Food review: Bao bun lunch short on dazzle

Customer service saves the day when Andy Richardson experiences a sparse but tasty offering from Restaurant Kits.

Full of flavour – crispy chicken with mao and chilli
Full of flavour – crispy chicken with mao and chilli

Service. Marco Pierre White says it’s more important than the food. And if the man who earned three Michelin stars says so, who are we to disagree?

But how to provide great service when you’re eating from a box that’s been delivered by the man from DPD. (Other couriers are available, though few are as good).

Simple. Get someone to mess it all up and then see how they respond.

For the immutable truth of life is this: bad stuff is always going to happen, it’s how you deal with it that really counts.

My two-times divorce lawyer would agree with that.

And so in the case of Restaurant Kits, an unassuming customer service operator called Kirsty helped to elevate a twice-delayed dinner that would otherwise have been given a score of one into a decent experience that was memorable for all the right reasons.

We may be in the final throes of restaurant kits – for now. Restaurateurs around the UK have noticed a huge drop in the number of people ordering since pubs and restaurants opened for al fresco service – in the snow.

As well they might. From next week, our focus will very much be on the best (or, most notorious) restaurants and pubs in our local area, though we’ll continue to dip into the world of eat-at-home every now and then, just so we’re presenting all options to you.

And so to the tale of Kirsty Saves The Day, or, should that be Kirsty Finds The Bao Buns.

We ordered suckling pig and crispy chicken bao buns.

Piglet in a bun

Why wouldn’t we? Bao are delicious; slightly sweet, tender soft buns that are filled with Asian flavours.

Lighter than burgers, and usually more flavoursome, they have become increasingly popular during the past four or five years and are now more widely available than before.

Even decent supermarkets sell them – they are positively mainstream.

We ordered from Flesh And Buns, which is delivered via Restaurant Kits, the UK’s savviest at-home operator.

In non-Covid times, Flesh And Buns operates three restaurants offering a variety of small dishes like Korean fried wings, mixed seafood ceviche or such bao buns as crispy piglet belly, salmon teriyaki and crispy duck leg.

It’s a fabulous menu that includes such desserts as kinako donuts and salted caramel chocolate fondant.

And, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to eat that?

We ordered two bao selections: a crispy piglet belly with mustard miso and apple pickle alongside a crispy chicken number.

Enter Kirsty, for her unexpected leading role.

The bao didn’t arrive. Though on the same day, another box, delivered by the same courier, did.

Call this a substantial meal?

We called Restaurant Kits. We sympathised with Kirsty. Imagine being on the end of that line and receiving dozens and dozens of enquiries every day because of the inevitable errors that occur when thousands of boxes are being sent to houses across the UK and the courier can’t find the front door. It happens. It must be a nightmare.

Kirsty was brilliant. Apologetic and efficient, she updated in the shortest time telling us that the box had been lost by the courier and she’d chase them up.

She was as good as her word. Bao would be off the menu that evening, she told us, but rest assured it would be with us the next day.

It wasn’t. We checked the tracking 24 hours later. There was a dubious message informing us that the product had been disposed off.

Poor bao. Poor tummies.

Kirsty leaped into action. Cutting through the red tape and liaising with disinterested warehouse workers, she found our bao and got it on a van – I’ve half a feeling she may have used one of those new personal jet packs that the military are investing in.

A tracker number was issued and I’m reasonably sure Kirsty fitted the bao box with a tracker device and issued dark threats to the driver if they messed up for a third time.

And so the bao landed. Thank you Kirsty, for your graciousness and efficiency.

Marco was right. While we might have been disgruntled in other circumstances, liaising with a customer service rep who gave a damn and who fixed a problem not of her making helped to make a bad thing good. Bravo.

The bao, in truth, weren’t worth the wait.

The flavours were great though they were seriously underwhelming.

Upon opening the box and seeing the six small buns, tiny piece of piglet belly and containers of apple slices, mayo and leaves my first reaction was this: Is That It?

A light lunch, rather than anything more substantial – yes, a Scotch egg would have been more filling – the bao were okey dokey rather pig in a pokey.

Third time lucky. Thank you Kirsty

The instructions were fine, though it quickly became apparent that this decent home cook could use better methods to extract more flavour and texture from the contents than I’d have done if I’d followed it to the letter.

Piglet is delicious. It’s one of gastronomies great treats.

And while I assume it’s spectacular in the restaurant, it didn’t really translate to the box.

Trying to crisp the skin of small offcuts would have required the precision and patience of a surgeon, rather than a hungry man who’s waited three days for his lunch.

The flavours were decent, though it was a lot of faff for very little reward.

The chicken was on a par with the piglet. The seasoned flour in which the chicken was shallow fried was full of flavour though it was all a bit of a flash in the pan. A couple of mouthfuls and they were gone.

The lack of dazzle was a bigger issue than the lateness of the box – all things go missing in the post every now and then, right.

Though the box was relatively inexpensive, it felt like poor value. I’d rather pay more for something spectacular than seek out a non-bargain that costs less.

Kirsty was the best part of the experience – that’s right, the customer service rep outshone the food.

After which, I can’t wait to sit in a shivering beer garden and get a lukewarm burger from a waiter wearing a mask.

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