Bao know how to open a restaurant. From the tiny stall in London Fields where Erchen Chang, Wai Ting, and Shing Tat Chung first started, and the mazy (and often damp) queues outside their stationary cupboard-sized spot in Soho, to Fitzrovia, Borough Market, delivery pivots, and more, their superb quality control is no secret. You know it. We know it. Everyone knows it. Even so, there’s still a slow-nod amazement for their Manchester United-under-Fergie-like consistency. Their newest location is no different.
This one’s in Shoreditch, in the belly of the beast on the corner of Redchurch Street, where many a blood curdling wail is heard every Friday night. Shoreditch makes complete sense in that everything is in Shoreditch now. So it’s something of a surprise that Bao’s fluffy pork-filled pillows haven’t settled in here sooner. Familiar or not with their other restaurants, you’ll more than likely settle in as quickly as they have here. The room, busy with diners on stools high and low hunched over bowls, marries Bao’s sleek minimalist aesthetic with a frenetic energy trademark to their restaurants. But it’s managed, rather than manic. Everyone knows what’s going on, from diners crossing off orders on their menus, to legions of t-shirt clad staff ferrying bowls of this and baos of that. There’s simultaneously lots going on and not that much at all. It’s stools, noodle soups, and small plates.
Of the small plates, a stand out is the crispy tripe seasoned with a dancing 16-spice mix made for dipping in spring onion mayo. It hits all the savoury spots and goes at a few more while it’s at it. A £4 wonder that makes both tripe and Shoreditch fashionable again. On the other hand a pair of Ogleshield spring rolls, while being thoroughly predictable in gooeyness and chewiness, are no less delightful for it. The noodle soups are best enjoyed on one of the two high counters (tiled or metallic, depending on your preferred kitchen interior) for maximum head bowing slurpability. There are two beef choices, Taipai or Tainan-style, and a couple of vegan options as well. Both of the meat options are thoroughly heartwarming bowls where the optional addition of beef butter to swirl in should be mandatory. On top of that, the menu features their famous bao buns and fried chicken, meaning that this place is as good for sharing as it is for the solo diner.
But you might have already known that. Bao’s restaurants always tend to add up to one predictable thing, after all. The thing that feels inevitable when they open anywhere in London: a restaurant that’s one of the most surefire decisions you can make in whatever that chosen area is. Only, this time, it’s in Shoreditch.
There’s something quite exciting about bowls of food that come with other smaller bowls of food to interact with. We’re not talking about a chopping board burger and a mini basket of chips. We’re talking pink rump beef slices bobbing in broth ready to be dunked in a bright orange soy yolk on the side, or a little dish of savoury beef butter to swirl into your broth and noodles. This bowl of noodles would be delicious without them—it’s chewy, the broth is light but flavourful, and it’s a good size. |t’s even better with them.
A little denser in flavour and salt than its rare beef counterpart, the Taipei-style noodles fit the bill for a brisk winter’s day. The shortrib is thickly cut and the perfect vehicle for a glowing egg yolk on the side. Broth-wise, sensory memories of cups of Bovril at the football came to us while slurping, though none of those involved the welcome cut through of coriander and pickled greens.
Like jellied eels and Werther’s Originals, there’s something thoroughly mail-order-velcro-trouser-wearing-grandparent-feeling about tripe. It doesn’t have a bad rep. It just has a kind of WWII rep. This stuff shouldn’t do though, no no no. It’s full of fizz and flavour, spicy and zingy and not unlike a more interesting pork scratching.
A lovely little lunch or dinner at £7.50, this braised pork rice is generous with chunks of belly and meltingly good fat alongside pork floss (pig candy floss in essence, in case you didn’t know), a crispy fried egg, and pickles. It’s a perfect small bowl.
Once upon a time these deep-fried cheesy spring rolls would be subject to a vaguely sexual oozing ‘cheese pull’ video that had the Buzzfeed Tasty stamp of approval. Everyone’s a bit over that now though, because, ultimately, something that tastes this good shouldn’t be left to go cold on camera. £5 for two is a little dear, mind.