BAO, Borough: restaurant review

Cocktails? Karaoke? Cloud-like gua bao? As the latest outlet from the BAO restaurant group, this Borough Market restaurant delivers a top Taiwanese eating experience 

What's the draw

The latest restaurant from the massively popular – and massively worth queueing for – BAO restaurant group, BAO Borough is a portal to a better place. Detach yourself from the human traffic of Borough Market's Stoney Street, nab a table if you're lucky, and you'll fast feel as if you've been taken out of the city and plonked on a stool in a Taipei sidestreet. Consecrated with a long and narrow space where dappled light and eavesdropped conversations fill every available nook, BAO's third iteration specialises in Taiwanese xiao che ('small eats'). Retro posters on the wall proselytizing the health benefits of bao and the consumption of the restaurant's own bespoke Weeping Sake (produced in collaboration with the Konishi Shuzo Brewery) give BAO's Borough premises the feel of a proper drinking den. A Suntory Hi-Ball machine cranking out champagne-esque tankards of whisky sodas and the karaoke room downstairs only further hammer that point home.

What to drink

Inspired by the fruit stands you'll find scattered throughout Taiwan, BAO's highballs are mixed with seasonal market fruit that comes straight from the nearby stalls at Borough Market. The Bao-Hi was a zesty affair of Toki Whisky, salted citrus cordial, bitters, and soda that came lapelled by a sizeable chunk of frozen lemon slices. We lashed that Bao-Hi with its watermelon-laden cousin, the Bipp-Hi: clarified melon gin, sochu, mandarin bitters, and soda made up the brunt of that refreshing cocktail; childhood memories of watermelon Melody Pops brought kicking and screaming to life as an alcoholic thirst quencher. The spirits shined bright, too. A Taiwanese Kavalan single malt whisky murmured notes of vanilla and ripe fruit as BAO's Weeping Sake left this particular writer immediately scouring the internet for somewhere he could buy an entire bottle of the stuff.



What to eat

BAO's small plates format means you should really come here with someone that's up for sharing. Each of the namesake bao (be it the pork belly, beef short rib, or curry cheese number) hit a satisfying cumulus-cloud sweet spot; however, we found it was the prawn shia song that stood out in the crowd. Flushed pink parentheses lodged in a crisp doughnut-like bun, the shia song is what a prawn cocktail wishes it could be when it grows up – sophisticated and seductive, yet still capable of having a good time. Yu shiang boiled eggs are harder to pin down but no less delicious. Each egg is expertly soft-boiled and topped with yu shiang mayo and an alp of shaved Doddington cheese. The resultant effect is a savoury explosion, each languid yolk stretching to its breaking point before snapping and leaking its golden secrets in your mouth. Cold-smoked aubergine with panko-crusted bao – a crisp bun that's been cleft in two and deep-fried to become a vessel for heaping that fuméd veg onto – offers a cooling and welcome flavour contrast. As, too, does the lip-tingling xingjiang maitake mushroom. And yes, before you ask, we did try the 40-day aged beef that's been taking over your Instagram feed. Draped over a bed of Taipei rice with a raw iris of yolk in its centre, every sheaf of that justly grilled meat collapses like butter as the already buttered rice it sits on soaks up the beef's char. A cow and its dairy have never sung a sweeter duet, creating an umami harmony that's only disrupted once we get to the milk tea ice cream and fight over dominance of the last plump, bright strawberry.

Small plates from £3.25, highball cocktails from £8.5. 13 Stoney Street, SE1 9AD;