Bao

Restaurants, Taiwanese Soho
5 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(72user reviews)
Bao (© Rob Greig)
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© Rob Greig
Bao (© Rob Greig)
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© Rob Greig
Bao (© Rob Greig)
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© Rob Greig
Bao (© Rob Greig)
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© Rob Greig
Bao (© Rob Greig)
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© Rob Greig
Bao (© Rob Greig)
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© Rob Greig

Bao? Wow. This slick former street food operation brings Taiwanese cuisine in from the cold, with plenty of hit dishes and a great tea selection.

The transition from street stall to permanent site is not an easy one. Many successful street food traders simply lack the skills for staffing rotas, spreadsheets and hitting slim profit margins. That’s why the three founders of Bao cleverly teamed up with more experienced and deeper-pocketed operators – the team behind Trishna and Gymkhana – to smooth the journey from market pop-ups to permanent Soho establishment.

This Bao-Trishna marriage seems like a happy one. There’s a slick Japanese-looking interior and relaxed yet efficient service. But most strikingly, the tantalising menu is fresh and innovative. While it’s based on Taiwanese street food dishes, the kitchen pushes far beyond those boundaries.

Chef David Chang did something similar with Korean food in New York – the Momofuku founder’s steamed buns became a cult food item. Subverting and reinventing dishes, Chang targeted a new generation of novelty-seeking urban diners.

Bao is London’s equivalent of Momofuku’s Ssäm Bar. The restaurant’s name derives from gua bao: fluffy white steamed buns, in this case filled with braised pork, sprinkled with peanut powder, and yours for £3.75. Other sorts of bao (bun) are more slider-like, such as little burger baps wrapped around soy-milk-marinated chicken, sichuan mayo and kimchi. There’s even a dessert bao – made with doughnut batter and filled with Horlicks ice cream – that echoes the malted cereal milks at NYC’s Momofuku Milk Bar.

Yet buns are only half the story. Xiao chi (small eats) are given equal prominence, reflecting their cult status in Taiwan, where much culinary innovation comes from street food stalls. Pig’s blood cake – a neat little block topped with a lightly cured egg yolk – tastes of soy sauce and black pudding. Vegetarian dishes are enticing: oyster mushrooms are cooked with jade-coloured fragments of century egg; intensely savoury dice of roasted aubergine have a slight garlic kick.

What lifts this diner from merely great to sublime is the drinks list. Sakés, artisanal ciders, well-matched beers and hot oolong teas vie for attention alongside creations such as foam tea – a chilled light oolong artistically topped with foamed cream.

Arrive hungry; leave happy. But be warned: as Bao is small and doesn’t take bookings, we predict Momofuku-style buzz. And queues.

By: Guy Dimond

Posted:

Venue name: Bao
Contact:
Address: 53 Lexington Street
London
W1F 9AS
Opening hours: Lunch served Mon-Sat noon-3.00 pm; dinner served Mon-Sat 5.30pm-10.00pm.
Transport: Tube: Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus
Price: Meal for two with drinks and service: around £45.
Do you own this business?
Static map showing venue location

Average User Rating

4.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:48
  • 4 star:15
  • 3 star:4
  • 2 star:4
  • 1 star:1
LiveReviews|72
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3 of 3 found helpful
moderator

I've been looking forward to Bao opening for ages and wasn't disappointed. Great but subtle flavours, good service and a cosy little venue (queues will be inevitable).

2 of 2 found helpful
Staff Writer

Amazing buns, the fried chicken is to die for but you will have to queue. Believe me though it's more than worth the wait. Perfect for a great value lunch that will leave you feeling thoroughly spoilt.

1 of 1 found helpful
Tastemaker

Hands down one of my favorite spots in town. The smoke eggplant with wonton crackers, the lamb shoulder Bao, the fried chicken Bao are my absolute favorites. Tough to get a spot without queueing outside if you go at prime times, but you can always order drinks while waiting! Good, fast service once you're in. Great experience overall.

1 of 1 found helpful

This place is totally worth the queue and you won't walk away disappointed. The buns (guao bao) are amazing, soft and tasty in all their variations: I have tried them all, and my favourite so far is the lamb bun. A part from that, they have lots of interesting small plates as side: fried chicken, scallop, aubergines come with tasty and unique flavours. The shop is small but cosy, with very friendly staff. We had a great time, and i can't wait to go back again.

