Downstairs it feels like we're entering the aesthetic of cult film ‘In the Mood for Love’ by Chinese director Wong Kar-wai and transported to hedonistic 1960s Hong Kong speakeasy style.
A vintage jukebox loaded with 60s Taipai, Hong Kong and Singapore vinyls, turntable cabinets, dark wood booths clad in red velvet, lounge-like wicker armchairs, exposed brick, moody low lighting and a busy vintage cocktail bar showcasing all manner of unfamiliar potions and antique glasses and bottles. . This has to be the most atmospheric restaurant we've visited in a long time: it really does evoke the mood of traditional Chinese drinking dens with an appealing louche vibe and makes a great hideaway late-night Soho drinking and eating spot.
The menu is printed on a newspaper interlaced with the history of teahouses - traditionally one took tea, dim sum and a newspaper before moving on to stronger stuff.
There's authenticity in the glass as well as the airwaves. The drinks made exclusively with Chinese spirits and ingredients (from preserved fruit to rare spices) are bafflingly though intriguingly unfamiliar, hugely exotic, strong and made with considerable aplomb. There’s a whole list of imported baijiu, China’s national drink sometimes referred to as ‘Chinese vodka’. It is distilled from a grassy grain called sorghum that is fermented in casks for a year. And a return visit will be required to investigate house made liqueurs like daikon, mushroom, bitter melon brewed on the premises.
A good way to start is with cocktails incorporating baijiu. Take Century Pear & Maple with toasted maple baijiu, Cheongstam smoked tea liqueur, Lapsang tea smoked century old pear, five spice syrup, five ice - it's a veritable art form and beguiling to watch its elaborate preparation and smoking presentation to the table. Its' taste? deeply smoky with plenty of spice, a touch of fruit and a lingering mellowness. The cocktail list is divided into fruit forward, alkaline (even daikon & bak choi), herbaceous, smokey, floral (jasmine and salted lime), and dessert (Buddha apple, cream and coconut with baiju) Presently, a guest cocktail maker is creating a baijiu cocktail each week, up next is Zoltan Varga from Ceviche.
The menu features snacks, coal grill skewers, rice pots - all designed to enhance the drinking experience. We graze on daikon pickle, a fabulous concoction of brûlée wobbly tea egg with a crispy nest and sweet charred corn not on the cob with a delicious burnt caramelised finish. Several of the dishes taste as if they spent rather too long in the fryer, especially the salt and pepper squid and gold dust fish skin. Far more successful are grilled skewers of aubergine and oyster mushroom and a trio of gyoza dumplings joined with a lattice. Stand out dish is the claypot rice that arrives at the table in an earthenware pot and is a deeply savoury medley of wild mushrooms and sticky, umami rich rice - ideal for soaking up the wildly alcoholic drinks. Unusually for Cantonese dining, sweets are good too, particularly a silky ginger milk custard.
Of course there’s a list of Chinese tea blends, too. And with the Tea Room open until 3am at weekends, we could easily spend a lot of time in a pleasing haze of 1960s Hong Kong timeworn.
Back upstairs Bun House is buzzy and fun with a steamy takeaway counter serving excellent char siu, scallop and vegetable buns at £2.00 a pop and a few stools to sit in to enjoy a fast meal and the Cantonese decor.
Price: £100+ for drinks and a proper meal. Some of the cocktails and whiskies are ultra-pricey though it is worth splashing out for something so different
|What||The Tea Room at Bun House|
|Where||Tea Room at Bun House, 24 Greek Street , Soho , W1D 4DZ | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
01 Nov 17 – 29 Nov 18, 5pm - 12.30am Mon-Thurs 5pm - 3am Fri-Sat
|Website||Click here to book|