Starting out its life in an east London street stall, Bao as now found a permanent home at the north end of Lexington street in Soho. The wood-panelled dining room is tiny, with seats arrayed around a counter as well as a few tables. The stools are not designed for lingering. There are no reservations at Bao, and a perpetual queue outside, with tables being rapidly turned. There are a few drinks available: beer, tea or cider.
I sampled a number of the nibbles that are ordered prior to the steamed dumplings. Taiwanese fried chicken (£5) was carefully fried and nicely spiced (13/20). Another good fried dish was the pig trotter nuggets (£3), which had plenty of flavour (13/20). A little queenie scallop was served with its muscle and roe attached and was a bit overcooked, something the lively sauce could not disguise (10/20). Much better was guinea fowl fried rice (£5.25), which came with topped with an egg yolk (13/20). Blood cake (£3.50) topped with cured egg yolk was quite striking to look at though rather dense to my taste (12/20). Crispy vegetables provided some welcome green balance to the meal (12/20).
The bao themselves were top notch. I tried both the classic (with pork and coriander filling at £3.75) and the pork confit ones; the texture was as light as a cloud, the filling having lots of a flavour, particularly in the pork confit version (15/20). There is even a Horlicks ice cream bao available for dessert.
Service was very friendly. We ordered a lot of food and the bill came to £41 a head with soft drinks and tea. A more restrained approach to ordering would result in a bill of perhaps £25 a head. I found the bao themselves very much the stars of the show, with the starters more variable and of a lower level than the classy dumplings. Overall Bao is a thoroughly enjoyable little place, and I can entirely see why it is so popular.