Bao – Soho, London – Review

53 Lexington St, London W1F 9AS

Pig's blood cake, Bao, LondonI finally made it to Bao.

After a morning of tasting German wines and months after everyone else has already paid their dues in the queues.

I got there shortly after 2pm thinking that, as it’s a week day and there’s just an hour left until it closes, I should be able to avoid the queues.

But I was wrong. And so I ended up standing behind two groups of people, staring across the road at the people staring back at me through the window. In no time though, I was waved through the doors, and dodging traffic to get there in one piece.

My coat, hung up high in front of me at at the table and my bag underneath the bench, I sit down.

Pig's trotter croquette, Bao, LondonThe menu is compact. I vaguely recall trying the buns at an Observer Food Monthly party but I can’t be sure. So I order the old faithful – confit pork bun. For my adventurous side, I chose the pig’s trotter croquette. And for Instagram, I chose the blood cake.

There were no surprises with the bun. It is what it is and similar versions can be found all over. The blood cake I could have done without. It’s sexy for Instagram with its runny yolk suggestively trickling down, but beyond that, well, my palate failed to be titillated.

The croquette however, I loved. Rich and fatty but cut through famously by the dipping sauce. I almost ordered a second serving straight away.

Pondering over getting the bill, I opted for a second bun instead. This time the lamb with cumin and it came with a surprise but pleasant stash of jalapeños. The tangy heat backing the light spice of the cumin actually made me like this bun more. If nothing else, it was more interesting.

As I step out 30 minutes later, leaving a half empty restaurant, I spot more diviners queuing up at the Bao stop.

Celeste Restaurant at The Lanesborough, Knightsbridge, lunch

Menu from an a la carte lunch at Celeste Restaurant at The Lanesborough:

Cracker bread with hummous

Pan-fried langoustines with wild grains and a langoustine basil broth

Suckling pig


Petit fours

I had an à la carte lunch at Celeste Restaurant at The Lanesborough while conducting an interview recently. It’s in the same space as the restaurant that once occupied Apsley’s but with a completely transformed atmosphere and approach to food.

While the dining room had previously been quite dark, it’s now been painted a powder blue with bas-relief friezes decorating the ceilings. Two new wine rooms flank the entrance.

The food is under the watchful eye of Florian Favario, a protegé of Eric Frechon, chef patron of the three Michelin starred Épicure at Le Bristol in Paris, another hotel in the Oetker Collection. Naturally, Celeste is aiming for a star.

But the food is quite hard to pin-point.

It’s not quite classic-French. There are notes of Middle Eastern influences, as seen by the hummous and cracker bread that opened the meal. The langoustine, with the basil broth and wild grains, also reminds me of the Mediterranean. And then there’s the suckling pig, which somehow manages to be a little bit British.

This eclectic collection of influences isn’t necessarily a bad thing though – the flavours don’t fight each other. And the execution has been done very, very well.

Château Angélus lunch at Hélène Darroze at the Connaught, Mayfair

Menu from a lunch at Hélène Darroze at the Connaught in Mayfair with food from the two Michelin starred restaurant and wines from Château Angélus to match:

Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut

Sweetbread, cauliflower, muscat grapes, ‘vadouvan’

Carillon d’Angélus 2012 St Emillion

Pork, pumpkin, Medjool date, Ras el Hanout

Château Angélus 2008 St Emillion

Chocolate, mint

Château Angélus 2006 St Emillion

It’s the first time I’ve been to Hélène Darroze at the Connaught and it was a very impressive lunch.

The servings were small but well put together.

A starter of sweetbreads with cauliflower, hazelnut and muscat grapes was matched with the 2012 Carillon d’Angelus. The wine is on the young side for drinking to be honest but there was charm and the match worked, just.

I really loved the pork cutlets with pig’s cheek, Medjool dates and pumpkin. It’s spiced with ras el hanout. Oh my gosh, the smell was amazing – so savoury. The sweet and almost buttery dates made the pairing with the Château Angelus 2008 spot on.

The chocolate dessert was in two parts, both the texture of ganache. The chocolate is from Valrhona I’m guessing – it’s down on the menu as Tainori from the Dominican Republic, which was the Valrhona estate I visited a while ago. I only had the bar then so it’s interesting to see it turned into a dessert.

It’s slightly fruity, which helped with the match with the Château Angelus 2006. Incidentally the 2006 is still very young and fresh so it had some of that raw flavour that worked with the dessert. In a few years though, I imagine it would be more of a savoury wine.

Chocolate making: The bean-to-bar process explained

It’s been a while since my chocolate trip to Grenada but I’ve only recently trawled through all the photographs and video footage that I captured on the island.

Cocoa pod shell, Diamond Chocolate Factory

Sometimes, when you delve into forgotten hauls, you find some unexpected gems. For me, it was the surprise discovery of the video snippets that I took inside Diamond Chocolate Factory.

