If you decide to dine at Bao, the queue is like a right of passage. Yes, you earn your dinner but stick it out and you reap the rewards. Fluffy pillows of spicy magic await at the end the rainbow…
Born of the thriving market pop-up, the expanded Taiwanese offering at Bao’s first permanent residence in Soho has been unanimously praised far and wide; it’s etched on the minds of many a foodie as the place to visit right now, helped along by the flood of reviews in almost every newspaper going these past few weeks.
I confess around the forty-five minute mark I did begin to worry whether the rave reviews were the product of every fool that queued up convincing themselves it was the best thing they’d eaten, partly through a haze of hunger pangs, partly through an unwillingness to admit you’d waited for nothing. Grouchy with hunger and covered in goose bumps, the queue definitely brought out the worst of us. Not least when some insensitively cheery girl has the audacity to bound up to a poor soul, one table from the front of the queue and claim that she had taken a wrong turn and got lost and then, worse, to ask flippantly, ‘Have you been waiting long?’ Credit to him, he did manage to reply, ‘A considerable time…’ with only the slightest hint of resentment. He had been waiting at least an hour.
As had we… gawking in through the wide panes at smugly seated customers inside, chops around fabulous looking food. It is a stark divide between the haves and the have nots. How much longer can you possibly drag out that last drop of cider? Would you please stop being so loved up and pay up? We carry on this little diatribe until we finally stumble euphorically in from the cold.
With the first bite, all misgivings are forgotten. If I had one piece of advice it would be to be brave; try anything and everything if you can. At the price you can afford it. Ignore the little voice in your head that tells you what you think you like. Frankly, it doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Some of the best things strike you completely by surprise. Ticking off the paper menu, you’ll quickly notice the iconic steamed buns aren’t even the half of it. Small plates too jostle for your attention and a spot in your tummy so here are a few of the best in case you do decide ordering everything is a tad excessive.
Trying to narrow down stand out dishes is tricky but the scallop with yellow bean garlic is outstanding, particularly the heavenly pool of sauce cradled in the shell to be slurped afterwards. Taiwanese fried chicken with hot sauce is another stunner, anyone wary of spice, take note – this sauce punches way above its weight.
The guinea fowl with Chi Shiang Rice is wonderful and pretty as a picture to boot with vivid oozy yolk and deliciously salty-sweet rice. The much-talked about pigs blood cake, I’m told, was worthy of the hype, as was the delicate aged beef rump cap in aged white soy sauce.
Don’t worry I haven’t forgotten the buns, nor is it difficult to see how the earned Bao quite such a reputation. We ordered a classic, confit pork and a lamb shoulder. Of them all I think the classic with soft braised pork, sweet peanut crumble and herby contrast was the winner but it was a seriously close-run contest. Without question, I think it’s worth trying two at least.
I began with a spiel about the queue so I think it’s only fair to end by imploring you to have faith. The queue is worth it. It’s there for a reason the food is just that good. If you hadn’t noticed by now, we loved every mouthful. All in all it was one of the most exciting and different meals I’ve had in a long, long time. I could eat it all, all over again.
The best news is that a takeout option is on the cards so keep a beady eye out and it may be that in not too long you could satisfy the Bao itch without the necessary evil that is the wait. Hallelujah!