Ravishing Bun House has the right stuff
02 May, 2019 — By Tom Moggach
Bun House: where the quality of cooking matches the decor
FROM Hawaii to Hackney, every culture loves a sticky bun. Jam donuts, sparkling with sugar, are my personal guilty pleasure. But in the West End, “bao” from Taiwan are enjoying their moment in the sun. A flurry of new restaurants offer these steamed white buns, which they slice then stuff with braised meats and fresh herbs.
Now there’s a fresh take at Bun House in Chinatown, where they major in the closed “buns” of China and Hong Kong.
You may be familiar with these creations from dim sum brunch, where they are typically served in bamboo steamers. Char siu pork is the classic filling, hidden inside the sticky white dough.
At Bun House they go a step further, with creative stuffings such as lamb belly with cumin and garlic or their trademark custard bun, oozing a salted duck egg custard.
This restaurant in Lisle Street, their second site after a move from Greek Street, is ravishing on the eye. One of the founders, a lady called Z He, is a talented interior architect.
Walk in and you’ll find the open-plan kitchen counter to the right, where they cook buns to order in huge bamboo baskets amid theatrical clouds of steam.
You can eat in or take-away, with buns priced at a bargain £2.50 each.
In a cute trick, they stamp each one with its Chinese character; cross-reference this with their menu to decipher what you’re eating.
The décor features acres of bare brick and distressed paint, with a two-tone colour scheme of emerald green and white, mirrored in the hand-cut floor tiles.
There’s a soundtrack of Cantonese ballads, evoking the mood of 1960s tea houses in colonial Hong Kong.
Much as I love eating in Chinatown, I don’t associate these bustling restaurants with snazzy interior design.
For years, my favourite haunt was notable for its scratched plastic tables and abrupt service. Might Bun House be a triumph of style over substance?
The savoury buns won’t disappoint. Best was the lamb bun, with intense spicing and tender meat. The fish bun, laced with Thai basil, is another winner.
They serve other dishes, too, and quality of cooking is generally excellent.
My rice pot was topped with fabulously tender, slow-cooked beef brisket.
The glass noodle salad is spot-on, with a slippery texture and layered flavours from chilli, vinegar, coriander and sesame seeds.
I also recommend the smashed cucumbers, curry fish balls and even the springy tripe, if you’re feeling adventurous.
You may possibly find some of the flavours here a touch too sweet, such as the sugary sour plum tea and custard bun.
To drink, there are teas, craft beers from Hong Kong and their own creation, a pale ale infused with subtle notes of kumquat and chrysanthemum.
Bun House may be highly styled, but it delivers where it counts. The food is fast, cheap and exciting – with buns that bounce with flavour.
26 – 27 Lisle Street, WC2H