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Friday 8 June 2018

Baozi Inn: Affordable and Delicious Northern Chinese Street Food and Small Eats in London’s Soho

Name: Baozi Inn 

Where: 24 Romilly Street, London W1D 5AH, https://baoziinn.com/

Cost: There is an excellent value set lunch at £8.90 of meat or vegetable main course + two cold dishes from the chef's selection of the day + a bowl of jiaozi dumplings in broth.  

Alternatively, choose grilled lobster + beer at £18.90, with choice of Asian bottled beer (Tsingtao 1903, Sapporo or Chang) or draft beer (Franziskaner, Dutch Hertog Jan or Leffe Blonde). The selection of beers is impressive.

About: Opened in March 2018 on the site of the former Bar Shan, this is the third Baozi branch in London opened by restaurateur Shao Wei. Baozi Inn’s sister restaurants include Baiwei (reviewed here) and Bar Shu, the group’s flagship at the busy corner between Frith and Romilly Streets (reviewed here).

Baozi Inn was named after the Cantonese baozi dumpling, filled with pork or vegetable, the name also refers to the communal canteens that were introduced during the time of Chairman Mao.

Baozi Inn specializes in the eponymous dumplings, and Northern Chinese street food with a smattering of Sichuanese and Shanghainese dishes like barbecued skewers, Dan Dan noodles and Kao Fu. The offering is generally of small eats intended to be shared and served with beer, although there is a very extensive menu of fine wines and spirits.

The restaurant also offers an all-day Cantonese dim sum menu with Sichuanese and Hunanese influences which I am hoping to try in my next visit. Baozi Inn is in the heart of Soho between Old Compton Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, and being originally a Georgian townhouse, has an intricate layout with many adjoining rooms.  The restaurant is set over three floors within the building.

What We Ate: We started with a selection of cold dishes. Sichuanese ginger juice spinach (£4.50), served with goji berries and soybeans was refreshing and well seasoned with a great depth of flavour.

Kao Fu (marinated wheat gluten with peanuts and black fungus), is a Shanghainese vegetarian cold appetizer (£4.80) and a personal favourite, it was sweet, savoury and exactly as my dear friend, Shanghainese foodie extraordinaire Jason Li (of the Shanghai Dreams Supper Club) makes them.

I also enjoyed the cloud ear fungus in pickled chillies and vinegar (£4.50) – this had great texture and kick of hot chilli and garlic. 

Sesame prawn on toast (£4.50 for 2 pieces) was impressive - made using Chinese steamed (mantou) buns, filled with prawn and then deep-fried, it was a far cry from the usual fare we know of. Served with a passionfruit mayonnaise, they were delicious.

The mixed skewer platter (£17.50), came with two each of cumin lamb, pork belly and chicken skewers. The northern Chinese lamb skewers were tender and sweet, with a warming heat on the finish.   For me, the pork and chicken skewers were unfortunately a tad dry.

We had two of their signature baozi dumplings, one pork and one vegetarian, the latter having a pale green colour from spinach juice (£5.20 for 2).  The vegetarian bun was filled with radish, noodles and black fungus, and both were fluffy, tender and very well seasoned.

The award-winning jiaozi dumplings included pork (£5) and prawn green jiaozi with XO sauce (£6.90). Both made on the premises by hand, and were succulent and delicious. There was a great depth of flavour and umami in the XO sauce.

Squid ball skewers (£5.20 for 4 pieces) had a crisp coating with a soft interior.

Spicy beef shin noodles in broth (£13.80) was a deliciously hearty bowl beef, noodles and smoked bamboo shoots, which imparted to the broth an intense flavour and richness. A fantastic dish.

Dan Dan noodles (£10.80) were tender and fresh, served in a spicy and flavoursome sesame and peanut sauce, minced pork and Sichuanese preserved mustard greens (Ya Cai).

The lobster in fragrant spicy chilli sauce with a choice of beer (£18.90), we went for a glass of Belgian Leffe, came with red chilli oil, Sichuan pepper, ginger, green beans, celery and onion. This is such as a good deal and I really wanted to love it, but for me, the lobster was a tad overcooked and so tough.

What We Drank: We had a glass each of the draft beers Franziskaner Weissbier (£4.50), Hertog Jan from the Netherlands (£3.80) and Belgian Leffe Blond (£3.80) as well as a bottle of Tsingtao 1903 Premium beer (£4). Baozi Inn’s range of good quality beers is impressive.

We finished with a pot of Yunnan Pu Er tea (£3.80). It is served in a tiny cup from a tiny pot, but comes with a flask of boiling water which allows for plenty of top ups. 

Likes: One of the most interesting and innovative drinks menus of any Chinese restaurant in town.  I enjoyed the Shanghainese cold starters, the baozi and jiaozi dumplings hand-made on the premises, and the great range of draft European beers.  

Dislikes: the much anticipated lobster was a bit of a let down.

Verdict: Baozi Inn serves Northern Chinese street food, Sichuanese and Shanghainese small eats that are affordable and of good quality. It is great to see this new addition to the Bar Shu group, raising the bar of Chinese cooking and drinks offering in London. Recommended.

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