Food / 24 July, 2019 / My Baba
With so much time spent in BAO and the rest of the time raving about it, I decided to branch out and book into its sister restaurant XU Teahouse. Where BAO is minimalist, serving up street food simplicity, XU Teahouse is sophisticated and adds a couple more notches onto London’s knowledge of Taiwanese cuisine. In a similar way that BAO aims to deliver a snapshot of culture and street food in Taiwan, Xu Teahouse veers off in another direction towards a Taipei teahouse with the decor of a luxury 1930s dining room. “When you go into a tea house in Taiwan, there’s always a guy sitting there with a heap of tea leaves that have just been used. We wanted there be someone making tea constantly,” explained co-owner Shing Tat Chung to Financial Times.
With aircon flowing and ceiling fans spinning slowly overhead, Xu Teahouse is a good retreat on a warm summer evening. The dark wooden panelling, deep green leather banquettes, and rounded bar that aches of 1930s art-deco all make for a charming and opulent space for eating and drinking.
We went for the Mister XU menu, a tasting menu that you can have paired with tea, alcoholic drinks or by itself. You can also choose from the A La Carte menu, a pre-theatre sharing option or a divine-sounding Afternoon Tea Ceremony set with savoury (sweet potato dumplings, char sui girolles) and sweet dishes (fried cinnamon mocha, steamed red bean bun). That’s the closest you’ll get to BAO’s famous steamed buns here.
Relived to hear that chicken feet had been dropped from the original menu, the Mister XU tasting menu comprises of classics, including cuttlefish toast — think prawn toast amped up with an intensely inky deep-sea flavour — and Taiwanese 16 spice prawn. While I couldn’t try the prawns, XU was happy to switch it out for 16 spice pig tails. You bite into a lightly-crisped coating then reach a soft melt-in-the-mouth combination of fat, muscle and meat — it’s, surprisingly, very good.
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Moving through a selection of small plates, we reach char Sui Iberico pork and cucumber, a delicious hunk of tender meat in a deep sticky sauce. Shou Pa chicken a highlight: juicy strips of chicken with a generous punch of ginger and flecks of spring onion. Wild garlic rice is a solid side for both dishes: moist and sticky to the right degree. I also had to switch out chilli crab, so got chance to try the tomato and smoked eel. Eels being something many Londoners sneer at, I was curious about this one. Cubes of eel are served up in a cold soupy sauce that fuses smoky and saltiness with a tang of spice that’s all soaked up by the tiny tomatoes.
For going out and trying something you new, yes: it’s a brilliant place to explore what Taiwanese cuisine has to offer, in particular, its long list of teas that Xu Teahouse has imaginatively and seamlessly incorporated into its cocktail list. Order the Assam Tea Old Fashioned, you won’t regret it.
Book now on XULondon.com
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