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Critic Can’t Ignore ‘Bum Note’ at Beloved Taiwanese Bunslingers in Borough Market

Bao’s newest restaurant is still slinging stellar bao, but new dishes could use some “balance and restraint”

Bao’s Borough Market restaurant gets a positive review from Jimi Famurewa in the Evening Standard Pascal Grob

Heritage

Opening a fondue-heavy Swiss restaurant at the height of an apocalyptic summer verges on parodic — the punchline to the sort of tall tale told with such gleeful abandon on the @paul_danan_official Instagram account.

But Heritage is very much a real place on Rupert Street, and as with Jay Rayner’s visit last week, David Sexton leaves faintly baffled, but not altogether unhappy.

Anyone expecting haute-chalet vibes will be left disappointed: “the feel is nightclubby,” all “carefully prepped shadiness,” with “thumping music” that makes civilised conversation borderline impossible. And if the music is A Lot, then the “wildly unbalanced” menu is even more so: a veritable “cheesy phantasmagoria” awaits the perspiring summer diner. It’s not like the raw product is bad: charcuterie is “high quality”; the “large quantity” of raclette submerging it is “excellent.” But as “great” as these tastes may be, “they don’t combine and a little goes a long way.”

This message appears to have been lost on the Heritage brains trust: bacon rosti is “well-made” but drowns under “more melted cheese”; a lobster and fennel tart is “again well-made with good ingredients” but “dominated” by a hefty whack of tomette de brebis; meat fondue features “first-rate” protein but however “gloopy and delicious” its bath of raclette and gruyere may be, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is “too much of the same again, a mono-dish re-appearing over and over — ta-ra! — in slightly different guises.”

Factor in some “stingingly expensive” wines by the glass and service that is “effusive more than it is attentive” and all that melted cheese begins to leave a bad taste. Launching this menu in this space in the depths of winter may have made sense, but in the current climate Heritage just seems “absolutely bonkers.”

Parrillan

It must be said that Parrillan — the shopping-arcade-adjacent, Ibicencan-inspired, open-air grill-it-yourself spot from the Hart brothers — is not, on paper at least, that much less bonkers than Heritage. But the formula has proved far more successful with critics — Tim Hayward becoming just the latest to rejoice in its deeply singular concept.

First, there’s the setting: a “brilliantly designed outdoor eating space”, quite possibly “the most agreeable eating venue in a hundred square miles”. Then, the food, also “brilliant” — “almost predictably” so. Among the starters, pan con tomate is “sparklingly sharp” and escalivada is “quite shockingly good”. Served with “an appropriate selection of dipping chrisms for anointing purposes”, the DIY mains are just as impressive, particularly for a critic who declares himself “a sucker for things on trolleys in restaurants.” This was fated to go well.

A “pleasingly peng piece of pluma” and “a single plump Carabinero prawn, built like a brick outhouse and with pretensions to lobsterdom” just round off the experience for Hayward: he doubts that “any human could resist coming back for more”. This combination of “delicately prepared” and “immaculately sourced” raw material, “cooked in the most comfortingly elemental way in glorious surroundings” is not just impressive in its own right — it’s also proof that “with sufficient will and imagination, London can do summer as happily as any city in the world.”

Bao Borough

If Hollywood is currently enduring a wave of what Nate Jones termed ‘step-sequels’, then the London restaurant scene is having something of a similar moment, too. Parrillan is one; there are a whole host cropping up in the various Market Halls and Food Theatres slowly overtaking the capital.

And then there’s Bao Borough — the latest branch of the beloved mini-group, which to date has delivered both rave reviews and round-the-block queues. It appears that even the city’s darlings are not immune to the law of diminishing returns, though — certainly, Jimi Famurewa finds a few flaws during a recent visit.

The bao themselves are winners: the chicken nugget packs “a crisped mini cutlet concealing whole galaxies of sprawling, spiced complexity”; the prawn shia song boasts “snapping marine freshness and sinful oomph”; the curry cheese is “a riotous eruption of katsu sauce, fermented chilli and fried cheese” — “outrageous, indecent and very addictive.”

Elsewhere, though, there is food “lacking some of the crucial balance and restraint that turned Bao into such a formidable cult in the first place.” 40-day aged beef with egg yolk packs “a terrific hidden bloom of heat” but is crying out for “a disruptive stab of brightness or even just some bland passivity”; cold roasted aubergine, meanwhile, is accompanied with “two panko-crusted bao grease bombs” that “would have been miles more effective as a vehicle if they hadn’t been breaded and fried”. Add in merely “ordinary” puddings and it starts to look like in their “admirable rush” to build out the Bao empire, the founders “have ramped some things up a little too much” — the net effect feels like “an arresting, extended drum solo of fat, umami and double-fried crunch that occasionally makes you long for something a little quieter.” It’s not terminal, by any means: those bao really are “magnificent,” and all of the food is “fast, fun and commendably cheap,” with Famurewa willing to forgive “the odd bum note.”

Bob’s Lobster

This week wraps up just a few minutes away, with Jay Rayner following Tim Hayward through the doors at food-truck-turned-restaurant-containing-a-food-truck Bob’s Lobster and rejoicing in food that is little less than a “full-frontal assault.”

Fish tacos are “elegant pockets of sashimi-grade tuna,” each one “three or four satisfying mouthfuls of quality raw fish, acidity, crunch and spice.” Compared to pretty much everything else on the menu, eating them “feels like an act of virtue,” since what follows entails fare like shrimp atop a “sticky puddle of ground cornmeal grits,” a bourbon sauce turning the whole thing into a “boozy, buttery mess.” Or chips with mussel and bacon chowder, an “outrageous and joyous” concoction that provides “solace in a bowl.” Or maybe “a dark, gooey chocolate brownie topped with a whorl of thick cream, made happy by the application of children’s party sprinkles,” or brioche roll bread and butter pudding, “studded with sultanas and bathed in vanilla custard.”

None of this is “subtle”; none of it is “poised.” But it is “big on flavours” and it is “huge on joy”: when such food is served by staff that “appear to give a damn,” it all makes for a “very appealing restaurant” indeed.

Arcade

103 New Oxford Street, , England WC1A 1DD Visit Website

BAO

590 Valencia Street, , CA 94110 (415) 658-7453 Visit Website

BAO Borough

13 Stoney Street, , England SE1 9AD 020 3319 8132 Visit Website

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