Eat Here: Xu Teahouse and Restaurant, SohoBy Iona Goulder
I’ve always been a big fan of BAO, one of the original servers of those delicious steamed buns that have now become commonplace in restaurants and markets across London, so it was with great excitement that I accepted an invitation to dine in their latest restaurant and teahouse, XU.
Inspired by the original social clubs and luxury dining rooms of 1930’s Taipei, Xu’s interiors immediately transform you away from this corner of Covent Garden and into a low lit, atmospheric East Asian restaurant that’s sophisticated but buzzy and atmospheric. I was here to try their brand new menu the ‘Mister Xu Set Menu’ which starts at £39 per person. There are, of course, several drinks options that allow you to add to this a tea pairing option is available for another £16, wine pairing for £30 and on the weekends free-flowing Perrier Jouet Champagne for £25. Now, I know what you’re what thinking. Free-flowing champagne, I’m gonna stop reading this averagely written piece and book a table, but just one word from me. Champagne and wine are nice (the wine was very nice in fact especially the Riesling) but there’s a reason they put teahouse in the name.
I’ll move to the food in a second but the tea pairing served with the Mister Xu menu is worth the visit alone. It kicks off with a Hong Yu No.18 which is made lightly sparking by the Xu team. It has a rich delicious flavour that accompanies the dishes perfectly. In fact, each tea was unlike any other drink I’d had before, it made me think I’d never need to drink another glass of alcohol again (although that was before I’d had the Milk-Washed Whisky, 10 Year Oolong Tea, Vanilla Bitters – more on that later). The Sour Plum Tea should also get a special mention but needless to say don’t go to this restaurant and not drink tea, even if it is in between glasses of champagne.
Now onto the food. The Mister Xu menu is a four-course, nine dish extravaganza that’s served fairly speedily in pairs. First up was the Cuttlefish Toast with Whipped Cod Roe and Taiwanese 16 Spice Prawns. The prawns were the winner here (not that it was a fight) but these big juicy prawns were coated in spicy, crunchy crust. Meanwhile, the toast packed a fishy punch with the cuttlefish providing a base for a smooth, smoky whipped cod roe. We’re not talking huge portions here but that’s a good thing, just enough to get a flavour without the stuffed stodginess you can feel in other restaurants.
Next up is a selection of small plates, including an Aged Middlewhite Pork Xian Bing, Sweet Potato Taro Dumplings (not my favourite to be honest), Chilli Crab served with Salmon Roe & Mantou and a refreshing vegetable dish of Bamboo & Leeks. The pick here was the crab, I don’t usually like crab when it’s broken down within a soup-like dish but this was full of large, great-tasting chunks of crabs and paired nicely with the veg.
This menu is really all about the main courses, Xu’s Shou Pa Chicken with Ginger Spring Onion and the Char Siu Iberico Pork & Cucumber. With the Tea Pairing, these are served with an awesome Gaiwan of 10 Year Oolong Tea. Both these mains were outstanding. The sticky rich pork was beautifully cooked and accompanied by a slightly charred cucumber. Meanwhile, the chicken comes with a moorish crispy chicken skin topping and is served in a broth that enhances the flavour of the already perfectly cooked meat. It was a fitting ending to a truly original, exceptional set menu.
All in all the BAO team have done it again with their creative take on classic Chinese & Taiwanese dishes. With carefully sourced ingredients and exceptional drinks, this is the ideal place to eat and drink away the weekend.