The shopfront of Bao’s Soho branch is so low-key that visitors wanting to locate the venue will have better luck searching for its famed queue instead. The restaurant’s new Fitzrovia outpost however, with its expansive steel-framed windows, is a little more conspicuous — yet draws identical lines, which snake around the block in this much quieter corner of London.
The draw? The restaurant’s signature pillowy steamed bao (buns). The classics such as the confit pork and lamb shoulder from the Soho location remain, now joined by a host of new fillings, including the crowd-pleasing fried cod with hot sauce. These sit alongside a selection of xiao chi, a range of small, experimental dishes that riff on the cuisine of Taiwan, the native country of co-founder Erchen Chang, who launched the Bao franchise with siblings Shing Tat and Wai Ting.
As well as noticeable tweaks in the menu, there’s a dramatic shift in layout at the minimal space, which dwarfs its Soho sister in size. Designed by Shing Tat in collaboration with London’s Article Studio, the restaurant centres on a U-shaped wooden bar that offers diners a prime view of the theatrics that accompany the restaurant’s creative cocktail menu. Below ground, a basement space lined with sheets of metal offers a sexy, intimate mood, with booth seating, and an open kitchen that gives insight to the makings of what is now one of the city’s most popular snacks.