And now it’s morning there’s only one place we can go. It’s around the corner in Soho where other broken people go. Let’s go…
For ‘broken’, read ‘damp’…
Now a permanent fixture on Lexington Street in Soho, BAO has made the transition from a tiny stall at Netil Market and street food events to premises which even the most oily estate agent would have to admit are ‘tiny’. That’s an impressive step up, but they have equally impressive backing in the form of the family behind Gymkhana and Lyle’s. These days there’s a much wider menu and BAO has become a hot ticket, attracting feverish attention from blog to broadsheet. Queues are inevitable- twenty minutes before they opened at midday, there was easily a restaurant’s worth of people ahead of us, even on a day when the rain was positively Northern and evoked punctured bicycles, hillsides desolate and the like.
By contrast, Tapas Brindisa, mere yards away, was almost deserted.
The flow of expectant diners didn’t let up: sat in the window, we almost felt sorry for those still queuing, and saw as many again deflected politely but firmly by the greeter. It became a visual loop: people trying to walk straight in, only to be intercepted and politely pointed in the direction of the queue. Most opted to linger. It was like a slow-moving game of human pinball, with the inevitable trajectory ending on the pavement opposite.
Trotter nuggets carry a deep and intense hit of pigginess coupled with the lightness you’d expect from panko breadcrumbs. These must there some considerable work involved here, what with braising the trotters in Shaoxing wine, shredding the meat and ‘forming’ it before crumbing and deep-frying the pieces; the only reasonable answer to all that is to applaud it as time exceedingly well spent.
‘Blood cake’- glutinous rice black with pigs’ blood, the paler grains cleverly echoing the flecks inside black pudding- is topped with a soy-cured egg yolk and was easily one of the most visually arresting things I have eaten recently, rivalled only by Bar 44’s hamburguesa negra.
Earthy, sticky and rich, with the almost amber yolk oozing sinfully throughout after a gentle prod, it’s a lovely thing.
The fried chicken- obviously- runs the risk of not living up to fond memory, but any doubts vanish with the first crunch. This seems so uncomplicated, yet chicken of this brilliance is so rare. Silky thigh meat, feather-light crumb, laced with fierce chilli. Wonderful.
As with the nuggets, there’s some deft work with the fryer to ensure not a hint of greasiness in anything we eat. Fries wear their tempura-like batter lightly and are laced with candyfloss-pink plum ketchup, which brings a welcome note of tartness to all that sweet potato. This is food you wish came in portion sizes marked ‘small’, ‘large’ and ‘nosebag’, all the while trying to avoid the sodden and baleful stares of those lined opposite, lingering with all the optimism of a Beijing double-buggy salesman.
A ‘classic’ bao, all shredded belly pork and finely crushed peanuts, is as good as my memories. The lightness of these buns is remarkable.
The confit pork bun is a revelation. Batons of seductively tender meat, crispy shallots. So simple, so perfect.
If C+C Music Factory were indeed right to assert that various things ‘Make You Go Hmmm’- and I see no reason why they’d ever lie to us- then these are superbao. Megabao. Ultrabao. Wunderbao. In fact, while we are on the topic, these are bao to make you say ‘wow’, with a side order of ‘holy cow’. Bow to the bao. Lamb shoulder has been slow cooked until it falls from the bone, then teased and pulled and treated to a smudge of coriander dressing. Needless to say, it’s excellent.
Smitten? Of course. Queuing in the rain? Soon forgotten. If this food doesn’t make you happy, check your pulse and the terms of your critical illness cover. It may already be too late for you. Go. And eat the whole joyous menu.
53 Lexington St
Mon-Sat 12.00-3.00, 5.30-10.00
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.