A Baozi is a Chinese steamed bun. Whole, they look like giant cloves of garlic, with a soft white dough wrapped around the filling and pinched shut on top. It seemed only right to order this dish in the eponymous restaurant.
Just off Leicester Square / Shaftesbury Avenue is that wonderful complex of roads in London know as Chinatown, teeming with restaurants. It can be hard to know where to start, but for a quick, substantial, simple, reasonably-priced meal based on a limited menu, the Baozi Inn is a great place to stop. It serves baozi as part of its reasonably restricted but hearty menu.They offered three versions: pork and onion, vegetable, or special, which turned out to be chicken and mushroom.
The dough comes out soft and fluffy, with a generous filling in the centre. The chicken and mushroom one was finely ground and had the texture and taste similar to a pate, but the pork one was rich, more moist, and very succulent. They're quite large, so would do as a light meal or snack in their own right.
The restaurant space is split across two rooms. One is split by an arch, and a counter leading into the kitchen. The other just has a few tables in it, and access to the toilets. The interior is very red, a Chinese lucky colour. The walls are covered in pictures of Mao Zedong and areas of China, Chinese characters advertising the food, and odd things such as canvas satchels and caps with Chinese on them. With Chinese music playing through the speakers, eating here is an immersive experience. Seats are backless wooden stools, so if you need more support, make sure you get a table by a wall you can lean against.
The menu is limited, with a handful each of starters, light meals, noodle meals, rice dishes and drinks. There's just one dessert, which claims to vary. The meat dishes specify the meat included rather than offering a choice. Main dishes are £7.80, a cunning 20p below their designated minimum spend of £8, so you will need to order carefully, including a drink, starter or some other dish to your main course. The Chinese tea is served in a generous pot, and they have specialist things such as a cold plum drink, which is delicious. The starters include lots of salads and vegetable dishes - it's easy to eat well here, and the number of Chinese people we saw dining there suggests that it's rated among the local community as well as tourists and visitors.
Service might not be with a smile, but it is fast and efficient. I had been served in the time it took me to use the toilet. The baozi came at the same time as the main course, so you might need to specify if you want to have things as a separate starter. The bowls are large, well-filled with steaming, satisfying food.
The noodle soup with beef had a generous amount of chilli in it, but some of the meat pieces were more gristle / tough bits (possibly ear) than what a Western palate might expect, so you might need to fish out some of the meat.
For a quick, affordable, substantial, delicious meal in the heart of London's vibrant Chinatown, Baozi is a great place to go. There's even a supermarket opposite, so if you're inspired by what you've eaten, you can pop in to pick up ingredients for another time!