In the Bao London universe

In the Bao London universe

Bao, the small Taiwanese restaurant in London, England, has cracked the culinary code of preserving an authentic taste of street food while presenting dishes in a modern way that Westerners can enjoy.

Due to Britain’s colonial history with Hong Kong, China, London’s Chinese culinary landscape has long been dominated by Cantonese cuisine, and in particular dim sum. It is only recently that cooking styles from other parts of the Greater China region have begun to shine and gain mainstream recognition.

This has certainly been the case with Taiwanese street food, which includes the traditional gua bao, on which Bao’s signature dish is based. It consists of an open steamed bun filled with ground braised pork belly and pickled greens, and topped with a bite of ground peanuts.

There’s also pig’s blood cake, fried chicken, fermented stinky tofu, and bubble tea.

Tainwanese street markets often embrace various regional cooking styles brought to the island from mainland China. The recipes are a legacy of Taiwan’s history, which was driven primarily by disputes between the then-ruling Chinese Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party decades ago.

Until now, there were a few decent Taiwanese restaurants in London, but most of them were traditional. Bao was one of the first to challenge the status quo and add a modern twist.

Different types of baos served at Bao's Borough branch.

Different types of baos served at Bao’s Borough branch.


Erchen Chang founded Bao with her husband Shing Tat Chung, who was her classmate at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. Chung went on to earn a Masters in Design from the Royal College of Art. His sister Wai Ting Chung, who worked in fashion, joined the couple and the idea for Bao was born.

Chang had no food training. In contrast, the Chungs have been running restaurants for generations in Taiwan. After graduating, the three took a road trip to Taiwan, made their way across the island, and decided one night — at a street market — that they wanted to try catering.

“We came back to London. We tested the recipes and started making pop-ups in cafes that closed at seven. Very quickly, we were invited to set up a place in the Netil market in east London in 2013 and that’s where everything exploded and took over our lives,” says Chang.

At the time, Bao’s Netil Market branch served classic pork bao and fried chicken. Now it also serves boxes of rice, ice cream and pineapple cake.

“Now everyone knows what bao is. I was shopping at Waitrose the other day and they even have a food stall that sells bao. But in the beginning, we literally had to explain what we were doing word by word,” she recalls.

Since then, with the support of the JKS Group, Bao has expanded to multiple locations in Soho, Fitzrovia, Shoreditch, Borough and King’s Cross. Each of them also has a distinctive character and menu.

JKS is a restaurant group run by the Sethi siblings – Jyotin, Karam and Sunaina. They own around 30 branded restaurants in London including Kitchen Table, Gymkhana, Arcade Center Point and Hoppers.

Bao Soho and pig's blood cake, Bao Soho's signature dish, topped with soy dried egg yolk

Bao Soho and the pig’s blood cake, Bao Soho’s signature dish, topped with soy dried egg yolk.


Bao’s Soho outpost at 53 Lexington Street opened in 2015 and was an instant hit among food critics. It has been awarded a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin Guide for seven years.

The Soho restaurant offers the most classic Bao menu. Must-haves for starters include pork blood cake topped with soy-dried golden egg yolk; trotter nuggets with burnt chili sauce; eggplant mapo rice; Taiwanese fried chicken and homemade pickles.

There are also more classic dishes like confit pork and shoulder of lamb baos.

The other branches of Bao play very specific roles in the expansion of the Bao London universe.

Bao Borough is inspired by late-night grilling, common in Japan, where people can grab a few skewers and drink before heading home. The Shoreditch branch is their modern take on a traditional Taiwanese beef noodle shop. Both have karaoke rooms in the basement.

Bao Fitzrovia is a U-shaped bar that has a dedicated cocktail menu and serves heartier dishes inspired by the flavors of Taiwanese home cooking, such as half-roasted chili chicken served with scallion pancake and rice with chestnuts with salted duck egg. and Enoki’s crumbs.

40-day aged beef butter rice and chilli chicken wings served at Bao Borough

Forty-day-old beef butter rice and chilli chicken wings served at Bao Borough.


