Here at House of Coco, we love to get dressed up, don our best and set the streets a’sparkle. We also love to get a bit messy, shove a burger in our gob and wear elasticated pants for added room and comfort. Conundrum? Us? Never! Last week, Amy Berman opted for the latter when she went to review London’s latest must-visit restaurant, Taiwanese joint Bao. Here’s what she thought (once she stopped stuffing her face)…
Did you know we live in a world where queueing for food is not only acceptable, it’s preferable? People actually pay good money just to get inside night-time food markets like Street Feast, only to then line up at each stall and pay again for the food. Remember when Meat Liquor first opened and people were quite happy to wait over an hour to get their hands on a burger? Or Patty & Bun which still regularly sees lines of jeaned and bearded types outside its door?
We’re now a nation of waiters and there’s nothing we’re more prepared to wait for than food. Enter Bao, 2015’s newest and most anticipated queued-up restaurant. The tiny Taiwanese place, situated on Lexington Street in Soho, is taking things even further with customers actually lining up round the block before it’s even open. Walk past and 5pm and you will already see the queue (the restaurant opens at 5.30) of hungry people. You will also see the passers-by looking in intriguingly to see what the crowds are for. Some are taking pictures to show their friends how crazy the world we live in really is. But this ain’t no joke. These people are hungry for good food. And they will wait.
The question you want to ask and rightfully so is – is it worth the wait? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding yes. The team are extremely friendly (they must feel sorry for you by the time you actually make it inside) and talk you through the menu, how the menu-ticking system works and generally make you feel instantly relaxed. So you should in a place as authentic as this. It’s nothing fancy, the walls are bare, the decoration minimal. You may sit facing a wall, but it’s all part of its charm.
Plus the emphasis here is on the food and its fantastic flavours. Staying true to its namesake, the bao on offer are mighty. Fried chicken comes with a Sichuan mayo, golden kimchee and sesame and is steaming hot and crunchy. The lamb shoulder in a coriander sauce, garlic mayo and soy pickled chilli is heady, earthy and intense. The most interesting – crumbed daikon – is panko crusted and served with hot sauce. All of them are a must and at no more than £5 each, there’s really no excuse not to try each and every one.
The menu basically forces you to order everything on it (maybe twice over if you’re hungry). You can’t leave without trying the Pig Blood Cake (£3.50). It looks as epic as it tastes with rich meaty flavours and a yellow yolk sauce that must be licked clean. The Scallop with Yellow Bean and Garlic (£3.50) comes served in its shell. The server will tell you to drink the juice after you’ve eaten the meat. Listen – she knows what she’s talking about. The 40 Day Rump Cap with Aged White Soy Sauce (£6) may sound like a boring old plate of meat, but do not be fooled. Impossibly thinly sliced, perfectly tender beef floats in a mild umami sauce. It’s very nearly perfection.
Oh and the sides – don’t forget the sides! Turnip Tops with Salted Egg (£2.50) is crunchy and vibrant in green. The House Pickles (£1.50) were given a new lease of life with tomato, daikon, cucumber and a soy, spring onion dressing. Peanut Milk (£1.50) is as it says on the tin and basically as good as it sounds.
It’s easy to go on (because the whole menu is affordable enough and delicious enough to get it all – as you should), but the joy is really in the eating. If you go anytime in the next three years, let’s face it, you’ll probably be waiting. But it really is worth the wait. Plus, once you’ve queued an hour, it gives you incentive to order even more. Bao, at least, is making you queue for food that’s unique, interesting and downright lip-smackable. Bet you’ll be prepared to wait a second or third time. See you in the line at 5pm.
53 Lexington Street, Soho