Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time chasing a green cart. From Dalston to Peckham via The Gherkin, hunting down the BAO mobile is the result of a new addiction: their Taiwanese steamed buns.
Gua bao are palm-sized clouds filled with things like braised pork. At £3.50 a hit, there’s little barrier to forming a dependency on what is close to street food perfection. Apart from, that is, the navigation skills required to reach them.
So it was with some delight that I chanced upon Flesh and Buns in Covent Garden, in soft-launch mode. The interior’s all Taipei nightclub, with stark white pillars between the high-seated banquettes, which flank a communal table the length of a 5-a-side pitch. It was full, and everyone in there looked identical — the men with sculpted chests and plastic hair; the women with, well, sculpted hair and plastic chests.
The buns stack up to BAO London’s but they’re not the interesting part, at least not in isolation. The snack (as it should be enjoyed) works as a combination — think of them as little sandwiches. So it’s unfortunate that Flesh & Buns fell short on the fillings. The roast duck was on the money, just oddly lukewarm. But the flat-iron steak was beyond chewy and impossible to enjoy as part of a small bite. Along with onglet, the fashion for flat-iron steak baffles. It’s a cut that needs time but that’s so often served flash-fried, rendering it fit only for distracting Rottweilers. Frantically attempting to chow through a leathery steak is not an activity to ‘be seen’ doing, especially in front of the twatterati.
You get two bao buns per filling, which is tight, especially coupled with the £12–£20 price range. You have to order more in pairs, but even six will leave two diners with spare innards.
Elevating street food to a higher level seems to miss the point. Of course some street foods translate perfectly well to a more permanent setting. The conversion of the Meat Markets, Pitt Cues and Pizza Pilgrims attest. But they’ve each retained a closeness to their origins, however contrived. Cheap seats and chipped plates mean the food is the talking point, at a price reminiscent of the early days. In Flesh and Bun’s case, the benefit of a consistent location can’t make up for the fluffed offerings inside.