Mon, Dec 22, 2014 - Page 14 News List

Top UK restaurateur bets on Taiwanese eatery Bao

CLASSIC INSPIRATION:Restaurant is to specialize in small snacks like those served in Taipei ‘xiao chi’ houses, which served as inspiration for chef Erchen Chang


The owners of Gymkhana, a restaurant named the UK’s best after only a few months in business, are backing a new London venue serving Taiwanese street food.

Bao, scheduled to open early next year in London’s Soho district, began life as a market stall in the east of the city and will specialize in xiaochi (小吃), or small snacks, especially the steamed buns called bao (包).

It is the brainchild of a young chef, her husband and his sister, all of whom have traveled across Taiwan learning about the cuisine.

“We tried bao about a year ago at Netil Market. We ate one and then we ate two and we kept going because they were so delicious,” Gymkhana chef and cofounder Karam Sethi said in an interview. “The concept is unique and this fits with what we are doing, backing young chefs who are ambitious and very talented.”

Gymkhana, an Indian restaurant located in London’s Mayfair, topped the UK’s 100 best restaurants in the National Restaurant Awards in July.

Sethi and his family have also backed new venues Bubbledogs, a gourmet hot dog and Champagne bar; Kitchen Table, which offers a tasting menu that changes daily; and Lyle’s restaurant in East London. All are proving popular, while Gymkhana and Kitchen Table both won Michelin stars in September.

“The xiao chi houses in Taipei, which we take our inspiration from, usually specialize in one or two dishes, so they spend decades perfecting a recipe. That’s the part that we really like and we want to bring back,” chef Erchen Chang said.

Bao will open on Lexington Street and will be led by Chang, 24; her husband, Shing Tat Chung, 28, who will help design the restaurant; and his sister, Wai Ting Chung, 29, who will oversee the front of house.

“We are specializing in steam[ed] buns. Our classic is slow-braised pork in soy sauce and other spices with sour pickle, coriander and peanut shavings,” Chang said. “That’s the most classic one. We haven’t got decades, but we’re working on it.”

The food will not be expensive, Shing Tat Chung said.

“We want to keep it very informal, very casual, affordable, fun,” with buns priced at £3 to £5 (US$4.70 to US$7.81), and other snacks going for £3 to £8, he said.

Chinese restaurants in the UK have generally been Cantonese. More recently, other regional cuisines, including Sichuan and Hunan, have started to gain favor. There are still very few Taiwanese restaurants in London.

“Taiwan is quite a melting pot of different cuisines,” said Chang, who was born there and moved to the UK at the age of 14, where she later studied at University College London’s Slade School of Fine Art.

Taiwanese cuisine “uses a lot of soy braising, a lot of herbs, coriander, thai basil and quite savory, heavy, big flavors,” she added.

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