London’s Soho must be about the best district in the world for eating out. We decided to go to BAO, a Taiwanese street food joint roughly the size and capacity of a decent living room, and nothing was going to stop us. Going to BAO means you queue.
Luckily we were there shortly after they’ve opened for dinner which is at 5.30 pm. The queue wasn’t that long yet and it moved quite fast. That’s why we got in about ten minutes after we arrived there. I’ve to stay that it was the first time for me that I had to wait in a queue for a restaurant across the street.
Chefs Shing, Wai Ting, and Erchen have traveled extensively across Taiwan, China, and Asia over the years, cooking and eating together, and BAO draws its inspiration from these culinary capitals as well as from the ‘small eats’ venues popular in Taipei. Made in-house, the steamed milk buns speak for themselves and are so good that they have gotten many other people talking as well.
The secret-recipe made buns come filled with braised pork, peanut powder, fermented greens and coriander; Lamb shoulder; and panko crumbed daikon radish, daikon pickle, hot sauce, and coriander. There is a selection of snacks and other items as well, ranging from sweet potato chips with plum pickle salt to the more adventurous (and terrifying) pig blood cake, and topped off with the decadent fried Horlicks ice cream sandwich. For ordering, you get a little piece of paper with the menu written on it. Then you write how much of the dishes on the menu you want to order and nothing on it is more than £6.
We started with the classic one. It is filled with braised pork, peanut powder, fermented greens, and coriander. I haven’t tried a steamed bun before but this was definitely one of the best things that I’ve ever tried. We continued with confit pork. This dish was declared as the 6th best dish in London in 2016 by TimeOut website and it definitely deserves to be that high in the rankings. It was also among the top dishes in 2017 and 2018 as well. The bun is filled with confit pork belly, pork sauce that adds even more flavor and everything is topped up by hot sauce and dried shallots that make it a bit spicy.
Next one is also among the most popular ones. Lamb bao came with a dollop of pungent coriander sauce to offset the fat. For the last one, I’ve decided to go for the vegetarian option so I’ve chosen daikon bao. This one is filled with daikon that’s fried with panko crumbs then added with a hot sauce and coriander and topped with a daikon pickle just to round the circle. And the bill for these was just a bit over £18. The 12.5% service charge was already calculated in the final price.
Overall it was a pleasant experience even though it’s quite a crowded place. It’s definitely worth waiting in the queue. Keep in mind that this restaurant is probably the most famous one in London that doesn’t take reservations. I would suggest going here at the opening time for lunch or dinner because when we were leaving the place the queue was much longer. The staff handled things as best they could and had the time to explain the menu and how it works to people like us that haven’t been to a place like this before. Food was also delicious, fresh and something that I haven’t tried before. When I’ll be back in London I’ll definitely go here again.
53 Lexington St, Carnaby, London; https://baolondon.com/
Mon – Wed: 12 pm – 3 pm & 5.30 pm – 10 pm; Thursdays till 10.30 pm; Fri & Sat all day 12 pm – 10.30 pm; Sunday: 12 pm – 5 pm
Cost: inexpensive (££££ )
Visited in June 2017
£ – less than £10
££ – between £10 and £15
£££ – between £15 and £20
££££ – over £20