‘Good Peking duck is one of my desert island dishes, but this shortrib boots that into the sea’
Sitting in Xu’s narrow, dark-panelled interior, I fancy myself not in slightly grubby lower Rupert Street – not quite Soho, not quite Chinatown – but the waiting room of a 30s train station, back when women wore ruby lips and cigarettes didn’t kill you. It’s hard to believe that outside is all tourists trying to find Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! rather than the tropics. In here, booths are upholstered in Ladurée macaron colours and ceiling fans circle languidly; from a private room comes the clack of mahjong tiles and a “tea master” opens and closes many drawers containing perfumed teas: oolongs, pu-erhs and assams. Xu has a dreamlike quality.
The food, though, is emphatically of today. The people behind the wildly successful Bao – sister and brother Wai Ting Chung and Shing Tat Chung, and Shing’s wife, Erchen Chang – have crafted a menu as distinctive as our surroundings: nominally Taiwanese, but peppered with Cantonese accents and the trio’s typically thoughtful, creative touches. Early controversial dishes (the much-maligned chickens’ feet) have been ditched, and now even seemingly throwaway elements thrill: jerkies (bak kwa) of pork, beef and lamb come, like intensely meaty After Eights, in waxed paper wraps and a rectangular wooden box, to be furled around pickled ginger, fresh mint relish or smoky pepper sauce, each a leathery little pleasure.