1 of 1 found helpful

Great buns! The food was spectacular and the service a delight. Plus, the prices were incredibly reasonable - I'll be going back again.

Tastemaker

Bao always has queues outside its restaurants and I’ve been meaning to visit for a while. Eventually I managed to give this place a visit and see what all the fuss is about and see whether it is worth queuing up for. Ordering is simple, you are give a piece of paper with all the menu options and you tick the items you want.

The steamed buns are the star of the show here and we decided to order the classic, confit pork, daikon and horlicks baos, sweet potato chips, aged beef rump cap and aubergine wonton crisps. They are ok, but the buns are tiny that I probably could eat one easily in two small bites. Flavours were good but I wanted bigger buns and more content in there!  It would have been good to have maybe more desserts available as there was only the horlicks ice cream one available. Saying that, they do have an diverse drinks selection with lots of interesting flavours. I think it’s a little overrated, I’ve tasted better baos elsewhere, I probably won’t be back in a hurry. Unfortunately they don’t offer a huge selection for vegetarians and the seating is a little cramped as this is really a quick eat and go kinda of place. The staff managed the queues pretty well and service was brisk and friendly as we were seated right up the bar. The branch in Fitzrovia looks like a nicer venue in my opinion.
tastemaker

Taiwanese food at its absolute best, perfectly steamed Bao Buns, which inspired me so much I tried to recreate them over the weekend and miserably failed. Now that’s another story. I understand now that you can book tables in advance but I didn’t have that advantage and waited outside for around 30 minutes – which isn’t too bad as the food made up for it!

Pretty much loved everything on the menu that I tried, except for Pig blood cake, which I wasn’t brave enough to try.  Massive Bao fan and will return! 

tastemaker

Great for a quick and satisfying bite; bao steamed buns are all the rage and this joint has a great balance of flavours while keeping it simple and light.


What we had:

  • Trotter Nuggets
  • Guinea Fowl Chi Shiang rice
  • Classic Bao
  • Confit Pork Bao
  • Fried Chicken Bao
  • Soy Old Fashioned

The trotter nuggets are pretty salty; so one dish to share is plenty. The bao are done well and come out hot and the steam bun fluffy without being soggy. I would have preferred more spice and kimchi flavour in the fried chicken bao; however that’s really personal preference. I would pass on the guinea fowl rice as it wasn’t particularly memorable. The soy old fashioned whisky cocktail went with the food quite well, keeping it refreshing. Bao is an “in and out” sort of place as opposed to having a long sit down and chat over food so their service is quick, no fuss and efficient so they can turn over the tables quickly. I’ll definitely be back to try more of the menu.


Tip: get in early so that you don’t have to wait for a seat; otherwise Bao Fitzrovia, Windmill Street take bookings via their website.


Good For: quick meal, cheap and cheerful, small groups, catch up with friends, pre-theatre meal, something different.

Tastemaker

Cheap, cheerful and delicious! This is definitely a place to check out if you’re into Vietnamese food! There may be a queue, but well worth it!

tastemaker

After the huge hype that surrounded this restaurant last year, I was lucky enough to be wandering around Soho on an afternoon off work and managed to walk right in to a table before it closed after the lunch service. I was unfortunately underwhelmed by what I came across.


First, the positives: the buns are delicious fluffy and moreish. Stand out dishes for me included Taiwanese fried chicken, Guinea Fowl, Pig Blood cake, confit pork bun and Sweet Potato Chips which are are all amazing. The game changer however has to be the fried Horlicks bun which is undeniably the best thing on the menu.


Now on to the bad things: This is in no way a cheap eat. Unless you are literally looking for a snack that is, as the portions include just one bun or a very small dish. A bill for two of us with soft drinks came just shy of £50. For this kind of money I would expect a slightly more luxury experience (the stools were cramped and uncomfortable) and the tables are very close together. The service was also very rushed. We had never been in before and an explanation was rattled out quickly, leaving us fairly puzzled and within 5 minutes, they had returned to collect our as yet unfilled menu forms. Even though we were reminded when we ordered that the kitchen was only open for another 30 mins, I felt that it was Unnecessary to be reminded a further three times that the kitchen was closing... which felt a little pushy. It was especially annoying as they forgot to put through our dessert order, which then caused a kerfuffle as it had to be put through with just five minutes to go.


