Taiwan-meets-Japan is the theme for the third Bao, which departs from its Soho and Fitzrovia siblings with a Tokyo-style grill and a karaoke bar. Laminated menus with sketches of the dishes replace the usual paper-and-pencil order system (so you know exactly what you’re getting), while a much bigger space dramatically reduces Bao’s characteristic queueing madness. There's also a grab-and-go hatch.
Highlights of the xiao chi (small plates) included the veggie panko-breadcrumbed bao, the crisp disc served alongside a smoky, fiery aubergine dip, and a generous portion of tender 40-day-aged beef topped with a vibrant egg yolk on a bed of buttery Taipei rice.
But the real stars were the new bao dishes, in particular the prawn shia song, a hotdog-shaped, deep-fried savoury doughnut-bao hybrid (quick, someone trademark the baonut) filled with tiny juicy prawns. Curry cheese bao was another winner, with produce from nearby Neal’s Yard coated in tapioca starch and deep-fried into a crispy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside slice slathered with satisfying katsu curry-like veggie sauce.
Other small plates and sides were unfortunately hit and miss, with a sameness of textures often short on crunch and long on gloop. The beef meatball was crumbly and bland with raw onion adding little, while scallops lacked in promised beef dripping and cold, curried yu shiang eggs would have been better warm.
The quirky-casual vibe here makes it a welcome addition to Borough Market, but really, it’s still all about the bao.