Tag Archives: windmill street

Bao

Bao


Words & Photography Kirk Truman


“Initially we weren’t set on it having any longevity, we never intended for Bao to grow into what it has done…”

I am anything but patient, but to get into Bao I waited for 20 minutes with a can of Taiwanese lager in my hand. I’ve been watching the ever-expanding queue outside for a year now as I’ve gone up and down Soho’s Lexington Street, and wondering: what makes all these people stand in line for a restaurant that only seats 15 people and sells Taiwanese street food? Now, Bao has crossed the border into Fitzrovia, and the still fresh-faced venture has opened its doors on Windmill Street to great acclaim.

Brother and sister Wai Ting Chung and Shing Tat Chung, and Shing’s wife Erchen Chang, are all under 30 and the idea of starting Bao came to them while were travelling together. Journeying through Erchen’s home country of Taiwan, they were inspired by the informal street food culture and culinary traditions they discovered – and that was how Bao found its inception. “We’d all just graduated, so we made the decision to travel around Taiwan together. We ate all over, and from there we were inspired to come back and start our own venture,” says Shing. “We discussed the idea of a market stall whilst travelling back to London. We thought introducing some of my home traditions, including the bao itself, on the stall could be a cool idea. It was much less risky for us to start out as a market stall in the beginning, as opposed to starting our own restaurant right away. Initially, we weren’t set on it having any longevity; we never planned for Bao to grow into what it has done. The initial response and attention it received was fantastic, and it was an organic progression.”

In 2013, Bao started out as a market stall at Netil Market in Hackney, and is today it remains a permanent fixture on Saturday afternoons. Taking things to the next level, from market stall to restaurant, Bao opened their first permanent premises on Soho’s Lexington Street in 2015. Both their Soho and Fitzrovia restaurants offer a relaxed environment, with efficient yet relaxed service, and the interiors bring the trio’s background in fine art to life with catchy branding. “With our new Fitzrovia site, we have adapted the space to the brand, and the brand to the space. At first what appealed more than anything was the extensive amount of natural light it had – it was the perfect corner spot for us. Before we opened, we loved the casualness of u-bars, and felt this was something that we wanted to bring to the space,” says Shing. “We liked the idea of diners watching as drinks are prepared, we wanted people to be engaged with the aesthetic of the brand and feel like they’re at the centre of the restaurant. We wanted the basement to have the exact opposite feeling. We wanted to create a completely different vibe, with a tin-clad and spacey feeling to it as you look into the kitchen and watch the food being prepared,” adds Erchen.

The name Bao itself originates from their signature Chinese steamed bread roll, known as bao, which is served with a filling of meat, fish or vegetables. Their menu itself is split into four sections, focusing not just on bao but also chicken, fish and rice dishes, with special Taiwanese rice sourced from Chi Shiang, and vegetable sides. In both branches, diners order dishes via their menus on a tick-style system. But before that comes the long wait – whether on Lexington Street or Windmill Street – that can sometimes last up to 45 minutes. It’s a stretch by anybody’s standards, but there’s something about Bao that makes the wait worthwhile. Of course, the food is the thing: the tantalising menu is fresh and innovative, and while it’s based on Taiwanese street fare, the kitchen pushes far beyond those boundaries. At the same time, I can’t think of many eateries in this area of London that have matched Bao’s innovative aesthetic, and I suspect the result is a brand identity that will continue to thrive and grow. Although the three are typically modest about their baby, I suspect they take a quiet satisfaction in knowing they’ve created something really quite special. Bao has certainly added another fine food destination to the already independent-led Windmill Street: welcome to the hood!

The Disguisery

The Disguisery


Words Gordon Ritchie

Photography Kirk Truman


We’ve really strived to learn and perfect our techniques here, and we’ve got to such a standard now that we’ve reached the benchmark.”

The door is semi-concealed, the intercom sits slightly above the rest. Buzzed in I climb, half a flight of stairs, open the first door, follow the paper trail of signs, taped business cards. A small kitchen; another door outside again; over rooftops; a small unit, perched, a busy workshop, a hive of industry. The secret industry that Fitzrovia thought it had lost. It’s here on the roof, hidden from the eyes, in disguise. The Disguisery: the word, the plural noun for a collective, or group of tailors. A Disguisery. “We were looking for a name for the business. A customer suggested it and it just seemed to fit.”

