Thursday, 23 June 2016

BAO, Soho: a review


Do you know how many times I have attempted to eat at BAO in Soho? Even before the hype, there was a queue across the road. And then the press coverage came. 

So, when presented with a quiet Monday afternoon in June, I thought what the hell. Having spent the morning at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, it was knocking on 12 o'clock as I meandered over to sample some Taiwanese delights.

Hurrah for me! I was seventh in line. 

As office workers revolved in and out of the juice bar next door, I waited. The funny thing about queuing as a lone diner is that you really notice your surroundings. I tried to peer in the tailor's window one floor up from BAO. With my back to Pret's veggie pop-up shop, I counted the number of tourists dodging the constant stream of traffic. I eavesdropped on the couple's conversation next to me about whether they had time to drink a pint from the pub next door before they were seated. By far the most entertaining were those who skipped the queue altogether, walking into BAO only to be turned away and showed the queue. I and my fellow queuers (not a real word) were feeling pretty smug at this point. 

Half an hour later, I was beckoned in. BAO is compact, with wooden furniture and people acting as the only decoration. I was seated right by the kitchen hatch on a row of single diners. 

Or so I thought.

Have you ever been to a restaurant and heard a couple having an earth-ending row beside you? Turns out two of the people on my safe little single-diner bench were actually together. Actually, maybe not any more, depending on the result of their argument. Trying to ignore the throwing of plates and tears (!), I concentrated on the task at hand.

I took the pencil and note paper with check boxes next to each menu item that I'd been given. The waitress explained that I needed to write in the quantity of each dish that I'd like, and recommended three or four in total. Not being too hungry, I went for two of the buns, one of which was fried chicken. Wanting that purist experience, the other one I chose was the classic bun. 

Pillowy soft and with an intense depth and complexity of flavour, both buns were a cut above a soggy cheese and tomato sandwich. BAO's humble beginnings as a street food stall are evident in its no frills approach and in its desire to put good ingredients first. If this is what Taiwanese food is then I want more.

Luckily for me and the others that preserved, support for BAO Soho means that there's another branch opening in Fitzrovia in June (2016). I only hope that the location's as interesting for people-watching as the queue in Soho turned out to be. 

Meal for one with a Taiwanese beer and two dishes, around £15