BAO has been taking the capital by storm this summer. This time last year, it was London’s best-kept secret, now it’s ostensibly its worst. The queue for these Taiwanese fluffy buns weaves well beyond the Lexington Street corner it’s perched on, and punters can find themselves waiting up to an hour. So, the million-dollar question: is it worth it? The short answer, after an even shorter pause: yes. Let me show you around.
The Lexington Street branch seats just 32 people, and the slick Japanese interior is welcoming if a little cosy. The service is relaxed and efficient; on entry you’re either shown to the bar stools or one of the few surrounding tables. Beware, the vibe is ‘week-night date’ rather than ‘big group catch up’.
The menu is totally refreshing, with the BAO buns receiving plenty of moral support from other Taiwenese specialities. The scallop in yellow bean garlic is a highlight, as is the aubergine and wanton crisp. Grab your pencils and get scribbling, you’re going to want to tick off most of your menu.
And then come the BAOs. All at once, as if in an excited hurry to announce themselves. Let’s be honest – if I was as marvellous as these buns, I’d be barging into the room as boisterously as a show-off on a sugar high. They practically merit their own fanfare.
My favourite of them all is the pork belly, and the wickedest is the fried chicken BAO. They are the perfect size but completely moreish; if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to get enough of these pillowy clouds of heaven.
These steamed buns have generated a bit of a cult status, but trust me when I say they’re just that good. They deserve all the hype and more. BAO is the whole package, and here’s a little top tip: whilst the Lexington Street branch is where it all began, the Fitzrovia restaurant is newer, bigger and far less crowded. So grab a friend who you haven’t seen in years (it should help while away the hour-long queue) and make a beeline for a meal to remember.