Let’s be real for a second. Bao is the shit. These steamed buns have the bite-satisfaction of a burger, with the filling variation of sandwiches, and a fluff-factor to rival that of Boo the dog. Day or night, winter or summer, feeling minted or just looking to spend a tenner on dinner - bao has got your back. That’s why we decided to very scientifically rank the best bao in London. Office votes were cast, allegiances made, and several sentimental tears were shed over peanut powder. The results are in.
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Nominated for: A badass peanut soy sauce.
Okay, so Kurobuta is a Japanese-leaning restaurant, but they do have one pork belly bao on their menu and it’s what we would define as a crowd-pleaser. The pork belly has just the right amount of chew, the buns are fine, if a little crisp for our liking, but the crunchy, spicy peanut soy dip saves the day. It’s £13 for two which is steeper than the other options on this list. All that said: a solid back-up bao.
Nominated for: Autonomy of sauce and filling.
When bao goes wrong - please, Ross Kemp, we beg of you, make this as a TV show - it’s often because there is way too much sauce or filling going on. It’s hard to enjoy your bao when you’ve got miso mayo sliding down your elbow, or when you have to dislocate your jaw to take a single bite. That isn’t an issue at Flesh and Buns as you pack the buns yourself and although some of the fillings might let you down, the crispy duck with plum sauce and beetroot pickle is a real winner.
Nominated for: Originality and exceptional cheesy crunch factor.
One small step for bao, one giant leap for fried cheese. This hot number from Bao Borough might not be the bao for anyone with a dairy allergy or a sensitivity to spice, but it’s perfect for people who want something different. Thanks to the curry sauce and fermented chilli this little bao packs a lot of heat, but the cheese, fluffy bun, and tapioca pearls keep it from being overwhelming. Also, did we mention the crunchy deep-fried cheese?
Nominated for: Being the bao equivalent of your favourite pair of jeans.
We like hoi sin. We like cucumber. We love bao. That’s why it’s statistically impossible for us to not like Yum Bun’s pork bao that comes with just enough sauce to avoid any dire soggy bun situations. A go-to street food spot in Spitalfields market, all of their steamed buns are reliably great. The spring onion, hoi sin, cucumber, and slow-roasted pork belly is such a comforting combination that it’s sort of like a mouth hug. Do you know what we mean? You know what we mean.
Nominated for: Flavours. Texture. Flavours. Texture. Happiness.
Fine, yes, there’s a lot of pork belly on this list. It’s just a fact that pork belly and soft steamed buns are the Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson marriage of the bao world. Mr. Bao is part of a mini-chain of family-owned and family-run restaurants that are experts at putting a bit-of-this and a bit-of-that into their extra fluffy buns and creating the perfect mix of flavours. Case in point, everything inside this bao. Also, we really stan the pickled cucumber relish.
Nominated for: Just like, the perfect amount of peanut powder crunch mixed with tangy fermented greens, and perfect braised pork.
You should know that it was around this point in the ranking that we had an existential crisis. We feel distinctly like we’re suddenly in a Love Island recoupling, staring into the infamous fire pit trying to decipher whether we fancy braised pork or confit pork more. Alas, after much consideration we realised that Bao’s signature pork classic is the texture party we always want to be invited to, but we love their confit pork sibling just that little bit more. Read on.
Nominated for: Being fancy, fiery, and all round fucking fantastic.
Take any other pork belly bao in London, dress it up for some sensational event called the Bun Oscars, add some mighty fine dried shallot accessories and you’re close to imagining this bao. Of course aptly-named Bao know their way around a bun, but they seriously don’t get enough credit for the things they can do with meat (cf. Bao Borough’s 40-day aged beef and butter rice bowl). A 10/10 fluffy bun combined with hot sauce, crunchy dried shallots, and some seriously tender aged-pork belly. We love.
Nominated for: Being most likely to make you happy-cry in a pool of miso mayo whilst promising to name your firstborn Shiitake.
Everyone, meet our winner. Isn’t she beautiful? No single element makes this bao, it’s every part added up. All the fillings merge into one glorious mouthful, until you’re not entirely sure what you’re eating, you just know it’s ridiculously good. Soft shiitake mushroom, crispy shallots, teriyaki sauce, a smidge of pickled onions, and a miso mayo we would merrily chug. It has a slightly smoky, meaty taste from the mushrooms, and no one makes a fluffier bun than London’s beloved family of little bao restaurants. You can also find this champ at Master Bao and Mr. Bao, but armed with a plum wine negroni, Daddy Bao in Tooting is our favourite spot to properly sit back and enjoy it.