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.
53 Lexington Street
|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?|
Average User Rating
4.5 / 5
- 5 star:48
- 4 star:16
- 3 star:4
- 2 star:4
- 1 star:1
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).
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.
Great buns! The food was spectacular and the service a delight. Plus, the prices were incredibly reasonable - I'll be going back again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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!
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.