There can only be one King of Bao
Bao in Soho, London serves up some of the best, fluffiest and tastiest bao in the city. But be prepared to wait in the queue!
Baozi, bao or pao are those taco-shaped steamed buns flooding your Instagram. Originally from East Asia, steamed buns can now be found everywhere. Not all bao are created equal, however, with important differences between those from Taiwan, Japan or Korea. Don’t expect the same amount of fluffiness or selection of fillings in other buns.
If you want to avoid looking like a total idiot, check up and down the street outside Bao before you enter. It’s a common mistake once you turn onto Lexington Street Soho, to only look at the shop entrance and, eyes fixated on the store front, think there is no queue.
Admittedly, that was also our first reaction until we got a little bit closer and noticed the line of 30 people on the other side of the street. And right at the back of the queue, our friends patiently waiting.
But many people neglected to notice the queue altogether, or perhaps thought that, this being England, it was just a bunch of English people queuing for fun, and tried their luck. Even if you pulled up right outside the door in a black Mercedes dressed like Kim K and Kanye, it still wouldn’t work. Yes, that actually happened.
To be honest, the wait wasn’t so bad, but that’s probably because we were with friends catching up. Although we did get pretty excited once we made it to the front of the queue and were shown to our seats. We took our place along the counter, which was excellent for our friends’ young boy who got to sit on the countertop and meet peanut milk lady.
The menu is simple enough. Order from six different fillings, Classic pork, Confit pork, Chicken, Lamb, and Something Vegetarian (sorry, I was there for the pork). They also have a few small dishes you can order on the side. We went for the aubergine and beef, both delicious.
Funny story. The aubergine comes with some wonton crisps, but none of us had noticed that on the menu, given how starving we were. And so, expecting two dishes, and of course since we were starving, we assumed that the crisps, which came in a second bowl beside our aubergine, was the beef… Our friend bit into the crisp and said “mmm, very interesting beef!” To the dismay of the Asian couple next to us, the guy giving us some serious stink eye for our mistake…!
Back to the food. We ordered a few of each, minus the vegetarian option, whatever that was. The waitress suggested two bao each, but I would say go for at least three!
All the bao are delicious, my favourite was the lamb and confit pork. I wasn’t too thrilled about the miniature tea cups, especially at £2.50 a pop, although I hear it’s traditional in Taiwan. The teapot, as you can see below, is tiny.
Overall, while it is slightly expensive, Bao dosh out quality food and seem to be expanding in London, which should really help reduce that big queue!
Bao are really tasty little things, but I can see them having growing competition from other places in the near future, if not already. Yum Bun at Dinerama and other Street Feast venues are also super amazing, but don’t have a restaurant like Bao.
Le Bao are smaller but growing in popularity. I’ve also heard good things about Flesh and Buns from Bone Daddies, but not yet been. The Japan Centre does excellent sukiyaki beef hirata buns. You can buy a bottle of sake from their store inside to drink with your food. It’s pretty awesome.
I recently tried Shoryu Ramen, but found their steamed buns to be disappointing. Shoryu does excellent ramen, but their buns were chewy, not fluffy, and fell apart while trying to consume.
What’s your favourite place for bao?