Unfortunately, think this was a victim of over-hype, although I will say again that the food is good, just not what I expected it to be.


Long queues? Yes. Good food? Absolutely.


There’s a lot of fuss made about this restaurant and for good reason. As the name suggests, they’re all about the Bao, and they own it. Each of their six bao offerings are delicious in their own right but that’s not to say the rest of the menu shouldn’t a look in. Their trotter nuggets are a particular highlight.


Their Soho branch is a small space but they use it very well to ensure the maximum amount of customers without ever feeling too crowded.


You may be wishing for a larger space if you’re (inevitably) waiting outside in the queue, but their food is served fast which makes their turnaround time much quicker than your average restaurant. 


For me, this food has always been worth the wait.


Tastemaker tip: Go just before opening or before they stop serving lunch/dinner. There will still be a queue, but a much shorter one!


 I've been looking forward to a Bao night so when some friends recommended it and regardless of the long queue, I couldn't say no. The scallops were my absolute favourite, every little bite is like a sea wave bursting with flavours and the presentation is simple but original. The buns are so soft you'd like to sleep on them and although we tried a few and I am a meat lover, daikon was a winner for the balanced spices and originality.


Great to see a Taiwanese snack bar. The Baos are fabulous and very tasty all be it on a pricy side for its portion.

The fried chicken is not quite as how we have it in Taiwan, tho that's not to say it isn't also lovely.

Go and have a few snacks yourself and get a few Taiwanese beers to go with it!


There's a queue....often a big one. I attempted to dine at Bao on numerous occasions but often turned my nose up after seeing the amount of people waiting to dine at this little street food restaurant. After these futile attempts i tried once more and mustered up some patience to wait for a table. I was filled with an enormous amount of regret - why was i too impatience not to wait all those other times. This restaurant is absolutely delicious. The queue is pretty speedy as the food is quickly prepared and eaten.  I'd say two bao buns each plus a few starters and the tangy sweet potato chips is all you need. I can highly recommend the crispy chicken and the classic, i just need to go back and try the horlicks ice cream bao now. 

moderator

I am not normally one that chases all the latest fads, but I happened across Bao one afternoon during my lunchtime stroll and since there was no queue (90% of the time there is one.)


Service can be seen as aloof, though it feels like it works here. The food is simple, but TASTY. The decor is flat, but fitting. It is more than just food, it is an experience.

tastemaker

Not for those with weak knees, as there will be a queue even 30mins before closing during mid-week. This is greatly compensated by the ridiculously friendly staff, that actually genuinely seem like they don't hate their job and up for small talk. As a fellow Taiwanese, I have to say the fried chicken wasn't entirely authentic, but tasty none the less. The portions are on the small side, which on the bright side let's you try out different dishes. Think asian tapas.


Avoid going in large groups as the tables only take up to 4, prepare yourself for some time standing outside, and eat buns.

Tastemaker

Despite the hour and a half queue it was completely worth it. The pub next door benefits from allowing drinks in the queue, so it went quite quickly. We ordered the scallop, rump and guinea fowl from the Xiao Chi menu, all amazing, especially he guinea fowl. From the Bao menu we ordered the classic, confit pork and the lamb shoulder. My favourite was the Classic. Our bill without drinks came to under £20 each which was good. Hopefully it will be easier to get into the other BAO openings as the queue was so long.


Went to Bao for lunch. After a short wait (at the Bao bus stop on the other side of the road!) we sat at the bar and sampled the delights....and it was all great. I would rarely give 5 stars to a restaurant, but literally everything I tried was just amazing - both bao's themselves and a selection of small plates to share - pig blood cake (basically black pudding with an egg), sweet potato fries, trotter nuggets (don't be put off by the name!), all mouth wateringly good. Can't wait to go back!


I totally get the hype now. We were lucky to avoid the queue when we visited, but I would've been prepared to endure it for Bao's badass buns. They're great value and taste delicious, as well as the lovely variety of sides like the Taiwanese fried chicken or the aubergine. But FYI - the space is tiny so better to go for a quick lunch or dinner. 

