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Xu in London’s Soho, the third restaurant from the team behind the Bao group of restaurants, has been named this year’s Menu of the Year for its authentic and skilful Taiwanese cuisine.
Backed by JKS Restaurants, Shing Tat Chung, Wai Ting Chung and Erchen Chang opened the 72-cover Xu on the edge of Chinatown as a more grown-up sister site to the group’s Bao brand, and named it after Chang’s late grandfather.
The food pays homage to Taiwan’s varied culinary history, which has been shaped by the regional mainland Chinese provinces close to the island, as well as former Japanese and Dutch colonies and indigenous tribes.
But this isn’t a simple recreation of a Taiwanese restaurant – it is also informed by the trio’s passions: old movies, the theatre and classic Chinese restaurants, all of which are reflected in their style of service and presentation.
The menu starts with xiao tsai, or bar snacks, such as century quail’s egg and smoked Taiwanese sausage. Classic dishes include crab with chilli egg drop sauce and sho pa chicken – a dish often served in the mountainous regions of Taiwan, involving a whole bird stuffed with spices and herbs and served with the head still attached. Braised meats, including goose and pork, are served in the Taiwanese ‘lu wei’ style, braised in a hot broth.
Taiwan’s vibrant street food culture has also inspired many of the dishes, such as pan-fried dumplings or shengjian bao, and pancakes filled with 40-day aged shortrib, marrow and pickles. The lotus crisps with peanut, chilli and wintermelon syrup nod to Taiwanese flavours, while dishes such as the numbing beef tendon may sound challenging, but have been made accessible in their delivery.
There are no such concerns when it comes to some of the mains, such as shou pa chicken with drippings, ginger and spring onion, white pepper and chicken skin dip (£18.50), or the char siu Iberico pork with braised cucumber and sesame (£18.50), which mix a Cantonese barbecue dish with top-notch European produce.
Giles Coren of The Times declared Xu’s food “mesmerising”, while Marina O’Loughlin, while the restaurant critic for The Guardian, declared it “quite simply, gorgeous”. Our judges agreed, and commented that “everything sounds so delicious”.
Xu prides itself on its selection of Taiwanese whisky and its teas, which it sources directly from the country thanks to a pre-existing relationship with a supplier. Then there’s Taiwan Beer, ubiquitous in its country of origin, but much rarer on these shores.
The restaurant’s opening may have been a challenge for the trio, but with its identity established, the team are free to get even more creative with the menu and ingredients – an exciting prospect.
What the judges said
“This menu stood out for a number of reasons: authenticity mixed with interest and innovation, a fun layout and dishes that sound so delicious that just reading it makes you want to head straight down to Soho to experience it.”
“Xu reflects the dynamic approach to modern eating, which is a key part of Taipei’s lifestyle. It stays close to its Chinese roots but isn’t scared of adopting Western influence with regard to menu structure and presentation. The result is that it offers delicious Taiwanese dishes that are more than accessible to London’s knowledgeable, cosmopolitan diners.”
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