Whenever I see a restaurant tag themselves as “street food” I chuckle a little, simply because there’s a running joke about how street food can’t ever be authentic sans the “stalls, sticks, smart prices, and ‘secret ingredients’ (you wouldn’t want to know)”. However, there are a few good street food restaurants in town and quite frankly, I do like the idea of “eating dirty on a clean plate”.
Netil Market’s Taiwanese street food stall BAO has finally found a permanent home on Lexington St in Soho with the spotlight on the eponymous steamed milk buns (also called the cua pao). One of my recently discovered home bakers in town, Yee, asked if I wanted to check it out on its opening day. Surprisingly, the queue was kind to us and we snatched some counter space in no time.
I like short menus.
Yee and I had a bao each. She went for the lamb shoulder (which she said was pretty delicious) while I went for the classic bao, which was just… ugh. The buns were really pillowy and I want to lie in a bed made of it. The pork filling was melt in your mouth and the sauce was exactly how I’d hoped it would be: a nice balance of sweet and savoury reminiscent of my favourite asado siopao from Taiwanese yum cha houses in Hong Kong and in Philippines.
The Taiwanese fried chicken was very good. Crispy coating and tender inside, it was moist and I swear I could eat the whole lot. I wish they’d put more hot sauce, though!
The house salad, made with turnip top leaves, was super simple but very refreshing. It gave some punchy texture to our meal.
I wasn’t too moved about the 40-day aged rump cap. It was a little tough and quite sinewy.
The scallop in yellow bean sauce looked rather pretty and delivered on taste, too. The scallop was cooked well and had a subtle smoky flavour from the crunchy garlic bits.
On recommendation, we ordered a shot of peanut milk. It’s meant to be a palate refresher when you eat your bao. This was such a celebration of nuts (har har) and I wish they’re able to serve it in a bigger size.
Finally, we had the fried bao with Horlicks ice cream for dessert and man, did it go down a treat. The fried bun itself was a revelation and the ice cream was thick and lush in its malt induced comfort. This was such a great dessert.
BAO’s street-to-shop story is commendable; the restaurant itself may look like a modern-day yum cha house but its very essence is still rooted in its humble beginnings. It’s cheap, cheery and rather delicious in a no non-sense way and I hope it stays the same for a very long time.
53 Lexington Street, Soho, London W1F
Average spend pp: £20
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