Beware the surprise vegan. On a recent warm weeknight in London I had confidently booked a French restaurant that appear to cater for both myself and a vegetarian guest - not brilliantly, admittedly, but with a selection of solid options to allow for them to dine on a perfectly serviceable wild mushroom omelette while I enjoyed pig’s head terrine, duck confit and boudin noir (all swimming in, I hoped, three metric tonnes of the finest Gallic butter). However, when my guest announced with an hour to go that they were actually vegan (and had been for the three year duration of our friendship), what became clear is that the only options my first choice of restaurant could offer were three small spears of asparagus and a perfunctory plate of pappardelle.
As such decisive action needed to be taken: at short notice I needed a restaurant capable of satisfying both my carnivorous instincts and my guests more restricted options: a last minute switcheroo to BAO Kings Cross, the Taiwanese concept, that recently unveiled a brand new vegan menu. Past the Vinoteca, the German Gynamisum, Kimchee and the free food paradise of Google headquarters, you end up in a high end cafeteria style space. It’s bustling but welcoming. The evening begins well: the Umeshu Negroni (with plum sake and Roku Gin) was splendid while a crisp clear Sunset Tonic resembles a more sophisticated take on a Dirty Shirley.
So first to the vegan dishes, opening with the tantalising textures of aubergine fritters with spring onion tofu sauce. The softness of the ghostly bao bun, broken by the crunchy coating of the deep fried Daikon followed by the soft, slightly slimy shredded vegetable was very pleasing.The simplicity of Mapo tofu rice and pine nut nori was impressive - the punchy flavour of the bean paste, chilli oil and peppers in the sauce stood out, against the blank canvas of the steamed rice - a really clean, smart dish.
For the carnivores, this Yōshoku-style cafe offers a crash course in Western/Taiwanese pub grub.Beef tendon ‘nuggets’ were delicious cowy circles in breadcrumb with a sensational burnt chilli dipping sauce. Taiwanese Chicken wings, laced with hot sauce, impressed. The glistening yolk-topped beef rump rice, exclusive to this branch, was unctuous and fabulous in equal measure. The crab in doughnut had a sweetness to it that recalled a Coney Island day out, while the stewed rib topped with a dollop of yellow aioli was just delightful. Pork chop lard rice with soy cured egg looked good for next time, as did fish black Bao.
The signature BAOfiterole was a fairly muted farewell but could possibly be swapped with a "Lonely Flan" next time. Sadly there are no vegan deserts but then that’s the sacrifice you have to make for being on the right side of history. In fact the only misstep in the whole evening comes down to the maple syrup fries. Described as “god-tier” by the normally infallible Hot Dinners website, I found them too sweet, too gloopy and frankly a bit underwhelming. Naturally to show my intense displeasure I finished off the whole portion. All in all, fun, affordable, thought-provoking and with a decent vegan selection: BAO Kings Cross can surprise you in all the right ways.