If you love Taiwanese gua bao as much as me, you have to check out restaurant Bao the next time you are in London. Actually, they have three different venues now, but the original one is in Soho. The two others are in Fitzrovia and Hackney. These fluffly little pieces of deliciousness go under many names, sometimes only referred to as bao (although, that can be confused with the filled baozi buns), and other times steam buns, bao burger, Asian burger, or Taiwanese burger. When we visited the capital of Taiwan last year, we found the most famous spot for gua bao among locals and people in-the-know – Lan Jia Gua Bao (藍家割包). Check it out on my foodie map of Taipei. Bao in Soho is also a highly popular spot for this Taiwanese street food. Londoners line up more than half an hour before the restaurant opens every day, and the queue continues as long as it’s open. They even have a sign, almost like a bus stop, that marks the start of the queue (I saw on Instagram that it was stolen some time ago, and I am not sure they got it back yet). The Soho shop doesn’t take reservations, so you better be early or expect a long wait.
Once you’ve secured a seat inside, the staff will give you a pencil and a small paper sheet with the menu. You simply write down your selection by putting a number next to each of the dishes you want, and soon after, the waiter comes back to pick up your order. Despite the popularity of this place, I found all the waiters to be very polite and humble. They haven’t got an attitude at all – as you might have experienced at other overly hyped places. These guys seem genuinely passionate about what they do, and happy to please their guests every day. While both the food and venue in itself are highly Instagram-friendly, it’s not just a pretty facade – the food is also extremely tasty.
In addition to the classic pork bun, which is filled with braised pork, fermented greens, coriander, and peanut powder (just like the original in Taipei), there are a lot of other equally tempting menu items. I went with the fried chicken in a sesame bun, Taiwanese fried chicken with hot sauce, pork blood cake with egg yolk, confit pork bun, and, lastly, the deep-fried bun with Horlicks (malted milk powder) ice cream. All washed down with a cold milk foam oolong tea. My favorites were the classic pork bun and the fried chicken bun. There’s something magical about that combination of a soft, fluffy bun, with a savory, fatty, and crunchy deliciousness inside. Many bao places mess up by over-complicating the garnish and jamming too much filling into each bun. The trick is to keep it simple. Just like a burger, a gua bao should be easy to eat with your hands. I don’t think I can ever go back to London without another visit to one of the Bao shops. Next time, I’ll check out Fitzrovia.
What’s your favorite bao restaurant? Please share in a comment below.