Tastemaker

First a warning if you are thinking about visiting BAO - prepare to queue from a while in the street BUT i have good news, it's worth the wait.


Very yummy and tasty. The restaurant is small but cosy and all the staff is very friendly.


Don't be deceived by the queue! The food is very good quality, but it was not necessarily worth a 50 minute wait. If you have the time go for it, but if you just want a cheap, tasty meal there are other good restaurants.  

Tastemaker

What can I say about this place that hasn't already been said? I fell in love with their food on Instagram, everything looked amazing and served with extreme attention to details, which can't always be found in cheap places. 


As soon as I had time I went there for a meal and I didn't let the queue put me off since queues are always a good sign. Believe me, it doesn't matter how long you wait, it is TOTALLY worth it. One cannot even imagine how good these soft, warm buns are. My personal choice is always the fried chicken bao. An explosion of flavour in your mouth, with different, pleasant textures. Pure foodgasm!

Staff Writer

Amazing place. Buns immense, fried chicken superb. Hard to fault Bao in any single way. Well worth the visit.


went there friday evening and had the confit bao , the classic bao, the lamb bao. the fillings were not as big a portions

as in the photos. the lamb bao tasted like ordinary curry lamb. I am afraid everything tasted bland except for the beef soup. Having lived in Taiwan, Malaysia and Hong Kong I have to say the food offered are very ordinary bordering on poor.

A great disappointment.


Every man and his dog have done their time in the Bao queue by now, but even after the hype has subsided I still find myself going back for more. Despite similar steamed buns now appearing on every trend-spotting Asian inspired menu in the city, Bao is still one of the best. For me it is the 'Classic' that hits the winning formula.


Even better than the bao themselves, however, are the 'xiao chi' or small eats. The pig blood cake, served with an egg yolk on top, is as tasty as it is instagrammable, and any menu that offers trotter nuggets gains points from me.


My one (personal) negative: the fried bao filled with Horlicks ice cream is hell on earth for those afflicted with sensitive teeth.


Worth queuing for! The Bao are out of this world and the menu is really unusual. Tried fermented century egg and pigs trotters for the first time here. Can't wait to go back.


Delicious! I went for lunch and got in pretty quickly so I can't really comment on the queue situation (though I would probably be prepared to wait for half an hour). The buns didn't disappoint and I would say the pork options are among the best food I've eaten in London. The prices are very reasonable too which makes this place even more of a gem. 

Staff Writer

Wont blame there for being a queue the food is amazing! definitely will be going back. however, one is not enough so do order 2 or 3 if you have an appetite like me. 

Tastemaker

There are some really pricey buns to be honest! The queue is ridiculously long (waited about one and a half hours) and my group ordered approximately one of each item to try. Once you do manage to enter the venue, remember to order a fried horlicks ice cream bao, because that's probably their best item on the menu (basically malted ice cream sandwiched between fried baos). Their baos do have a subtle flavour, though I prefer mine stronger. Bao is essentially street food in a covered venue, and should be tried for the novelty. Take note though: you won't be full at all after just one. 

Staff Writertastemaker

The queues have died down (very slightly) now and its still as worth the visit. The sticky pork bun is as good as you'll get them in London, messy and cute to boot.


Fried chicken here was recommended to me several times and doesnt disappoint. Worth a visit for this dish alone.


Going from the stall in Night Tales a few years back to their restaurant, these guys just continue to get better and better. The food is always amazing. 


I'm Taiwanese, BAO here is so delicious that makes you feel homesick~~~ I wanna come here every week!!

Tastemaker

I've tried and loved all the buns and many of the sides. The bun with succulent pork belly and the lamb shoulder bun with an interesting mix of mint sauce and mayonnaise are my favourites. The peanut milk with an ice cube is interesting. The service is quick and the low tables and neutral decor are relaxing.


Just amazing. Great tasting dishes, good variety of tapas dishes, and as the portions aren't big, can try a bit of everything! Staff are friendly.


Being a lazy vegetarian, the idea of queuing for meaty buns didn't appeal. But I couldn't be happier than my friend convinced us to brave the crowds at Bao. We were lucky enough to have the day off work, so we went for a slightly less popular time slot. We still had to queue, but for a mere 20 minutes rather than the 2 hours the waiter tells us people have waited. But once inside, the hustle and bustle, the amazing food and great service makes it all worth while. Couldn't recommend it more. Despite there being just one veggie bun option on the menu, the waiter pointed out the kitchen could easily rustle up another alternative. Can't wait to go back.

