One of the highlights of my last trip to London, in 2016, was lunch at Bao Fitzrovia, so I was excited to learn that the owners were opening a new restaurant, XU, in Soho, just a few weeks before I was due to visit London again.
I was delighted that we were able to get a reservation pretty easily as I had heard from London friends that it had been proving tricky to do so, and was even more delighted to finally be meeting longtime Twitter friends MiMi and Emily for lunch in the process.
Xu is based upon the old private members clubs and luxury restaurants of 1930’s Taipei, think lots of gorgeous wood panelling, marble and Majong tiles. Whilst we ate in the downstairs restaurant that seemed to have more in common with a high end tea house, the upstairs dining room is about as glamorous as it gets and if you are looking for a restaurant to impress a hot date at, you could do far worse than XU.
The menu is based around a lot of small plates and larger dishes for sharing and as we were visiting at lunch we erred on the side of caution, ordering mostly small plates with one larger main course & side orders to share which I thought worked well for what we were after.
We started with 綜合肉乾 a Selection of Bak Kwa (or Jerky) including 40 Day Aged Beef, Spicy Pork and Lamb Jerky with a Shallot & Sichuan Relish & Pickles (£7) which to my surprise, I really enjoyed. Bak Kwa is very popular in Singapore and whenever I have tried it, I have found it to be too sweet but the XU version was nicely balanced and the Sichuan relish added just the right hit of spice.
Next up came the Golden Coin, a Mini Spring Onion Pancake with Foie Gras, Goji Berry & Shiaoxing Jelly (£2.75) which although just enough for a little mouthful, was full of interesting flavour combinations, the sweetness of the Shiaoxing jelly was a great accompaniment to the foie gras terrine.
Whilst Prawn Toast is a familiar appetiser in Chinese restaurants in the UK I have never seen a cuttlefish version like they have here. 墨魚多士 was a Cuttlefish & Prawn Toast (£5) with Squid Ink and Whipped Cod Roe which yielded a wonderfully chewy texture from the cuttlefish and the plump, bouncy prawns.
I had not been expecting the 豬肉餡餅 Xian Bing to be filled with pork however the menu describes them clearly as “Pan Fried Aged Pork Pancake, Vinegar & Chilli Oil” (£5.5) so I guess that was my mistake! I think they had been cooked with gelatine in a similar style to Xiao Long Bao as they were just so juicy and succulent, a real treat!
Another unexpected highlight was the 滷牛筋 Numbing Beef Tendon Terrine, Chilli Vinagrette, Coriander, (£5.5) which was sliced wafer thin with lots of wonderfully spicy, floral and face tingling Sichuan spices generously drizzled all over the top. Very special indeed, and something I would absolutely order again.
The last of our small plates were the 炸羊胸腺 Lamb Sweetbreads with Fermented Greens, (£5.75) which had a wonderfully soft and wobbly centre inside a crisp outer coating, the fermented greens providing the necessary balance to stop it from being too rich.
I had read a lot about the 手扒雞 Shou Pa Chicken; Marinated Chicken with Drippings, Ginger & Spring Onion, White Pepper & Chicken Skin dip, (£18.50) and the deliciously succulent spice scented chicken, studded with crunches of peppery chicken skin did not disappoint. Nor did the 甘藍臘肉 Kale & Lap Yuk with Soy Cured Pork, Radish, Tiger Dressing, (£5.50) which we all agreed was the very best kind of vegetable (one served with pork that is ;-))
The only dish that I would say was marginally disappointing was the 竹葉飯包 Bamboo Chilli Beef Fat Rice; Chi Shiang rice with aged beef fat that was wrapped in Bamboo (£5.50) on account of the somewhat stingy portion size and the fact that the beef fat seemed almost non existent compared to the rice bowls at Bao which came topped with great big globules of glistening fat that melted alluringly into the rice as you ate, but perhaps thats an unfair comparison.
It was great to meet MiMi & Emily and Xu was a perfect lunch destination. Whilst our lunch came to around £35 a head including non alcoholic drinks they do have a set lunch/pre theatre menu at £19.50 which is available Monday – Friday, 12-3pm, 5-6.30pm
which looks like outstanding value so you don’t need to push the boat out to visit.
Bookings highly recommended
30 Rupert Street (Leicester Sq Side)
London W1D 6D
+44 (0)20 3319 8147
Mon–Thurs: 12–3pm, 5–11pm