Baos, i.e. Asian steamed buns, have been trending all over London over the recent years. From the establishment of the Taiwanese eatery Bao and all the other rising Japanese restaurants selling Hirata buns – now it’s time for the Cantonese style steamed buns to emerge and that’s what Bun House & Tea Room is bringing onto the table.
Located at the heart of the Soho area, Bun House and Tea Room is the new to-watch-out place in London. There are a couple of seats available but it is more of a very well decorated takeaway shop or for a mere quick bite. There are two sections to this place – the ‘Bun House’ part and the ‘Tea Room’ part.
For the Bun House part, you see a bright setting with a busy counter that has all these steaming baskets stacked over one another – just like how it is in traditional Cantonese tea houses and street food stalls. There are all these nice marble tables and stools for you to sit down for a little break plus a few outdoors seatings. To me it’s like a fancy tea room space containing a bustling street-food stall kitchen – a very vivid illustration of the Cantonese cuisine.
Apart from specialising in steamed buns, they also offer some classic Cantonese starter dishes, pickles, and drinks. If you’re a beer lover, they do some specialty craft beer. There are even cocktails available on the menu. These cocktails are of an Asian influence, which are quite unique in my opinion. For non-drinkers like myself, there are plenty of Chinese teas available as well as traditional drinks like Vita Soy (Hong Kong specialty soy milk sold in cartons – it really sums up my childhood).
In contrast to the bright buzzing space upstairs, the ‘Tea Room’ downstairs offers a more dim and secluded atmosphere to enjoy your tea or drinks all the way till late night.
Here is what we ordered:
Wood Ear Salad (£3.8)
This Wood Ear Salad was the perfect starter to this summery weather. Wood Ear is a type of black fungus. They are served in black rice vinegar and topped with coriander. This is my favourite way of serving wood ear. It’s very tangy and the acidity really opens up your appetite. If you’ve never tried it before, do give it a go. There is still something missing from the way it tastes back home but it hits the right notes to give you an idea of what it is.
Steamed Buns (£2.5 each)
As opposed to baos and hirata buns, which have open fillings, Cantonese buns have the fillings closely enveloped inside. At the Bun House, they stamped what filling is inside each bun in order to distinguish which is which. We ordered one savoury one and one sweet one. The one stamped with the Chinese character ‘魚’ means fish, whereas the one stamped with ‘蛋’ means egg, i.e. the egg custard bun. Both buns have a soft and pillowy texture and were served warm in a classic bamboo steaming basket. It is said that the buns are steamed to order but the fact that it’s not proper steaming hot makes me slightly question that.
The Fish Bun
This fish bun consists a mix of cod, prawn, chilli oil and basil. Typically these buns are of meat options so it’s interesting to see a seafood option on the menu. The filling was beautifully spiced. The ingredients are blended into a paste, hence providing an even distribution of flavours. There is also an actual prawn in the filling to add more texture to the bun.
The Egg Custard Bun
These ones are the ones madly sweeping through Instagram recently. They are also my most favourite bun from all Cantonese steamed buns you find in Chinese restaurants. What caused the craze is the molten runny egg custard.
First of all, the filling is composed of salted duck egg and custard. There are typically two versions of it – the runny one and non-runny one, and the runny type is the one I’m absolutely head over heels for. In terms of flavours, it’s not as rich as those back home but it’s still very enjoyable. One thing though, I do find it a bit too watery despite it being the runny type. I would like a more gooey texture of the egg custard and have it oozing out rather than spilling out like running liquid. But all in all, this is pretty satisfactory!
…as a Cantonese, I approve of the food at the Bun House but won’t necessarily go crazy over it simply because it still can’t compare those from home. But I’m happier about the fact that the Bun House & Tea Room offers a new voice to Cantonese cuisine and introduces something ‘new’ into the restaurant scene in London. There’s no lack of Asian food in London but it’s really pleasing to see each specific Asian cuisine gaining spotlight of their own these days. Do go grab a little steam bun for a snack when you pass by the area!
The meats are not halal at the Bun House and Tea Room. Vegetarian and seafood options are available.
Nearest Underground Station: Leicester Square