As famous for its lengthy queue as its doughy delights, steamed-bun outlet Bao certainly caught the city’s culinary zeitgeist when it launched in 2014. Now, with three successful branches across London, co-founders (and husband and wife) Shing Tat Chung and Erchen Chang, together with Chung’s sister Wai Ting, have graduated from street food to a fully-edged restaurant.
Named after Chang’s late grandfather, XU takes inspiration from a childhood spent feasting on Taiwanese cuisine (where Chang lived until the age of 14). Colonisation by the Spanish, Dutch and Japanese has left the island with a legacy of diverse culinary influences, blending flavours as varied as fresh seafood and soft dumplings to ferments and pickles. XU’s interior evokes the island’s capital city in the 1930s – a Wes Anderson-esque affair with a marble cocktail bar encircled by pink leather seats, wooden ceiling fans and a green lacquered tea kiosk, manned by a white-coated tea master serving steaming cups of rare loose-leaf teas. Also available to book are private Mahjong rooms, inspired by the siblings’ memories of their parents playing the puzzle game into the night, where guests can feast on soft taro dumplings and slices of inky cuttle sh toast.
Inside the main area, diners can mix and match from the menu. For starters, the jerkies (bak kwa) of lamb, beef and pork arrive as thick, sticky slices, making for a heavenly mouthful when dipped in pickled ginger, fresh mint relish and pepper sauce. The xian bing pan-fried dumplings are equally irresistible, especially the Montgomery cheese variety – a particularly gooey indulgence.The enduring classic, Peking duck, is also given a twist, this time in the form of slow-cooked short rib mixed with its marrow and served in a hollowed-out bone, topped with crispy potato crumb. Diners can wrap the mix in pancakes and garnish with chilli-pickled daikon for a tangy, crunchy mouthful of heaven.
For mains, the shou pa chicken is hard to beat – sliced into succulent chunks and immersed in the bird’s ‘drippings’, then topped with chicken skin and ginger for a nal punch. Wash it down with some Kavalan single malt whisky (from Taiwan’s only family-owned distillery), infused with 10-year-old oolong tea syrup, for the perfect finish.