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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

BAO bun fight!

Is it a Japanese hirata bun, Chinese char siu bao or a Taiwanese gua bao?! Either way, this lip-smackingly good snack has long been my 'I've-missed-dinner-and-can't-be-bothered-to-cook' or 'I'm-too-wimpish-to-eat-dinner-alone' dish and dash solution. I may still need to weave through the hoards to get home, but no longer do I need to rely on a grubby hole in the wall off Chinatown to satisfy my gut-craving needs. Since the trend setting Yum Bun who have been gracing our streets and markets since 2010 (currently smashing it at Model Market in Lewisham, courtesy of Street Feast), Bone Daddies ramen shop has brought us Flesh & Buns, then Beer & Buns popped up and now BAO has opened up in Soho.

Fried Chicken Bao (soy milk marinated
chicken, sichuan mayo, golden kimchi,
sesame bao) £5.00
Backed by the Sethi family, who have coincidentally had huge success of the Michelin star calibre with Trishna in Marylebone, Kitchen Table in Fitzrovia (tucked neatly at the back of the hugely popular gourmet hotdog hotspot, Bubbledogs), and [most recently] Gymkhana in Mayfair, BAO have a appear to have a delectable powerhouse behind them. They may be the new kid on the block, but they are also destined be the revered love child of a restaurateur heavyweight and very successful street food trading (previous notoriety gathered from KERB, Netil Market and the aforementioned Street Feast). In a prime location on Lexington Street and next door to a pub (John Snow), BAO is a perfect addition to the Soho dining scene, not to mention an altogether irresistible pitstop for me Monday - Friday! Now I don't have to schlep eastward to clamber over hundreds of hapless hipsters to get my hands on a freshly steamed and pillowy milk bun...hip hip hooray for me!

On a whim, I dragged a colleague away from her desk promptly at 11:45 on day two of BAO's doors officially opening (by my obsessive calculations, that's a generous 10 minute amble from le office and a well-timed 5 minutes wait outside the door, undoubtedly in a queue of sorts). Now, queuing for food is a pet peeve of mine (it defies everything I cherish most about accessible dining options!), but I'll make allowances for (1) new openings that promise to satisfy my seemingly unbridled catalogue of culinary cravings, and (2) anything less than a 30 minute wait...everything over this and my sensibilities begin to unravel (fear not, I have a very effective inside voice at such times!). Thankfully for all concerned, we waited only a smidgen over 5 minutes and boy, did they deliver on the food front!

Pig Blood Cake (£3.50)
With a small but perfectly formed menu, I was hopeful that we would have the opportunity to sample almost everything on it (yes, I'm a gluttonous troll!) and while not completely managing this, we did come exceptionally close. The Pig Blood Cake (£3.50) tasted like a rich black pudding with the texture of a quality haggis that was then rounded off superbly with an oozing velvety cold egg yolk...mmm! Trotter Nuggets (£4.00) were tasty, light and well balanced, though had an interesting texture for my palate (not at all bad, but delicately course shall we say...hard to describe!), then the Sweet Potato Chips with Plum Pickle Salt (£3.00) offered a sensational side dish that would have only been improved by a condiment of sorts (I'm skewed by my need for sauce, you see). Then came the buns, oh the buns...we tried every one, with the exception of Daikon because if faced with meat, I am a one way street and must gorge on it (sorry to all the veggie / lacto-veggie / pescetarian / vegan / fruitarian / wheat free / gluten free [coeliacs] / lactose intolerant / yeast intolerant omnivores out there); the Fried Chicken Bao (£5.00) may be my favourite, but it's really hard to call it when pitched against the Confit Port Bao (£4.50), which was overflowing with crispy onions for both added texture and flavour; or the Classic Bao (£3.50), which was sweet, rich and sublime. Lamb Shoulder Bao (£5.00) was also tantalisingly good, so I'm left at a loss on what to recommend, aside from encouraging you to just order everything. You should expect a myriad of small plates here, oriental tapas style, and each one is very reasonably priced, so don't be afraid to get carried away eh!

On a practical note, ordering was simple from a shopping list style ticket, the service was friendly, precise and informative; and the decor was refined, minimalist and bright. Takeaway service supposedly starts soon, so brace yourselves, I'll no doubt be returning often enough for you to know my not just my name, but my inside leg measurements and pet preferences! What a triumph.

Foam Tea (£3.00)
Trotter Nuggets (£4.00)
Sweet Potato Chips, Plum Pickle Salt (£3.00)
Confit Pork (confit pork belly, pork sauce, hot
sauce, dried shallots) £4.50
Lamb Bao (lamb shoulder, coriander sauce,
garlic mayo, soy pickled chilli) £5.00
Classic Bao (braised pork, peanut powder, fermented greens, coriander) £3.75
Square Meal Bao on Urbanspoon

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