Taiwanese street food from Netil Market to Soho
In 2011, if you had asked anyone where Netil Market was, probably only a handful would have been able to locate it in the vicinity of Broadway Market. These days, the small courtyard wedged between the railway arches and some disused warehouse is buzzing and has seen some of the hottest street food names gracing the stalls– I still remember an incredible first encounter with a Lucky Chip burger there. An even bigger Netil Market success story is Bao – a brother and sisters crew, purveyors of fine Taiwanese street food in the guise of fluffy steamed buns filled with mouthwatering stuff like pork belly or fried chicken; they have now opened a permanent site in Soho, the new London foodie hotspot.
I loved Bao buns at first bite, but the queue at Netil and the fact of having to eat them standing – not an easy task for me, a lover of “eating at a table” – often put me off a bit. I even went as far to say that I found them a bit pricey at £3.5 per bun, which caused a bit of a twitter backlash and caused some of the fans to cross me off their cool friends list – a fair punishment for counterpointing a foodies’ crush with lowly money concerns 😉
In Netil Market, Bao occupies a tiny wooden hut in the right corner of Netil Market, sitting less than five people at the counter, plus a long queue of takeaways at the weekend. Their brick and mortar location shares the best bits of the Netil Market Bao hut – a beautifully designed, minimalist interior where blond wood is the dominant note – plus the advantages of more covers, a longer menu and a drinks list. What’s not to like? Well apparently the queue is still there as well.
Bao Soho – buns and more
HW and I let the novelty die out a bit whilst reading the first impressions and comments of the London foodie crowd on Twitter, then headed to Soho for dinner a’ deux – hungry and thirsty after a beer tasting session.
We really enjoyed the new dishes such as pig trotter croquettes (not nearly as adventurous as they sound-the gelatinous trotter is ground to a pleasant creamy-like texture and fried in crispy breadcrumbs), the daikon soup and an excellent scallop in soy sauce. The infamous pig bloodcake had sold out by 9 PM, and two of the dishes we ordered never materialized – fried rice with duck was “too long to make” and the beef did sell out after our order apparently – but we got a succulent oyster in the way of compensation.
The signature bao were as delicious as ever, but I enjoyed them much more whilst sitting down and with wet wipes at hand for the dripping sauces. Fried chicken is something that HW loves more then me (read= he loves the chicken more than he loves me for sure) but we both elected the fried chicken bun our favourite, whilst the confit lamb one was a tiny bit underwhelming.
The Horlicks icecream bao is a good idea but it’s fiddly to eat unless sinking your teeth in a solid block of ice is your thing; it is quite messy, but the fried dough is really good and I dream of the day when Bao starts to make it with a savoury filling (like the Duck and Waffle Oxcheek donut maybe?).
With a bottle of excellent organic cider, the bill came to a healthy £65 for two people. It is really not cheap, and probably the lack of the two most filling dishes (rice and beef) didn’t help, but the quality was great and the location adds so much to it in terms of experience, that I actually do still prefer it to the three quid market snack.
The kitchen is clearly still coming to grips with its own success but there is definitely a willingness to make things right for guests, which we appreciated.
I will probably be back to Bao Soho soon to try more dishes and see how their menu evolves – and we are now seriously thinking of visiting Taiwan soon as the food looks just so promising. Stay tuned…
Value for Money: 7/10