If you live in London or spend a decent amount of time here, you’ve probably heard of BAO and their legendary Taiwanese steamed buns. They took London’s food scene by storm back in 2015 and have recently celebrated the 2nd anniversary of opening their Soho restaurant. When I found out I couldn’t believe that they’d been open two years and that I still hadn’t managed to give them a try! I tried the queue once a little after they first opened, but ended up bottling it and I just haven’t been able to stomach going since knowing that I’d have to queue for ages to get in – could their buns really be that good?
I heard about a limited edition offer at their Fitzrovia store for a Mini Bao Set where you could sample teeny tiny versions of all of their buns and figured there wasn’t going to be a better time to try BAO again. At least if I only ever went once, I’d be able to try all of them! A friend and I managed to wangle getting there just before 12 on a Monday lunchtime and had no trouble at all getting a table.
Of course I ordered the limited edition Mini Bao Set where you get a miniature version of each of the five bao options on the menu with a cold brew of sweet jasmine tea. There was a bit more of a wait for these because there are five to prepare, so my friend had made a good dent in her lunch before they arrived. When they came they were the cutest tiny little buns with an equally cute jug and cup for the tea.
I started with the classic filled with braised pork and topped with a peanut powder that was ever so slightly sweet and really tasty.
Next I tried the confit pork with a deep, meaty sauce and sprinkled with crispy shallots for a gorgeous combination of tender pork and crunchy topping.
The cod black bao is one that you see in a lot of articles or blog posts about BAO. The bun is slightly different to the others in that it’s shaped more like a burger patty and is made with black sesame so is slightly grey and speckled in colour. The cod in the middle is cooked in a crispy ebony black batter and accompanied by a delicate lemon mayo and spicy sauce. When you bite into it you can see all of the colours and the white cod in the centre and all of the layers of flavour unravel.
Now I was on to the beef short rib bao with a yummy mayo and pickled cucumber so it was almost like a burger. I finished with the daikon bao filled with a piece of crumbed daikon, topped with a thin slice of daikon pickle and rounded off with some hot sauce. I really enjoyed this one with the freshness of the daikon but with the added depth of the crumb and hot sauce.
Our waitress asked which bao was my favourite and I honestly couldn’t choose! I think it would be between the classic, the cod black, and the daikon, but even just saying that I feel that it’s wrong to leave out the other two! I suppose that’s the beauty of the Mini Bao Set – you don’t have to decide!!
Before I round up, I have to mention the beef cheek and tendon nuggets that my friend kindly let me have a taste of. They came with a beautiful burnt chilli sauce that had a decent kick to it and went perfectly with the indulgently rich beef.
In a nutshell, everything was absolutely delicious as I expected, and the atmosphere was so relaxed, but not at the expense of good service. I think it helped that it was Monday lunch time at the Fitzrovia restaurant on a sunny Spring day.
The Mini Bao Set is currently available for the Spring season at lunchtimes and only in BAO’s Fitzrovia branch. They are only serving fifty per week on a first come first served basis so getting there at 12 on a Monday is really the trick if you can swing it.
You can find out more on their website: https://baolondon.com/