XU London: 30 RUPERT STREET, SOHO CHINATOWN, LONDON, W1D 6DL
Xu is the latest Taiwanese restaurant by the founders of Bao and having just opened recently, I was very eager to try it out – so eager that I ended up going twice in two days lmao. First time I went with my mum and we had the set menu and the second time I went with VA and we ended up just ordering bits and pieces. I was very excited about coming here because there aren’t really any Taiwanese restaurants in London and also because a number of my friends had already been and loved it… I ended up having a very mixed feelings about this place though? I’m glad I went twice because I was left feeling very confused after the first time lol.
So the first time I went, we decided to get the set menu to try the optimum amount of stuff. It was too hard to decide what to order because everything sounded so good and I wanted everything on the set menu so it seemed like the easiest option, especially at £35 pp. We started off with Lotus Crisps (£2) and Chilled Clams (£5) and both made a very positive impression on me – they were both absolutely delicious and in fact, so good, I ordered them separately again when I went the next day!
The lotus crisps were deliciously crispy in a sweet wintermelon syrup and then coated in a thick layer of soft peanut coating – I really loved the contrast of texture with the crispy lotus and the soft peanuts. I really wish you could buy a whole bag of them like crisps because I would eat them all the damn time. The chilled clams were served like oysters, on a bed of ice with a chilli marinade and a granita of some sort. They tasted so refreshing, with a hint of sour then a spicy aftertaste, making it such a perfect hot weather dish.
Next came the mian shi, meaning like flour based items or something like that? We got the Xian Bing (£5.50) which is a panfried pork dumpling served with a vinegar and chilli oil. I was excited about this because one of my friends really enjoyed it but for me and my mum, we found it very flavourless and bland. We could barely taste any seasoning in the meat and despite having to dip it in the sauce to try and solve this, I felt like it didn’t really do much. After having such a great start with the crisps and the clams, this felt like such a letdown!!!
The meal was then slightly redeemed with the Beef Pancake (£10), which was a beef short rib and bone marrow, served in the bone, topped off with a crispy potato crumb with various pickles and pancakes. This is basically like crispy duck pancakes where you serve yourself and make the pancakes yourself. I ended up taking too long with the pictures so the warm pancakes ended up getting cold and drying out, but despite this, this whole thing was still very delicious. You could really taste the bone marrow in the meat and I loved the grated daikon and pickled cucumber especially. I ended up ordering it again on my second visit and I was glad to see that the taste was consistent and was still just as good!
The final small dish was the Chicken Wing (£3) in a sanbei glaze topped off with a little spoonful of caviar. Now you know I love caviar and it is one of my top favourite foods but I found this very unnecessary and considering the glaze was actually too salty for us, the extra saltiness of the caviar didn’t really help matters. Despite the saltiness, the actual chicken wing itself was great. The batter was thick but amazingly crispy on the outside and the meat inside was very tender! If it wasn’t for the sauce letting this dish down, I definitely would have ordered it again.
The final thing on the set menu were the mains. We got the Shou Pa Chicken (£18.50) and the Chilli Egg Drop Crab (£14.50) which were also served with the Seasonal Greens (£5.50) which ended up being kai lan as well as white rice. For me, I felt like this section of the meal was the biggest letdown?
The chicken was both marinated white meat as well as dark meat with the skin on, served with ginger and spring onion, as well as a little side dish of chicken skin. A friend had previously had the chicken and said it was very tender but the white meat was too dry for me. I basically had to soak it in the sauce but it still didn’t do much for me. The dark meat was very confusing to me because honestly, it tasted like Nando’s!? Like the seasoning and the charred skin and everything was exactly like Nando’s wtf. Also the chicken skin was also disappointing because it had that kind of old oil taste and I could barely eat it, even though the skin is the best part of the chicken!!
The crab was a lot better compared to the chicken, it had a warm and spicy flavour and I really liked the contrast with the crab meat and the crunchiness of the roe as well. But towards the end of the dish it got a bit too spicy and I couldn’t really taste much else? I’d probably still eat it again though and I really liked the presentation of it in the crab shell. I think the crab was the best out of the mains and that also included the vegetables because the kailan was very bland and forgettable.
Now the second time I went with VA, we decided to just mainly order the smaller dishes and then also order one main dish just to try it out. Like I mentioned earlier, we got the lotus crisps, chilled clams and beef pancake again just because they were so good and I’m glad all of those dishes were still just as good the next time I ate them hahaha.