Staff WriterStaff Comp

It's definitely worth queuing up to eat here, the pork buns are delicious and the fried chicken is awesome! The staff are really friendly and it's all pretty reasonably priced too.

Get there early or grab a drink at the pub next door for the queue, I'll definitely be going back soon to make my way through the rest of the menu!

Tastemaker

This place has had such rave reviews that I have been nervous it may disappoint - IT DIDN'T!

I finally got to go midweek after work with a friend and even then at just gone 6pm there is a queue of 10 or so people waiting to be seated - it is a small (& popular) place so it is understandable The queue does move fairly quickly however so we only had a 15 minute wait (I have heard people have waited over 30 minutes). You have to have your whole party their before you are seated which is standard but to be honest I don't think the venue is suitable for more than 4 people and even then it is a push, just because of the seating arrangements.
Once seated with your menu you tick which items you want along with the quantity and hand it to the waiter asap (sort of like Ping Pong?). The menu is split between Bao's, sides and then other dishes. All the Bao's sounded amazing so I was keen to try as many as possible and the other half of the menu isn't really my thing (pig blood cake, century egg, trotter nuggets, soup) so we tried nearly all the bao's (£4-5 each) - Classic, Fried Chicken, Confit Pork & Lamb. We shared each, which is quite tricky as they are fairly small and there are no knives, but luckily we are good friends so don't mind! If on a date or with someone from work I would definitely stick to your own dishes. My favourite by far was the Lamb but also high up on the list was the Classic. We also got the sweet potato chips which were so good - super crispy!
For pudding we got the Horlicks Bao - horlicks ice cream sandwiched between a fried bao (one each as that would have been impossible to share!) and boy was that a brilliant finish to the meal!
We stuck with tap water throughout as weren't so fussed about trying their teas etc and in total it came to a reasonable-ish £30 
I cannot wait to go back! #TOTastemaker
Tastemaker

I went to Bao with high expectations and prepared to queue. Luckily there is a pub next door so we got drinks and waited in their super organised line outside. Forty minutes later, inside and perched at their cosy tables we were ready for a feast. Bao did not disappoint and lived up to the hype. The pork bun is delicious, but the chicken one was just exquisite, and we ordered another one each. Also worth getting- the scallop, and sweet potato fries. Ok to miss- the pickles, which were lip puckeringly sour.

Tastemaker

I've been to Bao twice now. I have to admit, the first time I was slightly underwhelmed. I'd gone to their food stall several times before their permanent premises and was hugely impressed with the food, but wondered whether moving to Soho permanently had led to a decline in the care and effort they put into their food. Don't get me wrong, their Bao's were still amazing and well worth visiting, but I thought they'd lost some of that sparkle! 


But then I went a second time, and oh. My. God. We ordered a variety of starters and the pork confit/fried chicken baos and my socks were blown off. The beef rump cap with aged soy sauce has to be one of the best things I've eaten in an extremely long time, and the trotters with wasabi mayo were almost as impressive. The first thing I did (after instagramming of course), was to google where I could get some of that soy sauce. Not to mention that their pork confit bao is absolutely fantastic, and in my opinion, better than the rest on the menu! 


Drinks wise I'd avoid ordering here as you get fairly small cups for what you pay, and instead just focus on sampling the starters. You won't regret it. 

Tastemaker

Yesterday I had one of 'those' days. Every bit of technology I touched went wrong, i took the long way round everything, I was tired & grumpy & Bao was the perfect antidote. Truly interesting & soothing.

I was nervous about the potential queue as we had cinema tickets for 7pm but we were early in the queue (tip it's across the road not directly outside the restaurant) and so seated quickly. Seating is informal but well designed so felt private. Service is swift, friendly & helpful. The menu is brief - a few starters, the Bao and a few sides. There is a kind of glossary that explains the Bao.

