For a limited time only, diners at Spice Market can tuck into Taiwanese-style bao buns with the new Barley & Buns pop-up menu.
Capitalising on the success of Taiwanese gua bao (steamed, fluffy white buns traditionally filled with pork belly) on the London street food scene, Spice Market has launched its own menu of savoury bao buns with a pop-up, Barley & Buns, on the ground floor of its restaurant.
There are six buns (£4 – £7) to choose from and one additional ‘bun of the week’ – on the evening we visited, barbecue chicken was in order. The fillings, all of which have south-east Asian influences, are comforting and well portioned, and the buns are pillowy soft with a trace of sweetness.
There are lots of textures at play on the menu, from the more tender choices like classic pork belly with pickled shallots, basil and mint, and Thai shrimp cake with mango and a sweet nuoc cham fish sauce dressing, to one of our firm favourites – the soy-glazed short rib with apple and jalapeno peppers (seeds and all). The meat is meltingly soft whilst the jalapeno gives a gentle kick-start to the senses.
Buns with more bite include the crispy Korean chicken fired up with chilli sauce and yuzu pickles, a surprisingly tasty non-meat option – a crunchy pickled vegetable medley with soy, and another of our favourites – crispy soft shell crab with Asian slaw and a drizzle of good old Sriracha sauce. This one’s a tried and tested favourite of many a Londoner too – at Taste of London over the summer, Spice Market sold around 4,500 soft shell crab buns in five days.
If that has whet your appetite and you want to make a meal of the buns, sides (£4 each) are available. There’s a light and crunchy spicy Thai slaw with sweet Asian pear, and hot baby potatoes with lime and plenty of chilli sauce.
With all that fire, you’ll need some drinks to cleanse the palate, luckily there are six beer-based (that’s the barley reference in the name) cocktails (£9 each) to get through, from the fragrant Ginger Shandy with Old Tom gin, lime, ginger lime-base beer syrup and some London Pilsner to the bitter-sweet Grapefruit Cooler with Reposado tequila, grapefruit, agave, Schiehallion and grapefruit bitters. Craft bottled beer is available too but there are also some lovely non-alcoholics drinks (£5) if you’re just popping in for lunch, from a sweet cherry yuzu to a comforting spiced hibiscus soda.
Ending on a sweet note for dinner is a must but now, lunchtime goers have no excuses either for Barley & Buns has created a selection of tasty desserts (£3) that you can order to-go. An absolute winner and one that can get seriously addictive are the bite-size crispy steam buns coated in soy sugar with bright green kaya coconut jam filling – think exotic doughnuts. We could easily have these for breakfast, which is just as well as kaya jam on toast is a breakfast staple in parts of south-east Asia.
Alternatively, go for the cookie bag which has a selection of three giant chewy and wonderfully crumbly cookies including ginger, peanut, and chocolate and coconut. The ice cream and sorbets are seriously tasty too and come packaged in the most practical mini takeaway boxes – it’s like they read your mind. Among the choices is dense mango sorbet (one of the best sorbets we’ve ever tasted) and a super smooth banana-lime ice cream which finishes on a lovely, subtle zingy note.
Will we be back? You bet your buns we’ll be back.
The Barley & Buns menu is available until the end of December 2015.
Spice Market, 10 Wardour Street, Leicester Square, London W1D 6QF.