The latest Bao incarnation is on Windmill Street in Fitzrovia. The expanding group of restaurants started as a street stall in east London and then opened up in Soho with lengthy queues outside the door – there are no reservations. For the latest Fitzrovia venue there was a more manageable queue before they opened at noon, though this was still early days for the restaurant. There is more room than in Soho, with a central area with bar stools arrayed around it; the kitchen and some further seating is available downstairs. There are a few wines available in addition to soft drinks.
The menu is very much the same as its Soho sister restaurant, with Taiwanese buns and an assortment of other Asian dishes. The buns themselves, both the classic bao and the battered black cod bao, were suitably light and fluffy, though perhaps a notch below the level of the ones in Soho (14/20). By contrast the fried chicken here was a little better than the Soho version, the bird having a crisp coating, good flavour and lively spicing (14/20). Nuggets of beef cheek and tendons were crisp and had a filling with plenty of flavour and a good kick of chilli (13/20). Raw langoustines came with an Asian dressing involving aged soy and a garnish of oyster leaf and dulse (sea lettuce). This was simple but enjoyable, the natural sweetness of the langoustines working well with the soy (13/20). I was less taken by beef short-rib with marrow and eryngli (French horn mushroom), on rice, the meat having little flavour (12/20). Octopus with basil and a sweet sauce was enjoyed by my Thai companion as it reminded him of home, though I didn’t find it particularly thrilling (12/20). Crispy prawn heads were better, crunchy and with a creamy dip, the prawns retaining some briny flavour (13/20).
Service was brisk and pleasant enough, the bill coming to £32 a head with water and a couple of soft drinks. This seems reasonable enough to me. If you did indulge in wine then a typical cost per head would obviously be higher. Bao is a fun place to eat at, the atmosphere lively and the food unusual and nicely made. It will doubtless prosper as much as its sister restaurants already have.