Entering Soho’s Bun House is like an instantaneous trip to 1960s Hong Kong. It's an exalted takeaway, with just a couple of tables, and combines a deliciously retro green and white tiled floor, a display of Vitasoy cartons like an Andy Warhol installation, and a soundtrack of retro Cantonese-language pop. Dedicated-looking Chinese staff carefully and exquisitely print the correct characters on the correct buns behind piles of rush baskets on the counter. The Bun House feels like the perfect stop off for some stomach-lining starch before heading out for the night, or heading down to the stylish teahouse speakeasy downstairs (yet to open at the time of our visit).
Bao, bao, bao — they’re everywhere in London’s hipper hoods, even more of a first-world essential than smashed avocado on toast. But the Bun House’s bao are something different, as they hail from Southern China. They’re closed, round, and plump, with a beautiful red character signifying the filling.
This filling could be fish, chicken, lamb, or vegetable, with just a few accompanying sides. Save room for the dessert versions, either duck egg custard or sinfully rich chocolate with pig’s blood (this sounds off-putting, but it apparently thickens it rather than adding flavor).
The snow-white buns are springily fresh. My favourite was the creamy, gently spiced fish and shrimp, but the lamb, with a little spice, was a nice marriage of filling (though I hankered for more of this) and cloud-like bun. We loved the wood ear salad — firm pickled black fungus, given punch and depth with fresh coriander and black rice vinegar — and glass noodle salad, which is almost transparent, coated in sesame seeds, and tastes fresh and tangy.
Overall this is a great new Soho choice for a quick, fresh, quality snack, and there’s something about this Bun House that many of its Soho neighbours lack: real charm. What more could you want from a fast food joint than comforting buns, earnest staff, and the back-in-time atmosphere of a scene from In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai’s beautiful film about angsty love, set in 1962 Hong Kong)?