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Visiting Xu is like travelling through space and time. Stepping off the dank streets of the no man's land on the outskirts of Chinatown and theatreland, you squeeze through Xu's wooden doors and suddenly find yourself in 1930s Taipei. It's a world of darkly gleaming leather booths and neatly pressed smiling staff dressed in white, filled with the soft buzz of conversation and the clacking of mahjong tiles being washed in the private rooms at the back. Ceiling fans whirl overhead, there are fabulous Asian-inspired cocktails on tap from a lacquered bar on the first floor and as you pore through a menu that resembles an old Chinese newspaper you may feel as if you're sitting down to dinner on a humid evening in the East. I myself rather wished I'd dressed to kill in a tight cheongsam, hair in a bun and a slash of red lipstick.

Xu hails from the Bao family, but if you've arrived hoping for a bite of one of those little fluffy gua bao, you'll be disappointed. Don't worry, though - there's a far more expansive menu here, offering everything from xiao tsai (bar snacks) to dumplings, buns and huge mains. In my opinion, these combined with the beautiful surrounds make for a more high-end dining experience.

The xiao tsai I mentioned before: chilled clams on ice, given an almost nuclear glow with basil oil and a chilli marinade. I thought these made for a fun visual alternative to oysters on ice as a starter.

Dumplings, cuttlefish toast and xian bing. The latter were filled with pork so I didn't try them, but my family (still bemused by my refusal to eat meat at this point) benevolently ordered me taro dumplings filled with sweet potato and miso sitting in a pool of bright green sauce. The best of the three was the crisp, salty cuttlefish toast accompanied by whipped cod's roe mousse for dipping - a playful, elevated take on the classic Chinese takeout menu, prawn toast.

XO carabinero prawns which left us with messy fingers and zero regrets.

The standout dish: little chunks of smoked eel soaked in a tangy tomato sauce and crowned with tangles of dried daikon. This delivered on multiple levels, mixing and balancing sweet, salt and sour flavours and offering an appealing array of textures. Loved the minimal presentation too.

Beef shortrib and marrow pancakes: a pleasingly creative twist on classic Peking duck pancakes.  Although I didn't try this, I enjoyed the ceremonial process to be adhered to: scraping clean the bone filled with marrow and ground shortrib and sprinkled with potato and carefully adding it to the traditional thin pancakes along with the usual accoutrements of thinly sliced cucumber and spring onion.

Chilli egg drop crab and grilled sea bass topped with chilli. I thought the sea bass was presented in a striking manner - with its stripes of red and green, it was almost like a flag - but unfortunately the taste was a little forgettable. The crab, meanwhile, was delicious - a riot of flavour yet not overpoweringly spicy, with the sweet brown and white crab meat mixed with chilli, garlic and fermented shrimp, the texture enlivened with little bubbles of cod roe.

Finally, pudding. I've often observed that in Asia there's less of a focus on dessert, as they tend to focus on working sweet flavours into savoury dishes, and so perhaps there's less of a need for something sugary after the main courses have been put away. But that's not to say that the Taiwanese don't take their pudding seriously. Here, we were presented with a light dome of ma lai cake encased in a sweet little bamboo steamer. It was hard not to feel nostalgic eating this cake - I felt it evoked a bygone era, recalling steamed cakes served with custard under the warm glow of the heaters in the school canteen, or perhaps colonial Malaysia, as it came accompanied by little vessels of condensed milk and orange butterscotch sauce. 

In my next blog post, I'll be writing about a restaurant that turns my preconceptions about Asian desserts upside down. For now, I hope you've enjoyed reading this review half as much as I enjoyed the experience of eating the food. This was a sensationally enjoyable meal - a true feast for the senses, and probably one of my favourite meals of the year. I might have to learn mahjong so I can legitimately rent out one of the back rooms...

30 Rupert Street
London W1

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