This was my first time at the Fitzrovia branch of Bao, just off the Goodge Street tube. “Bao” means “bun” in mandarin, and all the buns here are white steamed with an assortment of fillings. The dining room is white with wood-panels and wooden tables, a 20 seat u-shaped bar taking up most of the space. I found the clean design very appealing. It has none of the tacky gold fittings one might find in some Soho restaurants, yet does not come off like a generic hipster café.
Just like the Soho Bao, they have a short list of cocktails and house pour wines, none of which look particularly exciting. One highlight on the beverage menu was a 10 year old aged Taiwanese oolong. It came served in a cute clay teapot and a miniature teacup; a truncated version of the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. For slightly more than the price of powdered Japanese green tea, this was extraordinarily good value.
the dinner queues may be long… yet for Taiwanese food arguably better than the cuisine found in Taipei’s famous night markets, this is a unique style of gastronomy worth trying at least once
The one page menu is very simple. There are snacks, Baos and extras. The snacks and extras are meant to be shared, and the waitress recommended two Baos per person. My companion and I ordered four buns, three snacks and an extra rice bowl to share. There was the Classic Bao, which was a stewed pork bun in a thick soy sauce topped with powdered peanuts, a Lamb Bao with rosemary, a Pork Belly Bao garnished with fried shallots (fresh, not factory made) and the Fitzrovia-exclusive Cod Black, which was a slice of cod baked in squid ink. This bun was excellent – the squid ink sauce complemented the oiliness of the cod very well.
The famous Taiwanese Fried Chicken is a twist on the popular street food dish – an entire deep fried cutlet – served with cured egg yolk and a chilli sauce. Nuggets of beef cheek were braised, battered and fried. However, I found the combination of braised beef and deep fat frying a tad too rich. The star of the meal, or at least my favourite dish, was the steamed duck hearts, served in a vinaigrette topped with shallots, garlic and spring onions. The hearts were still pink, and washed properly without the stench that typically comes with poorly prepared offal. The meal finished with a slow cooked short rib on rice, which was a pretty decent replacement for traditional stewed minced pork rice.
My only issue with Bao, and it is a small one, is that dishes do not come in a coherent manner. I had one bun, followed by two sides 15 minutes later. The rest of the dishes came in one by one later. For this style of cooking, I much prefer service in platters for a smoother dining experience. The service was generally unobtrusive. The staff make an effort to explain what goes into each dish, and are very casual.
In all, the dinner queues may be long, up to 1 hour according to some reports. Yet for Taiwanese food arguably better than the cuisine found in Taipei’s famous night markets, this is a unique style of gastronomy worth trying at least once. It is a great place to come with friends, giving one the opportunity to try and share everything on the menu. For around £25 a person, one can have a very satisfying, homely meal.
31 Windmill Street
by J Khou