It was the first time that I’ve seen all the steps involved in the bean-to-bar chocolate making process first-hand, and it was really fascinating. Grenada, as I mentioned in the previous post, was the first place in the world to make chocolate at a cocoa bean producing region – although that was at Grenada Chocolate Company at a much smaller factory. At Diamond Chocolate Factory, I had much more time to get to know the process.

Back at home in London, I managed to piece together the footage and some of the photographs into this video, which explains the whole bean-to-bar chocolate making process in under two minutes. I’m going to apologise in advance for the videography – I’m new to this. But I hope you enjoy it anyway.

If you wanted to read more on my Grenada trip, here are my other posts:

A World Of Chocolate In Grenada

Island Eating In Grenada: The Restaurants

Island Eating In Grenada: The Raw Ingredients

Duck & Champagne at HKK, City, Review

88 Worship St, London EC2A 2BE

HKK's Cherry wood duck with Louis Roederer Champagne

Duck and Champagne is a pretty random combination, isn’t it?

Food and wine matching common sense would probably suggest that a gamey fowl like duck is best served with a red wine of some sort, say a Pinot Noir; or at the very least, a bold white wine like Chardonnay. But let’s throw the rule book out of the window for a while to consider the new(ish) Duck & Champagne menu at HKK.

For £49, you get two servings of their famous cherry wood roasted Peking duck, an amuse bouche and a dessert. Oh yes, and a half bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV Champagne – a very good non-vintage. It’s a startlingly good deal just for the wine since, at retail rates, a bottle of the Louis Roederer costs in the region of £40. And then you get the delicious food thrown in.

So let’s talk about the food.

Kicking things off is a tiny but exquisitely presented blue crab salad. A sliver of crab meat is served on top of a baby treviso leaf. Beneath it is the second part of the bite – cubes of tropical fruits that fills a fried pastry shell. At first, like me, you’ll resent it for being so small. But trust me, once the duck arrives, you’ll be glad it was no bigger.

HKK duck carving

The duck is of course the main attraction and HKK have successfully made a big deal out of it. A whole roast bird, beautifully browned and glazed during the lengthy cooking process, arrives at the table on a service trolley. The room is immediately perfumed with the rich smell of the roast duck and, if you love crispy duck as much as I do, things get pretty exciting.

A chef starts carving into the meat with a cleaver in front of you while another member of the staff plates it up so that when it arrives on the plate, it’s nothing short of elegant. It’s certainly details like this that rewards HKK with its Michelin star.

Chef carving cherry wood duck at HKK

As I said, there are two servings.

The first serving is with a steamed black truffle mantou, a classic Chinese steamed bread (minus the black truffle, of course) and a dollop of Imperial caviar. A portion of the crispy skin is eaten separately with a dipping sauce first, so you can savour the subtle, smokey flavours, before you tuck into the pillowy bun of the mantou. The Champagne really helps to cut through the richness of the meat here and, even though the sauce is lightly sweet, it doesn’t jar on the palate.

HKK's Cherry wood duck with mantou and caviar

Meanwhile, the chef has returned to the kitchen to prepare the meat for the second serving – with sesame pancakes. A steamer full of handmade pancakes, that more closely resembles tortillas, is placed to one side as a plate of precisely portioned duck with julienne of cucumber and spring onion takes centre place at the table. This is when you can take as much time as you want to enjoy the feast as the attentive staff tops up your glass.

HKK's Cherry wood duck with pancakes

I want to take a moment to mention the service. In short, it’s excellent. The food is introduced with just the right amount of detail and care is taken to never intrude while always being at hand.

Served with the duck and pancakes, there’s also the side of an egg fried rice. A bejewelled bowl of rice is topped with a duck and abalone supreme stock that you have to combine before eating.

Supreme stock, in Chinese cookery, is a rich stock typically made with chicken meat and vegetables – it’s supposed to be more complex and flavourful than regular stock. You can use it as a soup base but it’s more frequently used for stir fry dishes for added flavour.

In this case, the duck and abalone stock was a glossy, chestnut colour and resembled gravy in consistency. I wondered if it might be too salty but the flavours were just spot on.

Finally, to round off the meal, a nashi pear and Champagne mousse arrives with Champagne sorbet, spun sugar and a Champagne sauce. The delicate and clean flavours were a fabulous way to round off the lavish meal. And if you still have Champagne left in your glass, you’ll find its fruit notes well-accompanied by the intense pear flavours.

HKK's Nashi pear and Champagne dessert

There’s a restaurant whose tagline is ‘come hungry, leave drunk’. Well, I’d much rather do it the HKK way. It’s just a shame the Duck & Champagne menu is only available on Saturday afternoons.

My advice is, go with your favourite Champagne loving friends and don’t make plans for afterwards.

Photographs c/o HKK

In Pursuit of Food was a guest of HKK. To find out what this means, please refer to our Editorial Policy.