads had in a while, sharply dressed with a combination of rich black vinegar and nutty sesame oil, while the salted egg crumbled in added a bit of texture.
Sweet potato fries arrived generously coated with deep-fried breadcrumbs and drenched in a deliciously sweet plum-pickle ketchup.
Our server almost forgot to bring us our order of Eryngii mushroom, and just as well. Thinly sliced and grilled, this was actually a rather humdrum affair. Now the aubergine with wanton crisp, is one that I would have loved to try – but alas, the use of shrimp paste rendered it inadmissible for my vegetarian disposition.
I have to confess, dessert bao – fried horlicks ice cream bao, to be exact – was ordered mainly out of curiosity. What followed next was quite something though. Far from overpowering, the horlicks ice cream had a subtle but very appealing malted sweetness to it, pairing incredibly well with the “fried bao” made with doughnut batter, that it was sandwiched in between.
Despite the limited veggie options, I suspect that I may find myself soon queueing at the Bao Stop again – the tea, the Taiwanese play on Tuscan kale, the pillowy buns and an ice cream bao – providing reasons enough to venture back.
Bao, 53 Lexington Street, Soho, London W1F 9AS