Refined dining at Xu evokes the atmosphere of 1930s Taipei
Design at this teahouse and restaurant of the edge of Chinatown is a knockout – like walking onto a filmset
28 September, 2018 — By Tom Moggach
We walked to Xu through Chinatown, watching chefs folding dumplings amid dangling corpses of glazed duck.
Xu Teahouse and Restaurant is in Rupert Street, on the borders of this neighbourhood, and has a less visceral feel.
It’s a refined, lavish concept from the team who launched Bao, a restaurant famous for steamed buns, a no-reservations policy and snaking queues out the door.
This new design is a knockout. Set over two floors, Xu aims to evoke the atmosphere of the social clubs and luxury dining rooms of 1930s Taipei. The effect is like stepping onto a film set. Picture thudding wooden ceiling fans, acres of glossy dark wood and glamorous staff gliding past in pressed whites.
The ground floor is The Teahouse. Here, a tea sommelier brews vintage oolongs and serves Hei Tang cake in the afternoon. Upstairs is the main restaurant – a jigsaw of booth seating and a curved bar serving fine cocktails and rare whiskey.
We came for lunch, perusing the large one-page menus laid out to feel like the old newspapers read over tea in Taipei. Unusual ingredients grab the eye, such as winter melon syrup, aged white soy sauce, grilled bone vinegar or soy dried daikon.
Our meal was a rollercoaster. Highs included dreamy dumplings stuffed with fennel and glass noodles, although I suspect the extra addition of dill. Top-notch snacks included slivers of crisp lotus root dusted in fiery peanut powder and a minimalist bowl of pickles – precision cut cubes of root veg in vibrant purple and white. Also noteworthy were glistening green chillis stuffed with Taiwanese sausage; less successful chunks of lukewarm aubergine in an overly sweet sticky sauce.
Rice bowls are the centrepiece at lunch. Sticky rice is topped with braised pork, chicken or beef, with clever garnishes such as kohlrabi pickles, crunchy chicken skin, raw egg yolk or a honey black pepper sauce. We tried the chicken, as part of Xu’s set lunch option – four dishes for £19.50, including pickles, dumplings, a rice bowl and almond ice cream. The rice bowls are tasty but tiny. In fact, the stingy portion sizes were the low point of the meal.
A friend ordered a main dish called Chilli Egg Drop Crab. It looked lovely: the upturned crab shell filled with an umami-rich sauce flecked with white crab meat and glistening salmon roe. But it cost a staggering £19. A bowl of rice – the obvious accompaniment – costs £3 extra.
Memorable meals are served with a generosity of spirit, but at times Xu felt quite the opposite. Service was hit and miss. We were served by two waitresses – one smiley and attentive, the other frankly looked bored.
Our meal at Xu was visually lush, thrilling at times, but ultimately more style than substance.
We walked back to our bus stop through Chinatown, casting hungry glances through those steamed-up restaurant windows.
Xu Teahouse and Restaurant
30 Rupert St, W1D
020 3319 8147