Two years into this half-university-student-half-food-blogger life of mine and I already have a lifetime’s worth of cringe worthy moments – mostly encountered during blogger events and restaurant invites. Imagine: turning up to the door of a launch event to know that my name had never been added to the guest list. Or wandering around a party, hand sweating holding a glass of champagne, not knowing anyone there and no-one knowing who I am. Oh oh oh! Receiving the bill from a poker-faced waitress to find that supposedly complimentary tasting costed more than two weeks of my allowance.
Something I’ve missed from this double life is being able to visit restaurants without all the pressure of getting the best photos, the best seat in the house, the best flat-lay shot under the most perfect natural light, or even having to chose who to take with me on the basis of nice hands and a good appetite (you know, someone to finish the food AND volunteer as a hand model). While receiving invites to new restaurants is something I’m very, very grateful for, and something that definitely helped me get out of my comfort zone, I still want to be able to grasp the freedom to explore the food scene outside of my own personal tastes.
So last week I decided to pop down to the newly opened XU for lunch on my own. XU is a Taiwanese restaurant created by the amazing people behind BAO which in turn is known for its minimalist, artistic kick and its creative baos and Taiwanese snacks. Its vibe has been impossible to replicate in the London food scene. XU retains that artsy flair but with a twist. Walking into the two-story restaurant on Rupert Street is like walking onto the set of a period film; the wooden fans swirling on the ceiling, the pink chairs, the wooden framed bar – that classy, opulent interior reminiscent of the 1920s.
“All I need right now is a Qipao”, I think as I stare blankly at the waiter in his black suit and bow tie, my hands stroking the creases of my rather modern white blouse.
I am seated on the first floor, at a table tucked in the back with one chair, conveniently designed for lone diners like myself. Not long after that, I am presented with a menu. BAO is known for its creative, tea-based drinks, and they explore their mixological combinations even further at XU with a whole range of creations, including XU’s Gin & Tonic, a gin infused with tea leaves. Naturally, I think 2 pm is not at all early for a drink, so I go for a Lo Tsui Ke, a sweet mix of Hong Yu Tea, Gin, white miso and apple.
I’ve done my research thoroughly before coming, and order the lunch menu which pleasantly provides me with a taster of a few dishes without breaking the bank. It includes a snack, a choice of starters, one main plus a bowl of rice and greens. The lotus chips arrive as a snack. Thin slices of lotus root are fried and seasoned with chilli, peanut and winter melon syrup. The crunchy texture and the savoury sweetness of this dish make it the perfect bar snack – I’d happily return to the bar for a few cocktails over a few bowls of these.
The starters arrive next. I went for the tomato and smoked eel out of the three options available in the lunch menu. Cubes of tender fish are mixed with juicy tomato chunks, all in an appetising vinegary, spicy dressing.
I also order the taro dumplings as an extra. Three plump, glossy pyramids sat on a pool of green kow choi oil dressing, with a chunk of iconic sweet and salty Taiwanese sausage wrapped inside chewy taro skin. They’re delicious.
The mains take me by surprise – the portion sizes are far more generous than I expected. A whole portion of their signature Shou Pa Chicken arrive with a dish of seasonal greens (my favourite Choi Sum) and a bowl of steamed Chi Shiang rice. The waitress kindly explains the Shou Pa Chicken: marinated chicken with ginger and spring onion with a white pepper and chicken skin dip. I am advised to give the bowl a gentle mix before diving in. The drippings and sauce coat the tender strips of meat, with the ginger and spring onion tying all the flavours together. This dish goes perfectly with the rice – the flavours and simplicity of this dish transporting me back to my home in Hong Kong. it feels oh so familiar and oh so homey.
Halfway through the Show Pa Chicken and I and absolutely stuffed. Luckily the waiter offers me a special da bao – my Chinese roots just won’t accept any food wastage. (My mother would have slapped me for not finishing the rice.)
Verdict. Absolutely delicious food, sincere service, wonderful to see the BAO family expand so successfully. I’d definitely come back again for lunch – I’m eyeing their signature Bak Kwa (meat jerky) and Char Siu Iberico Pork!