Becky’s parents in Somerset had been in the business, designing and making clothes for Liberty of London Department store. After a spell in modern art, she fell onto The Row and into the art of tailoring trousers, particularly for men who were particular about their trousers. “I have been lucky enough to have many different teachers. We’ve really strived to learn and perfect our techniques here, and we’ve got to such a standard now that we’ve reached the benchmark. All the trousers and waistcoats are made on the premises, and the Jackets are made by other specialist Jacket makers nearby. As the business grows we would also like to bring the Jacket-making in-house. Our suits are all made completely in Fitzrovia. Essentially we are a bespoke tailoring house. We endeavour to create any style that our customer requires.”

Giles, the knowledgeable, sartorial, Man about Town, the front man with a background in Soho media makes the coffee, puts on the Jazz when the customers call at their house. A house which also acts for the moment as the showroom for their clientele. Small for now but growing, by the end of this year The Disguisery hope to have a ground level storefront in Fitzrovia, where they can host, and boast of, their skills, their style, their sharp cuts. “We live in Fitzrovia, work in Fitzrovia, and other people we work with are based in Fitzrovia. This is our neighbourhood. It’s an area with history and heritage. We feel very much part of the fabric of Fitzrovia (no pun intended).

You’d be surprised who we make clothes for in here. It’s quite quiet today but it can get quite frantic, quite hectic, especially when we have deadlines to meet. You see the names on the tickets: Royalty, famous people.” The Disguisery are discreet, they don’t give any names away. I don’t ask. They have concerns about talking too much about who else they cut and make bespoke pieces for. So I won’t say. It’s a mark of their pride, loyalty, agents of integrity. “I am proud of the fact that we support tailoring houses in the West End.”

The research is deep, a sneaky red and black classic soul Atlantic seven sits in front of Giles on the table unmentioned. Their taste in clothes and the mid-century items that furnish their home sit juxtaposed with the tailoring on their homepage, reflecting their aesthetic indulgences. “We are always on the lookout for unique vintage cloth.” We discuss enduring images, espionage and subterfuge in bespoke tailoring. Transatlantic sixties style, Steve McQueen in the Thomas Crown Affair, Sean Connery in Dr No, these are the most common references for men with a modern agenda who require a suit.

“It’s classic style. It’s the most natural style, the closest to the body’s proportions. I was reading a lot, cutting manuals and tailoring guides from the sixties. The elements we draw from this era are timeless and will endure well into the future.” Giles sports a jacket. Green/black checks with a red line running through. Single-breasted, three buttoned. Only the middle button fastened. Showing me some of their work, a navy blue double breasted pinstripe number looks sharp. The lapel peak in exactly the right place, the slant pockets make all the difference. Attention to detail.

The Disguisery deals only in true bespoke. Whatever details the customer requires, or desires, the luxury of choice. Style, pocket, cloth lapel, cuff, buttons, all to be picked, a pattern cut, created from scratch, personal, just for you. Paper proportions archived, your silhouette preserved in paper. This is how you really measure up in the sartorial stakes. The needle that sits under The Disguisery name points the way forward. “People talk about the bespoke trade and tailoring dying out, but we think the opposite. We’re very busy in here and we need more space. You can hardly move in here sometimes.” They are already growing and expanding. Another tailor, Becky worked here for a few years, Edita has joined the team. “Edita has recently become a partner in the business. Over the years we have discussed and analysed all the advantages and disadvantages of different construction methods and have hand-picked all the details that give the garments we make the high-quality level that we present to our customers. Every part of the cut and construction has been decided on for a reason – nothing left to chance. What we bring is the quality, the precision, the detail.”

The Disguisery offers modernist takes on bespoke tailoring: a lifestyle. “There is a growing clientele who have a love of style and quality clothing but prefer a more relaxed environment to discuss their sartorial requirements which is something we can offer. At present, most of our clients are local. Our customers are our best advert. Wearing a suit from us they get asked, and we get recommended. It’s all by recommendations just now.” Building a reputation on word-of-mouth, a word you may not be familiar with, The Disguisery is worth investigating. I spy the exit and leave, unseen but sharp, over the rooftops of Fitzrovia.