It probably goes without saying that 包 or ’bao’ is one of my favourite foods. From char siu bao that’d traditionally eaten at dim sum in Hong Kong to deep fried versions that were so popular amongst my siblings, cousins and I growing up, I’ve got a special place in my heart (and stomach!) for a good steamed bun. A couple of years ago, Taiwanese bao started to popularise in Western cities and I couldn’t be more excited. I was, oddly enough, living in Hong Kong when BAO in Soho gained traction and had yet to try the menu at this now-famous London chain. So when Elodie came to London for a fleeting visit, we made a reservation at the Fitzrovia branch to chow down on as many buns as we possibly could!
Taiwanese bao are sliced open at the side and steamed – known as ‘割包’ – allowing for fillings to be added. Flesh & Bun over in Covent Garden allows you to build your own, but BAO’s are carefully put-together and curated to bring you a winning qi balance of flavour and texture.
BAO’s Fitzrovia branch is nestled behind Oxford Street, just a short stroll from Charlotte Street. The restaurant is split between two floors: the ground level playing host to a bar island with at-bar seating and the underground level home to their open plan kitchen with a selection of pink marble-topped tables. Something that I like about BAO is their short but sweet menu, meaning there’s minimal food-decision making to be made and maximum food sampling! They specialise in ‘contemporary Taiwanese’ sharing plates and recommend two 包 per person.
I opted for a daikon bao and their black cod bao – I’ve only heard great things about the black cod one so had to have a little seafood on this occasion! The 包 itself was light, pillowy and a dream to sink my teeth into. With the 包, you’re looking for a fluffy texture that perfectly holds its’ filling and doesn’t detract from the overall flavour. The daikon 包 has a chunk of lightly battered daikon and was crisp, sharp and absolutely delicious. As the only vegetarian 包, it was incredibly satisfying and I could easily have eaten another! But onto the black cod I went… And it was a blazing success! A tender slab of cod battered in squid ink and Taiwanese beer, drizzled with a light mayonnaise-blend dressing, I even went on to order an extra one. So damn good.
There is only one vegetarian 小吃 so I simply watched as the girls feasted on Beef Cheek & Tendon nuggets – incredibly moreish according to Sophie, Chilli Langoustines with a Fried BAO, and a side of Bone Marrow Rice with Pickles and Egg Yolk – the girls’ said this was a definitive ‘must order’!
I opted for a 大吃, their Aubergine, Minced Tofu and Mapo Sauce which was a whole new level of tasty. Served in a huge round of aubergine, the minced tofu was expertly prepared and flavoured to create a sublime mix of texture. No soggy tofu here! Not too spicy or salty, I’d actually recommend you order a bonus bao for dipping or sauce-mopping purposes as there’s a lot of sauce.