Newspaper headlines aren’t always the must-know stories. Nor the most interesting. Of course the budget is big news, but what about the seagull that stole someone’s dentures? Or the swimming pool that’s too wet to swim in? In a similar vein, the headline buns at Bao Borough aren’t the only story at this restaurant. In fact they’re a distraction. As here it’s the smaller, less shouted about plates of food that you should be paying the most attention to.
This is Bao’s third London restaurant, and, space-wise, it’s undoubtedly their best. Where the original Soho spot pushes the human rights definition of ‘cosy’ and Fitzrovia is all bar seating, this Borough location has everything you need. There’s a row of counter stools for a quick beer and a bao. There’s a mixture of six to eight person tables at the back for groups or sharers planning to tick tofu, aubergine, and more off the all-too-easy-to-order-from menu. There’s even a karaoke bar downstairs if you want to murder Rock DJ whilst munching on punchy Taiwanese fried chicken.
Once you dispatch your obligatory pillowy bao - the molten deep-fried curry cheese is the one to get here - we’d recommend leaving it there. Not because they aren’t good, but because of all the other stuff. The flavours of the small plates are of the tabloid variety: big and bold. Wafer thin slices of pork jowl sit in a layer of savoury, in-your-face, WORLD EXCLUSIVE-type sauce. 40-day aged beef with butter-laden rice is a smutty, addictive TELL-ALL EXPOSÉ on what your heart doesn’t need but definitely wants. And charred lamb cutlets with a lava-like chilli sauce pool are a HOT ROMP that will leave you sweating.
Everything here is sized and priced temptingly enough that one £6 bao and one £10 plate can easily become three or four. It’s fun, but it can also be a little deceptive. As all of a sudden you may find yourself with a £30+ bill on your hands, which can be a little grating when things like the nugget bao, or the beef butter scallop, read much better on paper than in reality. So it’s good to know what’s worthwhile when these little plates add up fast.
With all that in mind, aside from one slap-up reconnaissance visit, you’re unlikely to be coming to Bao Borough and ordering half the menu. This is the kind of restaurant where you find your favourites and stick to them. A prawn bao and a plate of jowl on your way home, or some fried chicken and a house salad to share after a wander around Borough Market. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter that the bao don’t feel like breaking news anymore, because that bowl of beef and butter rice certainly is.
This is, for all intents and purposes, a deep fried cheese sandwich smothered in curry sauce topped with some fermented chilli. It is, for all intents and purposes, fantastic. A must order.
This shiny, glistening bun is more than likely going to catch your eye. And like a baby or a dog that’s spotted a wrapper, you will end up putting it into your mouth. Visually it’s very lobster roll like, but taste-wise it’s something more garlicky prawn like. And that’s always a very good thing.
Like a former estate agent turned motivational speaker, this guy flatters to deceive. It looks the part - melted American cheese, cute bit of lettuce poking out - but you’re better off sticking with the fried chicken.
Crunchy fried chicken and hot sauce. What’s not to like?
These thinly sliced bits of fatty pork melt in your mouth. Combined with the bamboo shoot salad and rich savoury sauce, it makes for a very tasty plate of food.
One of the misses. These wings are perfectly cooked with nice smoky flavour, but there isn’t a lot else going on otherwise.
Richer than a provisional lottery winner and smoother than a Love Island contestant’s legs, this is the thing to eat here. The beef is rare, the rice almost risotto-like when mixed with the yolk, and the creeping chilli kick bang on. A steal at a tenner.
Maybe a little dear at almost a fiver per cutlet, this is a no nonsense plate of food. The lamb is perfectly pink but perfectly charred, and the chilli sauce is as subtle as a disgruntled cab driver. Excellent stuff.
The kind of thing you might ignore, but we’d highly recommend you don’t. A bowl of crunchy and bitter leaves in tart dressing is exactly what you need on your table.
A plate of mushrooms could be overshadowed by the more exciting sounding, meat-filled dishes on the menu. But ignore it at your peril. These chewy mushrooms in a rich umami-ish sauce are the real deal.
A slightly expensive single skewer that is perfectly nice, but nowhere near as thrilling as some of the other options.