North London's Old Tree Bakery has come to Chinatown, promising authentic Taiwanese street food to sate even the most homesick emigre from Taipei. This Formosa near Piccadilly Circus inhabits a small, canteen-like space, cramped by its hard benches and narrow tables.
But from an oyster omelette that was stuffed and blanketed with tingle, taste and texture, to noodles that were nestled in richly-spiced broth, the short menu of affordable fare didn't disappoint.
Highlights of the menu included own-made Taiwanese sausages, just as aromatic as the wind-dried variety from China, but without the dog-treat texture of its waxy cousins. Salt and pepper fried tofu was sensational, with a delicate sweet and savoury coating encasing an airy, marshmallow interior.
Given its roots as a bakery, and the range of pastries tantalisingly displayed within the glass counter, desserts were an unexpected letdown. A Taiwanese puff filled with red bean paste and duck egg was hard and dry, as if it had languished by the window for many days; and a Western-style cheesecake was just too cheesy, tasting as if strong cheddar had been added to the Philadelphia.
Service was friendly but barely professional, with one waitress slipping on a pair of Marigolds as she took our order because she had to ‘go and wash the dishes’. And despite the tempting variety of bubble teas on the menu (alcohol is not sold), none were available because the kitchen had run out of the tapioca pearls needed to make the Taiwanese beverage that's become an Asian drink craze. There’s no toilet on the premises, and the place looks a bit drab. But the makeshift approach is reflected in the reasonably- priced, cash-only bill.