Review of Bao Fitzrovia - buns worth the hype?
I got mixed up with the date of a new restaurant's opening on Goodge Street. So rather than go home hungry, my friend and I decided to pop into Bao's Fitzrovia branch, which was only around the corner. If you've ever heard about or been to Bao, you'll know there's always a queue. Serving fluffy steamed buns filled with all kinds of yummy ingredients and other Taiwanese side dishes - you're in for a treat. But does Bao live up to the hype?
Bao actually is the word for bun in Chinese. There are loads of different types of buns, but Bao specialises in one - the Guo Bao. This classic Taiwanese street food consists of a fluffy steamed bun filled with braised pork belly. Bao took this concept and started off as a market stall in London in 2013. Since then, they've expanded to a permanent restaurant in Soho (2015) and Fitzrovia (2016). It's popularity doesn't seem to be dying down and no doubt they'll be opening another restaurant soon.
There aren't that many dishes on the menu, but as they're small sharing plates, you'll no doubt want to order everything! I've been to Bao's Soho branch before, so I had a few items I already knew I had to have again. But I also wanted to try out some new dishes too.
Classic Bao (£4.00) - this fluffy bun was filled with braised pork, fermented vegetables, peanut shavings, coriander. The sauce for braised pork belly is traditionally made up from a mixture of rice wine, soy sauce, rock sugar and a number of Chinese spices. This is what gives the pork belly its distinctive colour and flavour. Bao's didn't seem any different and I could tell the pork belly has been slow cooked for hours in a dark rich sauce, as it was super tender and just melted in my mouth. This is a good basic bao to start off with for people new to this cuisine.
Lamb Bao (£5.00) - I fell in love with this bao from my first visit, and the best way that I could describe it was "The Chinese Kebab". Tender shreddings of lamb shoulder meat, coriander sauce and soy pickled chilli. Unfortunately, the garlic sauce which I remembered so well from my first time, was nowhere to be seen. In my opinion, the rich coriander sauce and garlic sauce is what made this Lamb Bao. So I was a little disappointed.
Fried Chicken Chop, Cured Egg & Hot Sauce (£6.00) - probably the best thing I ate all night! The cured egg yolk was super runny and when mixed in with the rich hot sauce, created this perfect velvety sauce to dip the chicken in. The fried chicken chop was super crispy and so flavourful. Only downside was there was a tiny bit near the bone that looked uncooked - the waitress assured me it was cooked, but I didn't want to take the risk so left that last bit.
Sanbei Octopus, Aged Beef Fat, Pepper (£6.00) - "sanbei" means three cups, and this is a popular classic dish in Chinese cuisine consisting of a cup of rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil. Normally you'll find sanbei chicken or ribs. So it was quite interesting to see how Bao cooked up sanbei octopus. The octopus was really tender and so moreish that my friend and I gobbled this down. But I'd say be quick about it, as once it got cold it did get a little salty.
Mapo Aubergine Chi Shiang Rice Bowl (£5.00) - I thought it'd be a good idea to try one of Bao's rice bowls, just to have something a bit more substantial with our meal. "Mapo" is a chinese dish from the Sichuan province in China which traditionally is tofu cooked in a spicy chilli and soy bean sauce. The soft tender aubergine in a rich spicy sauce was mixed in with fluffy white rice and made this Mapo Aubergine rice bowl a real comforting dish.
Chocolate & Toasted Rice Milkshake (£5.00) - I never thought I'd ever see milkshake inside a Chinese restaurant, so I had to order this one when I saw it in Bao. It was light and airy like a milkshake should be, and I think the flavours of the chocolate and toasted rice went really well together. I just didn't think it was worth £5.00.
So to answer my own question, is Bao worth the hype? For Sure. Many are trying to copy and have their own fluffy buns on the menu. But I don't think anywhere does it as nice as Bao. So next time you're in London, definitely go try out Bao, just be ready to queue up as they only take bookings for groups of 8 - 10 people (downstairs seating area).
Address: Bao Fitzrovia, 31 Windmill Street, London, W1T 2JN
Opening Hours: Monday - Saturday 12-3pm, 5:30-10pm