XU 許儒華苑, London


It all started with the humble Bao street food stall 3-4 years ago. Which gained a cult following with that Taiwanese street food of "gua bao刈包" and it spread a popular trend in many restaurants. When it comes to Taiwanese cuisine, I could only count a handful of restaurants within London. Taiwan is more hidden dragon than crouching tiger with influences from all part of China regions and Japan. Yet you think you know it, with that "made in..." imprinted on millions of electrical products.

Xu 許儒華苑, the full cognominate in mandarin does sound rather posh with the literal of Xu's teaching court. In reference to Xu being the late grandfather of Erchen Chang, who runs the business with her husband Shing Tat Chung and his sister Wai Ting Chung.

Stepping into Xu is like travelling back into the 1930's of Taiwan, lots of smart, dark, elegant wood, languorously whirring fans, marble bars and delicately decorated screens. Cinematic transportation to Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood for Love". At the entrance stands a lacquered wooden kiosk where drawers of fine Taiwanese oolong teas are awaiting hot water expertly prepared by a tea master.

Chilled Clams 醃蛤蜊

Clams in a chilli marinade with a basil oil granita. Differentiating from the classic into a version of similar concept to eating oyster with some additional flavours. Traditionally the clams are frozen for four hours, shell starts opening up when they get too cold. Drowned in a soy sauce, chilli, garlic and rice wine marinade for one to two days. Both classic and the new interpreted version are equally enjoyable, especially when the weather is hot.

Numbing Beef Tendon 滷牛筋

Lost in translation. It is easy for one language to be lost in another language. For me, 牛腱 is beef shin and beef tendon is just beef tendon or 牛筋. 滷 (pronounced lǔ) is a slow braising Chinese cooking technique that uses a master spiced stock and slow cooked for long hours. This remastered version is transformed into a tendon terrine with chilli vinaigrette and coriander. Imagined as thinly sliced beef shin/tendon and covered in a sauce similar to that of the Sichuanese cold chicken with chilli sauce aka saliva chicken. The closest I can described it as since I am lost in translation for words and senses.

XO Carabinero Prawn XO紅蝦

A crossover of Mediterranean to Hong Kong. Beautiful large deep-sea red prawn with succulent meat and delicacy flavour of the head that should not be wasted. Grilled and smothered in XO sauce that lacked kick of spiciness, and the prawn wasn't particularly fresh. XO sauce actually hailed from Hong Kong and the name comes from fine XO (extra-old) cognac. It is a spicy seafood sauce made of roughly chopped dried seafood including scallops, dried fish and shrimp, and subsequently cooked with chilli peppers, onions and garlic. My mother actually home makes the sauce and I always have a jar sitting in my fridge, she's more Cantonese these days than her formative Taiwanese youth.

Gold Coin 金錢鵝肝

A dish that I can't pin my head to a related dish in Taiwan. And that lightbulb moment, realising this could be the reminiscent version of a dying old school Cantonese dish called gold coin chicken or money chicken or 金錢雞, for sure it has chicken liver. So this gold coin is made of layers of mini spring onion pancake, foie gras terrine, red dates and shaoxing wine jelly. Two bites, and it disappeared into anonymity.

Xian Bing 豬肉餡餅

Always associated xian bing as a northern China speciality. But I guess each region has its own version? This pan fried aged pork pancake with a vinegar & chilli oil dipping, reiterating as a gigantic gyoza/jiaozi since it uses the same dumpling dough for the skin and cooked the same method just different size and shape. A true taste of home.

Taro Dumpling 煎水晶餃

Taro dumpling stuffed with Taiwanese sausage and kow choi oil dressing, unsure about the originality of this dish but Google told me it was a hakka-Chinese cuisine of a dumpling like to that of har gau skin filled with minced meat, shaped triangular, boiled and eaten in a broth. Interestingly incorporating taro to the dumpling skin, it tasted like a 芋頭糕 taro cake similar to 蘿蔔糕 turnip cake but made with taro instead with this pan fried version. A little too gooey for my liking and slightly underwhelmed by it.

Beef Pancake 牛髓夾餅

Was told by the waiter this was a reinvention of the usage of spring pancake春餅, the same type of pancake eaten with crispy duck. So instead of duck, the pancakes are filled with short-rib & bone marrow topped with potato crumb, pickled daikon, pickled cucumber and spring onion. Nice to have something other than duck to be served with spring pancakes with the smart presentation but sad to see it has lost its history behind it.

Chilli Egg Drop Crab 蛋花辣蟹

White & brown crab meat with salmon roe, egg drop sauce, red chilli, fermented shrimp & garlic. I assumed this is an adaptation of the Singapore chill crab, a non messy version. So intense crabby flavour, and somewhat spicy that one needing for a drink. That sauce, can have another four bowls of rice given how ridiculously small size it was. This, you can assumed I really liked.

Char Shui Iberico Pork 叉燒豬頸

Not your traditional Cantonese roast of char siu, using Iberico pork collar marinated in char siu sauce with leeks and sesame. Unsure why an iconic Cantonese dish is on the menu of Taiwanese cuisine, char siu literally means "fork burn/roast" (siu being burn/roast and char being fork, both noun and verb). Possibly the best char siu I have had in London, correct use of the right cut of pork, pork collar or also known as pork shoulder outside of UK. Intense charredness flavour, slightly overpowered the char siu marinade, pink in the middle retaining tenderness and juiciness. It can be fattier for me the pork, but that is down to personally preference.

Oyster Congee 芋頭蚵粥

This oyster congee is not the congee I had in mind, with it being more like xi fan稀飯, as in more of watery rice rather then the gloppy stuffs that I grow up with. But this style is actually more of a Teochew thing where there are fair amount of Teochew descendants in Taiwan, the congee is actually decent with the oyster flavour and cubes of yam.

Lard Onion Rice 豬油拌飯

Guilty pleasure, with rice mixed with pork lard and soy sauce. This was a poor man's food back in the 60's and 70's where the poor could not afford to buy meat, they would buy fatty pork pieces and turn that into lard. Hot rice nourished in dripping, it does not sound the most appetising to spoon into the mouth. With that fragrant flavour, it is so satisfying except this version was rather bland.

Chin Shin Oolong

Of course we had to drink tea with the meal, still have not figured the Chinese name for "chin shin oolong". From the Jade Mountain picked in 2017, this is a lightly oxidised high mountain oolong with a light, fresh character and a floral sweetness that lingers after the tea has been drunk. Also on show is a tamshui cocktail involving Asian Pear, butter, Chinese basil and Champagne.

Being half Taiwanese and half Hong Kongers, it does not make me an expert in Chinese cuisine. I feel like I only know a tiny fraction of it. So not all the food reached heady heights. A few things either over or under seasoned here and there, flavour is westernised where the Asian would not be able to find their home comfort and the meaning is lost in translation. Even though the plating is superb and instagram friendly, I was hoping to find all those nostalgic night market hits similar to what they have brought out Bao to be.



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