Bao King’s Cross comes complete with a bakery and a unique solution allowing travelers to sample some of the most iconic Bao dishes before hopping on the Eurostar.

There are beef tendon nuggets; fish black bao, which is cod coated in black batter, and Bao’s takes McDonald’s fish fillet. There is also a sad face bao salty egg custard. A sad face is drawn on the bao, and when pressed, pastry cream comes out.

Chang particularly enjoys the meals of Bao Fitzrovia’s staff, as the chefs would occasionally replicate recipes from celebrity Taiwanese chef Fu Pei-mei’s cookbook. They also prepared special, “warming” dishes on key dates like the winter solstice.

“Many of our chefs, even though they work in Bao, still don’t know what exactly Taiwanese food or Taiwanese culture is. So these dishes can really inform and educate them. I also think it’s very important to experience something new and different in our daily work,” says Chang.

There was also another business under Bao’s umbrella called Xu in Chinatown. It was Bao’s serious take on Taiwanese food, and it was so well received that he was asked to put on a pop-up at Frieze Masters in 2019.

Due to the impact of COVID-19, Team Bao decided to put Xu on hold. Chang says she would like to reboot Xu “many years from now, when my hair is completely white.”

To cope with the impact of the lockdown, Bao launched the Rice Error delivery service in 2020, selling boxes of Taiwanese rice. She also launched the online store Convni, which sells a range of ready-to-drink Bao cocktails, and Bao home-making kits.

People immediately returned to Bao after the pandemic ended, and the line outside Bao Soho is as long as before.

Above, the interior of Bao King's Cross;  below, Bao Fitzrovia's U-bar.

Above, the interior of Bao King’s Cross; below, Bao Fitzrovia’s U-bar.


“We have very specific ideas in mind about what we want to bring to London. We like to bring a different way of eating to London, but all under Bao’s lens,” says Chang, explaining the thinking behind each location.

“Take our Shoreditch noodle shop, for example. When developing the menu, we didn’t just go to beef noodle shops in Taiwan. We also went to many types of noodle shops to take inspiration from the interiors, like the tiles, the metal bars, the low stools and the fact that you can see in the corner that the chef is cooking,” she adds. .

As for the menu, Chang says there is a structure in place for Bao. It starts with Xiao Chi, which means small bites; then there is the bao section; the sides, and maybe the desserts.

“Xiao Chi is where we can be more creative. For example, with blood cake on the menu in Soho, Taiwan, you’ll probably never come across an egg yolk on it. It’s a way for us to showing our love for British culture. Along with the baos and desserts, it’s sometimes a direct re-enactment of what Taiwanese would eat, like the classic pork bao and cilantro peanut ice cream at Bao Fitzrovia,” says -she.

Slow cooked beef cheek and short rib noodles from Bao Noodle Shop, and inside Bao Noodle Shop in Shoreditch

Stewed beef cheek and short rib noodles from Bao Noodle Shop, and inside Bao Noodle Shop in Shoreditch.


The trio’s background in art and design has also helped Bao maintain a cohesive vision over the years, and this consistency can be seen in the wooden interiors of Bao’s various locations, white employee uniforms and presentations. Instagram-friendly dishes.

The Bao logo of a lonely man eating a bao, which was based on a painting Chang presented at his last show at Slade, has also gained cultural cachet as it has been used on merchandise such as tote bags. everything and t-shirts that Bao sells in-store and online.

Chang reveals that she and her partners are working on a cookbook with Phaidon, which will be released early next year.

A Bao app is also in development, she adds. Although Chang declines to elaborate further, she did confirm that the app is tied to the metaverse and community development.

Dishes served at Bao King's Cross

Dishes served at Bao King’s Cross.


Chang says 40 Maltby Street is his favorite place to visit in his spare time.

“It’s a wine bar. I normally go there and will try to order one of everything if I have enough company. Everything is very seasonal and well balanced. And then the way they recommend the wine, everything goes really well with the food. For me, it’s super comforting,” she says, adding that she also loves Mangal, Dalston’s traditional Turkish grill, where customers can bring their own beer.

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