An Asia Veganuary at Baby Bao:
I love Xmas. The sheer indulgent excess of it is encapsulated in my mother’s trifle -a rococo creation of jelly and custard studded with cherries, soaked in sherry and smothered with an avalanche of cream. And now I feel… fat…so hoorah for Veganuary (and my running shoes). It’s a time to slough off those extra pounds in a detox frenzy, virtue signalled to all your sloth infected friends via every social media channel imaginable. To celebrate Veganuary I’ve been invited to review the newly opened London branch of Baby Bao in the Haymarket. Baby Bao specialises in stuffed Taiwanese steamed buns (Bao) and there are plenty of vegan options available; so after seeing the Klimt/Schiele show at the RA in Piccadilly, I trot down to the Haymarket for my Veganuary Bao Fest. The interior has soft industrial lighting with lots of exposed brickwork and distressed wood. It’s a lively night in a Haymarket venue that offers something more interesting than Planet Hollywood…I started off with a cocktail, The Sour Zhenzi, an elegant blended and seasonally spiced take on a gin fizz blending gin, Frangelico, sour build, cardamom bitters, orange blossom water and a sprinkle of nutmeg. But I was really here for the vegan Bao. Our charming waitress suggested three for the two of us with a couple of sides. The Bao buns themselves are soft and pillowy and the perfect vehicle for the exciting flavours to come. Our first Baby Bao was stuffed with crispy fried smoked tofu, nori, ginger, soy sesame mayo, and crunchy pickled veg. The tofu was crisp to the bite contrasting with the softness of the Bao with the other elements creating an oriental flavour fest in our grateful gobs. My favourite dish was the Bulgogi Mushroom Bao with cucumber, coriander, spring onion and peanuts. The rich umami flavour of the mushrooms infused every mouthful – delicious! Grilled aubergine, kimchi, green chilli, coriander, house mayo was surprisingly creamy with a hint of heat from the kimchi. As for the sides, the Baby Bao chips slathered with hoisin, miso mayo, sriracha and peanuts get my vote as the best chip dish in London. The sauce combo created an irresistible mouthfeel and flavour combo for the humble fried spuds. As a healthier choice, I can recommend the pickled vegetable salad, a crisp collation of veg with fragrant sesame, coriander and chilli dressing. I was really surprised by the quality and decadence of the vegan desserts on offer. Donut Bao (who knew!) with a non-dairy soy peanut butter ice-cream, strawberry jam and fresh ground peanut was a real sweet treat, and the Donut Bao with black sesame ice-cream, coconut caramel, toasted sesame was luscious in a dark mysterious way…you know what I mean. I have to say that the non-dairy ice-creams were a revelation. With reasonably priced and super-tasty Bao and great cocktails Baby Bao is your perfect West End pit stop. It’s not going to break the bank and is perfect for taking friends, colleagues or family for a fun outing and something a bit different.
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