Bao London stands for the new breed of quality “street food” in London, serving up “xiao chi” (小吃), traditional Chinese street snacks found at market stalls. The fare here is Taiwanese; the bites are small; the team – comprising Shing, Ting & Er – is currently mobile. (I caught them at KERB but they also hold “evenings” at Pacific Social Club). The staple of Bao London is Bao (steamed bun with pork filling) but the rest of the menu varies. The price seems high, but it is backed by an ambition to source good produce and make everything from scratch.
Steamed Pork Bun (£3.50) was the best I’ve had in London. The buns were made by a formula of water roux starter and milk, left to ferment and then steamed. The result was a spectacularly milky white hue and a very neat and refined, pillow-y texture. Very light! (Personally I prefer their bun to Momofuku’s). The filling of steamed, shredded pork belly, mui-choi pickle, chopped coriander and ground toasted peanut tasted fresh and was quite a delight. (Personally I would prefer a touch stronger seasoning for the pork and that it was a little more drained. A little messy eating). Fried Chicken (£3.50/a bag of 4 pieces) was unique and addictive. Here strips of buttermilk-marinated chicken thighs were coated in seasoned crumbs, which after being fried, led to a very crispy veneer, an inner layer of stickiness and a mellow and tender chicken. Think a twist on “ham sui gok“? The seasoning in the crumb also left a hint of nutty-ness and a tingling sensation of chilli. Pomelo Salad (£2.50) was complimentary (because I went back for so many buns). Good texture – ranging from crispy fried vermicelli and crackling fried pastry, to crunchy vegetable bits and pearl-y pomelo shreds – but taste-wise it needed a bit more tang.
Yum Bun – formerly a stall at Broadway Market, Eat Street and many good festivals – has now turned stationary as a takeaway shop annexed to Shoreditch’s Rotary Bar & Diner. On the menu are Momofuku-inspired buns with 6 filling variations, priced at £3.50 for one and £6 for two. The lunch-only bento option (with 2 buns, 1 gyoza, 1 miso soup and 1 side salad) is available at £7.50.
The “bao” buns here cannot be identified with Momofuku’s pristine execution. They were more bread-y, cushion-y, thicker but not stodgy. (Much bigger than Bao London but far less refined). I liked them for their munch-able sweetness. The fillings were fine complements. My “Mushroom” – Portebello mushroom slices, toasted walnuts and miso glazing – was too mild to counter the bun. My “Chicken” – packed with marinated, flour-dusted and deep fried strips of thighs and finished with a dose of tartar mayo and chilli dressing – were successful. The chicken pieces were crispy enough. The lettuce garnish was fresh. My only concerns were the sauces, which tasted processed. The same went for my “Pork” – spiced-rubbed, slow-roasted belly slices to be seared on hot plate and doused with hoi sin sauce. I personally found the sauce, again, a little too processed-tasting and so sweet that it undermined the moreish belly. The refreshing crunch from the cucumber slices and shredded spring onions alone couldn’t mediate the sweetness effectively. Perhaps in the long run, they could benefit enormously from developing the sauce that is more loose in texture and more clarified in taste, because everything else about these buns was YUM!!
A Wong isn’t just another “Wong” of Chinese restaurants. Mr. A or Andrew is an interesting lad. He studied at Oxford and LSE, ditched all that completely and turned his late father’s restaurant premise, just off Victoria Station, into a casual but inventive Chinese restaurant. Before all this kitchen action took place, he spent time tasting his way around China and brought back souvenirs of his own culinary re-construction.
There are three menus at A Wong. The dim sum menu at lunch is unique as dim sum items are sold non-traditionally per piece (£1.30-4.95). The a la carte menu (£3-8) and the 8-course “Taste of China” (£38.88) are only served at dinner. The “Snacks” (£1.50-4.95) are available all the time. Century Egg in Sweet Soy and Marinated Tofu (£3.95) was refined. The pleasantly musty cubes of century eggs foiled well with the chilled silky tofu and the clear soy broth. The lightness of the latter was, to me, reminiscent of Japanese dashi and forewent the stereotype of hefty and salty Chinese cooking. The coriander cress provided lemon-y aroma. Sesame Buttered Smoked Chicken (£4.95) screamed quality but the nutty dressing required more complexities and balance. Too cloyingly sweet, for my liking. The two variations of Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) that I tried were decent. Yunnan Mushrooms, Pork and Truffle Dumplings (£1.75 each) boast depths. I also liked the contrasting texture from the sauteed mushroom topping. The truffle dimension was thoughtful and not just for show. Shanghai Dumplings with Ginger Vinegar (£1.30 each) was modernized. The traditional “ginger vinegar” made its appearance in form of exuberantly marinated tapioca pearls. The soup filling was peppery and porky. The problem, however, lied not in taste combination but in the skill set. Three of these dumplings leaked before they reached the table, otherwise they would have created more firework.
Har Gau (£1.30 each) was served with sweet chilli sauce, under some citric foam. While the foam was zesty and aromatic, its tartness was too intrusive when I gobbled down my piece of har gau. The har gau itself was nice but not stellar. The prawn was springy but the casing lacked a touch of rice-y gelatinous texture. This might be because its exterior became wet from the foam. 63 Degree Tea Egg (£4.95) achieved gooey softness and looked wonderful in the nest of fried filo shreds. The tea scent was also imminent but finely tuned. Quail Egg Croquette Puff (£1.30 each) was served with fried seaweed and an oil-based dipping made from garlic, ginger and spring onion. The flimsy crispyness of the deep fried taro puff contrasted marvelously with the ejaculating egg within. In my opinion, this was more successful than Bo London‘s take of the same dish (smoked quail egg, taro puff and caviar). The dipping, however, didn’t do much and the fragility of the puff itself made an act of dipping a little unease. I enjoyed, to the same extent, Hand Moulded Crispy Bun with Black Sesame Dip (£1.50 each). The buns were correctly sweet and delightfully chewy. I didn’t think highly of the sticky black sesame dip, mostly for its grainy texture, awkward bitterness and lack of nutty depth.
My meal at A Wong was not perfect but this is definitely the restaurant to watch out for. The menu is exciting and does not try making any statement just for the sake of it. There is also a unique kind of sensitivity of taste and approach to Chinese cooking that I find progressive, and for the most part, very delicious.
Currently mobile. Check their website for locations/events.
31 Featherstone Street
Tel. 07919 408221
70 Wilton Road
Tel. 0207 828 8931