We had 3 starters, 3 Bao & a side (sweet potato chips - which are battered & deep fried)! The food was frankly delicious. Really distinct flavours and textures. The blood pudding with an egg & pigs trotters nuggets were moreish. And the Bao were delightful the bun has such an indescribably light texture. I particularly loved the fried chicken which had all the best toothsome & dirty qualities of good fried chicken but with some gorgeous unusual flavour on top.

I had oolong tea which looked a tiny amount but was just the right amount. Spotted all the pots and their individual timers as we left. My friend had a beer that he didn't remark on.

Our bill was about £40 with service so Bao is quite reasonable. What I would say is portions are not huge & so hungrier people would probably need a couple more dishes - of his own accord my pal would have had more.

Bottom line - great place to eat a quick & delicious meal.

Enjoy

Tastemaker

There are only good things to say about this place. As a complete char siu bao lover, having a restaurant completely dedicated to the sweet, fluffy and savoury BAO was exactly what Soho was missing. Yes, we had to queue, but a friendly hostess swiftly got us cans of Asahi with menus and it was only about 30mins before we were seated in the cosy and modern restaurant. We tried 10 dishes and they were all fresh, delicious and made us generally happy! It’s hard to pick favourites, but I wouldn’t miss the scallop with yellow bean garlic, pig blood cake, classic bao, lamb shoulder bao or fried Horlicks ice cream bao. I will definitely be heading back to try more of the Taiwanese version of tapas and recommend it as a great date spot or place to catch up with a friend.

Tastemaker

Yum yum! We had to queue for about thirty minutes, but it was definitely worth the wait. The buns and fried chicken were amazing and melted in the mouth and the horlicks ice cream was unbelievable! Very reasonably priced too.


Easily the best buns I've had in London. The queue is a bit of a bummer but time it right and you shouldn't be waiting too long! Definitely go for the friend chicken it's 10/10. Horlicks bun is an absolute dream and a necessary if you're visiting on a hot day as they seem to have a bit of an air con problem! 

Tastemaker

Guao Bao is, for me, an obsession. I just love the combination of the soft, sweet steamed bun with the flavorful meat inside. That's why I was excited about Bao, praised for having the best of the best in town. With minimalistic decor, and limited seating, you may have to queue a little while, but I guarantee: it’s well worth it (lunch time is friendlier). The classic bun, filled with shredded pork belly and peanut powder is just the beginning of amazing flavors such as confit pork with crisp onions, and fried crunchy chicken with kimchi. For a great start, do try the pig blood cake with a round yellow yolk curated in soy sauce on top – it’s just perfection. Truly the bun paradise!

Tastemaker

This little Soho gem is worth the wait. Myself and a pal managed to get there before 6.30pm, which meant we were only queuing for 45 minutes. We had a drink in the queue from the John Snow next door...so it flew by! 


Once inside, the small but not cramped set-up didn't make you feel like you could stick around for hours, but a fine place to settle in for some fancy street food.


We had: scallops (tasted as beautiful as they looked) pork trotter nuggets (so much more appealing than the name, these were melt-in-the-mouth delicious), fried chicken, sweet potato chips (not like any I had tried before...in a good way!) and classic, pork and lamb bao The pork being our favourite. 


We didn't drink but tried some speciality teas, and a Horlicks Bao to finish things off. 


The bill was really reasonable, and the starters were all perfect amounts to hare between two.


Overall, a wonderfully innovative dinner. Worth the wait, believe the hype.

Tastemaker

Back for the second time last night - absolutely outstanding. The menu is small, perfectly formed, and exceedingly reasonably priced. My top picks would be the classic bao (melt-in-the-mouth braised pork excitement), the pigs blood cake (glorified black pudding topped with a rich egg yolk), the aged rump beef with soy glaze, and the peanut milk (perfect as a side to compliment the bao). Service is super friendly and helpful, but the dining room is tiny - if you're hoping to get a table, start queueing outside from 17.15 for a 17.30 seat as it opens.


Absolutely love this place. Will queue up 45mins no worries (there's a pub next door so it's just like standing outside a pub anyway!). Selection although limited is all incredible...even unusual dishes like the mushroom and century egg are delicious. Scallops are a must too.


All of the dishes were delicious, particularly the fried chicken. The minimalist interior is cosy, and the staff are very accommodating. The dishes are small, leaving lots of room for exploring, and they have the best guo bao I have ever eaten in London.

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