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Xu restaurant review

Xu restaurant review

by Great British Chefs 01 June 2017

Fresh florals, funky ferments and a hefty helping of heat make London’s Xu – the new Taiwanese restaurant from the people behind BAO – stand out from the crowd.


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London’s Chinatown can be a pretty hectic place, teeming with locals and tourists in equal measure. Step through the doors of Xu (pronounced Shu), however, and you’re transported to the quieter, more relaxed surroundings of 1930s Taipei, all sleek dark wood, white bone china and lazily rotating ceiling fans. It’s the latest project from the trio behind BAO, the incredibly popular steamed bun restaurant, and seeks to bring Taiwanese cuisine to the fore in a fine dining environment.

The restaurant itself is quite small, with a few tables downstairs surrounding a beautiful tea bar kitted out with all the tools of the tea master’s trade. Upstairs is a little more spacious, with a selection of booths and the odd table for one situated at the back for solo diners. Xu takes reservations (and for the moment at least, you’ll need to book), and the pace of eating is much more relaxed than at other Chinatown restaurants.

The food

xu london

The menu is divided into lots of small plates to start and larger dishes for mains, all of which are designed to be shared between the table. There’s fourteen different little snacks to try, some of which come as a single piece (the glazed chicken wing with caviar (£3), for example, is pretty hard to divide between more than one person, so you’re best ordering your own if you want to try it). They’re a masterclass in presentation – beautiful little taro dumplings stuffed with Taiwanese sausage (£5.25 for three), slithers of wobbly, delicate beef tendon served in a piquant chilli vinaigrette (£5.50) and jet-black cuttlefish toasts served with a thick, rich whipped cod’s roe (£5 for two). The highlights for us were a bowl of silky, jiggling steamed egg (£4.75), set in the bowl above a delicate truffle-infused broth, and the tomato and smoked eel (£5.25), which delicately balanced fresh, sweet, acidic tomatoes with the rich, smoky, umami-laden fish.

There’s also a little selection of bak kwa (£7), a sort of sweet Asian jerky eaten as a snack all over the continent, which comes served like a box of After Eights alongside little pots of beef fat mayonnaise, pickled radish and Sichuan relish. It’s certainly the nicest bak kwa we’ve ever had (although, to be honest, we’ve only had it once or twice in the past), so if it piques your interest it’s a must-order dish.

While the little starter plates are a way for the chefs at Xu to show off their skills and bring diners a flurry of different flavours and textures, we felt the main courses offered the truest taste of Taiwanese cuisine. If there’s one dish to order, it’s the chilli egg drop crab (£14.50), a bright orange mound of white and brown crab meat swimming in a rich egg sauce with fistfuls of garlic, fermented shrimp and ear-ringing chilli. The char siu Iberico pork collar (£18.50) comes in a sweet, beautifully charred marinade, while a big bowl of shou pa chicken (£18.50) is moist, covered in refreshing ginger and spring onion and comes with a seriously addictive white pepper and chicken skin dipping salt. If you like your beef aged and, well, incredibly beefy, the black pepper beef rump cap (£15) is beautiful, full of flavour and comes with a big rich fried egg.

xu

Some of the most interesting and unique dishes we tried at Xu combined chilli heat with botanical flavours – something we hadn’t really experienced before. Their mapo tofu (£11.50) is made with green Sichuan peppercorns, a speciality of Yunnan (a region of China which borders Taiwan) and they really lift the dish, adding a flowery, refreshing taste to combine with the deep hum of fermented chilli bean paste.

The rice dishes all have a twist to them, too, as they’re made with chi shiang rice sourced directly from Taiwan, with a green tea-like flavour. Don’t think of these dishes as mere sides, though – bamboo chilli beef fat rice (£5.50) is as rich and pungent as it sounds, and the blitzed rice with on-the-bone lamb rib and sweet potato (£7) is particularly intense; a little too gamey for some of us. Be sure to get a few bowls of plain steamed rice (which is delicious – much more flavourful than you’d expect) and some of the lighter, more refreshing vegetable dishes so you can have a break from the rich, hot, intensely savoury mains.

The drink

xu

Taiwanese tea is some of the best in the world and it plays a big part on the menu at Xu, with some seriously rare and special leaves sourced and brewed by the in-house tea master. There’s even coldbrew and a special sparkling Hong Yu tea, but one of the highlights of our whole experience at Xu was the whisky and tea matching (around £9 each) we enjoyed at the end of our meal. Whisky and tea in cocktails we’ve seen before, but we’ve never come across this – three different glasses of Kavalan whisky (made in Taiwan) alongside three cups of matching Taiwanese tea. They combine absolutely perfectly; tea takes away the harsh afterburn of the spirit, while the flavours in the whisky are more pronounced thanks to the subtlety of the tea. It’s one of the best digestifs we’ve ever had.

If tea isn’t your thing then don’t worry – there’s a simple, well curated list of three sakes, wines and some very interesting cocktails containing ingredients like Chinese mushroom and curdled milk soda.

We visited Xu on the opening night and, while they’d already done a few dinners for family and friends beforehand, service was spot on, the dishes had obviously gone through some serious testing and the whole experience was fantastic. We’d like to see a few cleaner, lighter dishes that help cut through the meats that are often well-aged, fermented, gamey or covered in chilli just to stop everything from becoming too rich, but it’s clear that the team behind Xu are onto a real winner. We’re no experts in Taiwanese cuisine and it was thrilling to taste the dishes with tea-like floral flavours, as it’s not something we’d come across before, and everything was presented beautifully. If you’re after something a little bit different with a sense of occasion behind it, book a table. We’re expecting big things. xulondon.com

We paid for our own meal at Xu.

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