Until recently I was what you called ‘bun-loyal’. My allegiances were clear, I was a devotee of the classic bready, preferably brioche, burger bun. As a self-confessed burgerholic (rewind to Burger Wellington 2012 and 2013 where I demolished 10 burgers in 14 days) I have no choice but to be a fan. After all, the bun is one of the three fundamental components of a burger, without it it’s just meat and 3 vege.
But lately there is a new bun that’s caught my eye… I know it’s been delighting fans for centuries but only in recent years has it become mainstream. I would credit, or blame depending on which side of the bun you’re on, David Chang for making it cool and London’s love of a trend for making it a craze. Of course, I am talking about the Hirata style steamed bun also known as bao or mantou.
Any trendy Asian-inspired food venture worth their weight in pork belly has currently got their steamer on full throttle because these buns are everywhere and people are going mad for them. No one can deny the success of Flesh & Buns, I’ve endured the ridiculous line for Yum Bun at Hawker House, and one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of 2015 is the permanent home of Bao London. Joining the bun brigade is new pop-up restaurant Beer and Buns which serves… well it’s obvious isn’t it? So last week some new foodie friends and I went to check it out…
Beer and Buns is located above K10 Japanese restaurant but could not be a more different vibe. We walked up the dimly lit stairwell with it’s blackboard walls covered in chalk scribbles to find more of the same in the dining room along with picnic style tables covered with Asahi beer boxes, music blasting, and the opportunity for a round of foosball or pinball between bites. This place looks more man cave or teenage rumpus room than restaurant but I actually like it; not at all pretentious, this feels like somewhere you come for a good time.
The drinks menu has an impressive selection of Japanese craft beers as well as some cocktails, wine and sake. I’m not a big beer drinker but since I’ve given up wine (my usual poison) for Lent I figured, when in Rome right? I chose a Coedo Shikkoku, a rather enjoyable dark aged lager, it didn’t taste as potent or chocolatey as the stouts or porters I enjoy but it was still an ideal accompaniment for the food.
This was one of those rare occasions where there would be no indecisive ordering or plate envy because we got everything on the menu. Not hard when there are only 7 items- 4 different fillings for the Hirata buns and 3 different flavours of wings. Have I mentioned how much I like a short and snappy menu? Only downside for the kitchen is that we now expect them to be executed perfectly. Beer and Buns didn’t quite reach that tall order but there were definitely no complaints.
Their buns are as they claimed, soft and pillow-like, and just as they should be. My favourite of the fillings was their signature chicken karaage with Japanese yuzu koshu slaw– moist chicken, sufficient crunch and a bit of a spicy kick. For a girl who’s craved a shameful KFC zinger burger for the last two years, this was a dream come true. My biggest surprise was the aubergine katsu with avocado salsa with miso sauce, I usually avoid this purple devil of a vegetable like the plague but I thought their falafel-like patty was really tasty. The duck with pickled cucumber, caramelised spring onion and harasame sauce and pork belly with braised red cabbage and mustard mayo were also good but don’t leave much of an impression compared to other versions out there.
By this stage we had already made quite the happy mess but soon realised the bits of slaw and salsa on the table were nothing compared to the finger-licking chicken-wing-eating to come. Described as jumbo wings, we weren’t disappointed… they were tender, crunchy, and extremely saucy. I’m warning you now, avoid these if you’re wearing white or are in too-polite company because these wings are a deliciously messy experience. After sampling all the flavours, we were unanimous in naming the tebasake soy garlic our favourite, though I was also quite partial to the Korean hot.
A few hours later we left Beer and Buns full and happy, it’s as simple as that. This is the kind of place you come with a group of friends for a fuss free meal and a laugh- you all tuck in, get your hands dirty, perhaps even a smear of sauce round your lips and it’s all ok.
Beer and Buns is open Monday-Saturday from 5pm at 3 Appold St, Shoreditch until July so get there before it goes! Pop in on Mondays for free pinball or foosball but even better, get there on Tuesdays for 2 for 1 food!
After our first round of buns and wings, we ordered a couple more which the gents at Beer and Buns kindly gave us on the house- thanks!