Bao! Bao! Bao...wow!
The place that everyone is talking about, and queuing up for. Before they opened up their Soho restuarant, Bao was a much-chased street food truck. I participated in the chasing and was happy to catch one of their classic pork buns & a limited edition "Heart Attack" fried chicken bun at an event. It was lovely - this was around 2013 and towards the beginning of the steamed bun craze. Around the same time I also reviewed Flesh & Buns, and worked right above Yum Bun. Those were the days, mate. Now my office has moved to Moorgate and I'm staring out the window at insurance companies, Pret, and Cafe Nero - not even a big Pret at that.
So since my lunch options more or less stink now, I've been enjoying going out to eat at the weekend even more. We managed to get into Bao relatively quickly by queuing before they opened, and being a small group of 2 we could fit onto the bar quite easily. I recommend visiting Bao in small groups because of this - it's a small restaurant and as you know incredibly popular - a big group will likely spend a longer time waiting than a small one. If you must go as a group of 4+, make sure you all arrive at the same time.
Bao has expanded the menu beyond the namesake buns and has been adding new things throughout the year. I was most looking forward to the buns in all honesty, but I was curious about other items. Unfortunately I ate at Bao a number of weeks ago and therefore I've forgotten the exact names of some of the menu items, but I certainly remember the experience.
I had two drinks - two, count 'em, two drinks. The peanut milk was a small serving (very inexpensive on the menu, so a suitable size if you ask me) of creamy peanut deliciousness.
When I was googling around for peanut milk afterwards I stumbled upon a pretty interesting story. It became popular in San Francisco via the KK Cafe, which was operated by a Taiwanese couple in America. The story is interesting because people claim that the peanut milk helped them to heal from traumatic injuries, immune system illnesses, and more. It had a real cult following in that city. Bao could get into a side business selling bottles of this stuff, especially if their recipe is also dairy and grain free!
My second drink was the foam tea, an oolong tea base with a foamy & sweet milky top. I tried in vain to find a recipe for 'foam tea', but the foam itself remains elusive. It's a bit fatty, a bit sweet, and richly dairy. My guess it has something to do with condensed or evaporated milk, as that's a popular dairy ingredient in that region of the world. Regardless, it goes so well with the smooth & refreshing cold tea, which I believe is a cold brewed oolong of some sort.
Thinly Sliced Steak, Aged White Soy Sauce - The soy sauce was rich with umami & pleasant saltiness, and it thoroughly imbibed the steak with much the same. It was a great way to start things off, and this is a surefire winner for Bao - even among people who may otherwise not enjoy the less familiar flavors. Basically, you can't go wrong with this one, but for my druthers there are more exciting options.
The turnip greens were garlicky, vinegar-y & topped with sprinkles of salty & dare I say 'cheesy' century egg. Nice dark greens were used, you could tell that care was taken in which produce they sent out. If I was guaranteed such dark & flavorsome vegetables with every dish, I'd eat salads a lot more frequently!
Trotter Nuggets - Very soft & porky with a hint of ginger. These worked well and certainly made 'trotters' appetizing, but for me they didn't hit it out of the ball park like the rest of the menu did. Lovely stuff, but the flavors were a bit more familiar and therefore less mind-blowing to me. I'd like to try trotters again though, but maybe not in nugget format.
Scallop - A bit of citrus zest, firm but yielding flesh to the scallop, and a lovely garlic citrus sauce with a rounded, savory bean base to it. Feel free to slurp the sauce out of the shell once you've eaten the scallop. If anyone gives you guff, tell 'em "CreamySteaks sent me with strict orders to slurp this sauce!"
Lamb Bun - Incredibly well spiced with coriander, some hint of a familiar Thai spice (perhaps Thai basil?) and garlic. The meat was soft & not at all gamey. The bun, as always, was soft & creamy with a gentle whisper of sweetness. This was my favorite one, and I'm not usually a lamb fan.
Classic Pork Bun - Hard to beat. Perfectly marinated and soft pork, peanut & cilantro garnish. There is a reason Bao has risen as high as it has - and that reason is very hard work & this pork bun. It's a must try!
Pork Belly Confit Bun - Most subtle & gentle of the buns, very little spice but very high quality pork with a great fat-to-meat ratio. The shallots are gentle and add a bit of textural change to what would otherwise be a real soft & gushy fest. There is a sauce, but I don't recall what it was meant to be, sorry!
Deep Fried Bao with Horlicks Ice Cream - I loved this! The deep fried bao was like a doughnut, softer on the inside and definitely leaning more yeast than cakey, and filling it with ice cream is a no brainer. I really appreciated that the bao itself was only subtly sweet, and the Horlicks ice cream was also strong in it's maltiness. It wasn't just a sugar rush, you could really appreciate the flavor of the dough, the sweet ice cream base, and the malt. The only thing I'll say it was a fair struggle to eat with just a spoon, as the bao is a bit tough for cutting using just that. I recommend asking for a small fork or knife as well.
The one thing I felt was missing at Bao was Taiwanese beer as a drink selection. When we went, they were serving Japanese beer (I believe Asahi?) which I do enjoy, but I think it is always more fun to match national beers to their national foods. Certainly not a deal breaker, but I am looking forward to them expanding the beer selection a bit.