Working Lunch – BAO Fitzrovia
31 Windmill Street, W1T
A Taiwanese restaurant that’s as famous for its queues as it is for its cloud-like buns crammed with meat and fish. After freezing their ‘nads off waiting outside, diners are invited to cosy up on bar stools, tick off their choices on a paper menu, then hand it in with their drink order to the barman in the middle.
Mere streets away from the first, wildly popular Bao, sitting comfortably in a cluster of south east Asian restaurants in Fitzrovia. The ground floor may be just a bar and a couple of tills, but the basement, decorated in dark, metallic tones, is a significant sophisticated step forward.
British Chinese siblings Wai Ting and Shing Tat Chung, and Shing's Taiwanese partner Erchen Chang, who he met while studying in London. The couple are in charge of the kitchen, while Wai Ting looks after front of house. They’re also backed by the teams behind Michelin-starred curry houses Gymkhana and Trishna.
The crowds come for the fist-sized steamed buns, packed with pork – both braised and confit – lamb and a new addition that’s the best of the bunch, black cod with hot sauce, a chunky fillet with real bite. The peppery fried chicken chop brings more meaty heft, also served with hot sauce and egg yolk, alongside Chi Shiang rice bowls topped with slices of beef shortrib or aubergine. The real fun, though, is found in the Xiao Chi section, a selection of smaller dishes often using offcuts in delicate and unusual ways. Crispy prawn heads stand to attention in pots of mayonnaise, small mushroom-like duck hearts are rolled about in a chilli and garlic drizzle and langoustines, lying white and raw in neat lines, taste as clean as they look.
BUSINESS OR PLEASURE?
The chilly wait, bar stool setup and offal-heavy menu won’t be for everyone, but informal clients with a zest for the zeitgeist will love it.
NEED TO BOOK?
You can’t! Larger parties of 10 or more, however, will be able to hire out the space downstairs by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
After its success in Netil Market and Soho, Bao Fitzrovia had big buns to fill. A relaxed, intimate venue that’s as fashionable as it is unflash, its varied menu has so much more to offer than steamed buns.
ONE MORE THING...
It sells milkshakes – sort of. Offered in the condensed milk or chocolate with toasted rice variety, the former is more like a creamy tea and the latter is malty and filling. A comprehensive list of Asian-infused cocktails, wines and sakes are available, too.