Please note that since this review was published, this, the original site of Bun House, has closed. A new site has opened on Chinatown's Lisle Street. Time Out Food editors, July 2019.
Let’s start at the end. Because the best bun at Bun House is one of two dessert buns, which comes filled with dark chocolate and pig blood. Now before you go all eeeww! on me, you don’t actually taste the blood. It’s really there as a form of natural thickening agent, although it does add an umami-like depth, too. It’s sort of like having a warm cup of coagulated cocoa. In a bun. With a ‘just-up-to-the-middle-please’ coat of crunchy, golden coconut flakes. Which, of course, have been deep-fried. It’s the stuff of pudding pilgrimages. Even allowing for the too-faint hit of promised chilli (I mentioned this; they pledged, sweetly and sincerely, to fix it).
But what is this Bun House? Well, it’s not a restaurant. Not really. It’s an incongruously beautiful room with a busy takeaway counter and a sprinkling of first-come-first-served tables. There are a few alfresco numbers, too, for top dollar people-watching: this being the junction of Old Compton Street and Greek Street. Downstairs, a ‘speakeasy-style’ tea room is a-brewing.
To the buns. Not more bao, I hear you groan. No, not more bao. These buns are the Cantonese kind. Being steamed to order, they have the same pillowy, yielding texture as their Taiwanese cousins, but crucially come served ‘closed’. The downside of this is that the fillings are limited by what you can sensibly put inside, with textures coming in as ‘smooth’, ‘paste’ or ‘small chunks’. The upside of course is that each bun’s contents are a complete surprise – you match the hand-stamped Chinese characters with the board on the wall. It’s fun.
One came with syrupy chunks of pork and a gentle heat; another, billed as ‘cod and prawn’, had a nicely spiced filling – reminiscent of those fish pastes you put in retro sandwiches – and tiny, deliciously chewy shrimp. My favourite, though, was the northern Chinese-style lamb, which tasted – in a good way – like they’d put a chilli and cumin spiced skewer from Silk Road in a blender, then popped it into a bun.
But don’t get too blinkered by the buns. Two more star dishes are the ‘fries’ (which are actually deep-fried duck tongues, complete with crunchy cartilage) and the peanut-studded glass noodle salad, with its gentle Sichuan notes, if that isn’t too horrible an oxymoron. Oh, and don’t forget a portion of the tangy, crunchy daikon pickles – made with black and red vinegar, plus a dash of fish sauce – while you’re at it.
Final note: that other dessert. A disturbingly starchy, oozy, salted duck egg custard bun. Start at the end, end at the end.