It is very rare that one finds a restaurant where everything on the menu is so faultless that you beg for a flaw. But XU is a one such gastronomic wonderland. Not so much a hidden gem but more like a sparkling, dazzling gem of the highest order which astounds you with every dish it presents.
XU brightened our day and our moods one cold and grey Saturday afternoon. The adorable interiors designed by Brady Williams are an ode to the social dining rooms and traditional tea houses of Taiwan. Lots of polished dark wood panelling, soft curvy corners and lush indoor greenery complement the cozy and intimate vintage-style booth seating of various quirky configurations. A green lacquered tea kiosk, twirling ceiling fans and a station clock bring a touch of 1930s Taipei to 2017 London.
But enough of the interiors, let’s move to the real reason we are here and that’s the food. XU is the sister restaurant to Bao, which means that it has inherited its repertoire for excellent food. What it has thankfully done away with is the endless queuing in the cold and the high velocity service! This is a more relaxed and laid-back venue, which makes dining at XU very enjoyable and memorable.
A happy, smiling waitress beamed at us and explained the menu. She recommended ordering a few sharing dishes to begin with.
Kris ordered the Tamshui (£11) – Asian Pear, Butter, Chinese Basil, Champagne. Butter and Champagne are two of my favourite things in the world but never in my wildest dreams I would have imagined putting them together! It wasn’t as queer as it sounded; on the contrary, it was quite delicious. The cloudy nature of the drink hid the effervescence (similar to a bellini). You could taste the sweetness from the champagne and the pear, and the subtle butter smell at the back.
We kick-started with the Numbing Beef Tendon (£5.5) – Tendon Terrine, Chilli Vinaigrette, Coriander. It was sharp, spicy, smoky, coriander-flecked and pungent from that colourful, glistening vinaigrette. The terrine had a slippery texture, a slight bite and tasted like smoked aubergines. We inhaled the tendons and held on to the plate so they wouldn’t clear it away, as we wanted to mop up every last bit of that vibrant sauce!
From the Mian Shi (food made of wheat aka dumplings) section, we absolutely had to order the pillowy Taro Dumpling (£5.5), made iconic by foodies on Instagram. The name comes from the pastry which is made of Taro (a root vegetable), which imparts a firm yet yielding texture to the dumpling. It is filled with a delicious and moist cured pork, assembled by hand and then steamed and shallow fried. It came floating over a green oil made of Kow Choi (Chinese Chives), garnished with chilli pulp and pickled chilli. The presentation of this dish was quite ethereal and tasted equally delectable.
We also tried the Xian Bing (£5.5) – Pan Fried Pork Dumpling, Vinegar and Chilli Oil. They had a firmer texture then the Taro ones, hiding inside a piping hot and steaming pork meatball, which was beautifully fragrant.
We couldn’t omit the famous Beef Pancake (£10) – Shortrib and Bone Marrow, Pickles, Pickles, Spring Onion, Potato Crumb and Pancake. To be honest, I was expecting a bigger portion as we devoured it all under a minute. The presentation was absolutely stunning – full flavoured meat encased in a hollowed out calf-shin.
Moving on to mains, I was attracted to the Shou Pa Chicken (£18.5) – Marinated Chicken with Drippings, Ginger and Spring Onion, White Pepper & Chicken Skin Dip. This dish is like a chicken lovers dream! Moist, extraordinarily tender chicken further enhanced with fatty flavours of the skin and drippings. The underlying broth had absorbed all the flavours and was simply sublime.
Kris was intrigued by the Chilli Egg Drop Crab (£16.5) – White and Brown Crab meat with Salmon Roe, Egg Drop Sauce, Fermented Shrimp and Garlic. It was ultra unshare-able… the kind of food you fight your loved ones for! It was light and creamy with a bit of a spicy kick that enhanced the delicious flavours from the sea. The presentation was equally impressive: served in a crab shell, slathered with that luxurious sauce.
The award for the best dish in supporting role went to the Lardo Lard Onion Rice (£3.5). Please order heaps of it when you visit! These little bowls of heaven were laden with mouthwatering fatty flavoured rice, garnished with fried onions to add crunch.
After all that indulgent food, we were surprised that we had any room left for pudding! But the Ma Lai Cake (£6.5) sounded too good to pass up. The perfectly spherical Steamed Brown Sugar Sponge Cake exceeded all expectations with its perfectly light, airy and spongy texture. The addition of condensed milk and orange butterscotch as an English twist to a traditional Taiwanese dish resulted in a gloriously divine dessert. I wished I had another belly to order one more!
It also paired perfectly with a delicate and subtle Almond Ice Cream (£4.5). The Black Sesame Sauce was an intriguing twist!
Service oscillated between efficient and slow but there was great attention to detail throughout the meal.
The food at Xu is sheer brilliance and worth swooning over. To say I highly recommend this place is an understatement. Please just go!
Location: 30 Rupert Street, Soho Chinatown, London W1D 6DL
More information can be found here.