Restaurant review: XU
Head of Innovation, Jonny Hehir, reviews XU, a new Taiwanese restaurant in Rupert Street, Soho.
Rupert street in Soho is a go-to area if you’re after top notch excitement. (Of the culinary order) From Mr Lasagne (the lasagna restaurant) New York speakeasy (Spuntino) through to the very high quality street food stalls down the main street.
Other street food stalls should take note of the model here, an evolving, bustling, perfectly balanced mix of cuisines, some familiar, some not. We passed a sign for African street food blaring, “You’re Ghana love this” as we paced down to the China Town end of street.
We were headed to “Xu”, the new Taiwanese restaurant with its own unique street food options as well as more refined dishes. It’s located opposite the infamous “Wong Kei” restaurant, renowned at one time as being London’s rudest Chinese, which made us hope the waitress wasn’t going to shout at us.
Taiwanese, like regional Chinese is something relatively new to the UK and knowing that the team behind Xu were the proponents of the Bao chain significantly raised our expectations. Simple, informal and sparse, yes, but Bao, with their focus on the very best flavor combinations you can pack into steamed buns represent some of the best executed dishes we’ve eaten in London.
Walking inside Xu and it feels like a boutique. Ornately carved dark wood and hidden banquettes, we were instantly reminded of Hakkasan. We ascended to the first floor and were seated near a small bar with a large antique clock as fans whirred above in the high ceiling.
A sense of occasion prevailed in this reinterpretation of 1930s Taipei. This was confirmed by the beautifully ordered menu of all things exotic. This included special teas and whiskies, small street food bites, enticing mains like chilli egg drop crab and even flights of cocktails (yes flights!)
As has become the norm, a number of small dishes were ordered. For us, its about how well they are held together by theme and flavour.
Cuttlefish toast, (a kind of Taiwanese version of Gentleman’s relish) had an incredible hit of flavour. Thin slices of pastry were topped with smoothly blitzed jet black cuttlefish and served with a well balanced whipped cod roe. The xian bing or pan fried pork pancake was spectacular. Served hot, the pastry was so crispy, rich and satisfying whilst the very succulent pork inside was Moreish with a capital “M”. (if there’s one dish you should try here it’s this) Bak Kwa is Taiwanese jerky and includes little slices of warm pork, lamb and beef served like slices of toast in a mini Dualit. This was thoughtful presentation.
There was very little not to like here. However, I am one of those people that likes to persist in trying ingredients I haven’t previously enjoyed on the basis that different chefs have their own interpretations. Snails are one such ingredient. I haven’t seemed to enjoy those slimy suckers in Paris, London or anywhere for that matter (mainly due to their texture). On this occasion I spotted cold chickens feet on the menu and decided to give them their chance at redemption.
Sadly they tasted like they sound (a plate of meatless knuckles, cartlidge and skin) and whilst I understand the cultural importance I don’t really get the culinary value.
Overall though, this is an inspirational restaurant with lots of learnings for our business. Taiwanese as a cuisine may still be in its infancy, but the flavours, textures and methods of presentation have a wow factor that have mass appeal.