First thing we got that I actually really wanted the first time was the Selection of Bak Kwa (£7) which was a variety of beef, pork and lamb jerky, served with pickled ginger, shallot relish and a fermented chilli sauce. The jerky was sooooo good! They all had like really good complex flavours? I mainly just ate them plain without any of the sauce or relish or anything just because they were so delicious and I just wanted the pure taste of them hahaha. I wish they sold this as a separate snack bags too because I’d eat them on the regs lol.
Next on the xiao tsai menu we ordered was the Tomato & Smoked Eel (£5.25) Our friend recommended this to us and I had no idea what to expect, but it was so much better than anything I could’ve imagined! You know when you taste a dish and you’re like ‘yeah this is so Chinese’ like it tastes like authentic and it tastes like home? I guess this only applies if you’re Chinese too lol but that’s what this dish was like! The vinegar and the chilli and the coriander in the sauce all went together sooo well and the tomatoes were so sweet an the eel was so smokey!!! I really loved this dish, I think it was definitely one of my top faves.
Another mian shi that I really wanted to try too were the Taro Dumplings (£5.50) with the Taiwanese Sausage but they also offer a slightly cheaper veggie option too. Me and VA both really enjoyed this, the dumpling skin was very thick and chewy and I really liked how strong the taro flavour was. It was very nice and had a really good sweetness to it, if that makes sense?
The final mian shi was the Gold Coin (£2.75) which was a mini spring onion pancake, foie gras terrine, shaoxing wine jelly topped off with a goji berry. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this, I don’t really know if I liked the flavours? The pancake was too thick and super dry and I guess the jelly was supposed to melt in your mouth and mix with everything to fix the dryness of the pancake, but the jelly was too vinegar-y in taste. At least it was only a tiny little piece haha.
We also got the Yam (£5) vegetable dish, which was not what we were expecting at all. I wasn’t really sure what kind of yam it was until I saw the Chinese menu which says ‘山药’, also known as nagaimo in Japanese, if that helps anyone else understand it better. Both VA and I were expecting it to be like a solid item but it ended up being like a kind of pudding sort of texture. It was still really good though and it had a good contrast of textures with a sprinkling of crispy shallots on top of the yam.
Finally, we got the Char Siu Iberico Pork (£18.50) which came on a bed of cucumbers. Out of everything we got, think this was the most disappointing, which is sad because both the Shou Pa chicken and the pork are highlighted as signature items on the menu but I was let down by both lol. The pork comes as a whole slab on a bed of pickled cucumbers along with a knife to slice it yourself – I don’t really know why but I hated this presentation? I feel like it’s a bit idk, lazy?? There was nothing really particularly wrong with the taste of the pork but there was nothing outstanding about it either. It was just like, whatever. I feel like I could’ve gone round the corner to Wong Kei and I could’ve had char siu that’s like on the same level. And for £18.50, that price is a lot for a very underwhelming dish.
For the drinks, both times I ended up ordering the Xu’s cold brew House Tea (£7) because it was so delicious, but they had other teas as well as cocktails that all sounded really good. The cold brew was really great and refreshing, I think it was oolong but not sure, but it was also perfectly sweet, which was great! I really prefer sweet drinks and this one really was right to my tastes. They also have a really extensive drinks menu with some really interesting cocktails as well – I wanted to try but I ended up prioritising ordering another food item over the drinks.
I was so confused after the first time I visited because I heard such good things from friends with good taste that I trust so that I was really glad I ended up going twice in a row to get a better conclusion lol. Basically, I feel like their main dishes are very underwhelming and it’s not the best type of restaurant for a sit down meal like that. The small dishes are a lot better but if you’re hungry and looking to eat a lot, it will add up on the bill.
Despite this confusion, I really did enjoy Xu, especially the atmosphere and the whole general appearance of the place too. It’s supposed to take you back to 1930s Taiwan and I really did feel that about the interior and the uniform of the staff. Also in the upstairs seating, they have drawers below your seat to put your belongings in!!! I thought that was sooo cute lol. Also both times I visited, all the members of staff had been so lovely and friendly and accommodating, making jokes and chatting with us, which I really appreciated.
BASICALLY Xu is a really aesthetically pleasing restaurant with great staff and I think it’s the best place to go for a few drinks and a few snacks but not for a full on ‘proper’ meal. Some smaller dishes are definitely worth it but I wouldn’t really recommend the main dishes.