A couple of years ago the House of Leong arrived in Chinatown, the land of oriental flavours that, more likely, left grease and foul taste in diners’ mouths. It is my – and many others’ – contention that many of the Chinese restaurants there are just milking, exploiting the scene “Chinatown”. Come on, tourists and (some) Londoners will always go to there for food. The businesses will always be running brilliantly. The Leong, therefore, arrived, with their affordable and tasty menu, to save the scene.
Now this Taiwanese dynasty has spread its influences beyond its original branch on Macclesfield Street. There are two of Leong’s Legend in Chinatown, another in Bayswater, and the newborn Dumplings’ Legend, again, in Chinatown. So, I decided to pop into the newest and the oldest to check out.
FIRST STOP: DUMPLINGS’ LEGEND
The dining room was white, all of it, which sort of aggrandised the glass-encased dumplings kitchen at the entrance. Not many people were working there on my visit, I’m afriad.
Did she not look a bit lonely?
Well, not the smily happy chaps on the London Eater blog, whose review was posted right after I came back from Dumplings’ Legend! Never mind, we didn’t go for the same dishes, so both posts will give good points for comparison.
I started off with, of course, the dumplings – to be more specific, the Siu Loung Bao. Meaning? Steamed dumplings with meat and soupy fillings. The magic of a Siu Loung Bao was that the hot soup burst into your mouth at the first bite. It’s like eating a dumpling with hot soup. The ones I asked for were the Pork and Crab Siu Loung Bao priced at £6.50 for eight pieces. The price was impressive for such a delicate cooking and the taste they delivered. The soup inside had all the depth and the pork was porky rather than flour-y as you would find in many other cheap-eat places. The only problem I had was that once those dumplings got less hot, they got stuck to the sheet of paper underneath and in the process broke the dumplings. In the end, I had four perfect Siu Loung Baos and four leaking ones …
Then came the Spicy Sichuan Wanton. The pork dumplings had a lot of good texture going on – bouncy meat fused with crunchy cubes of water chestnut. The chilli oil was not overpowering but it was not overwhelmingly delicious like the ones at Yauatcha. Say, great value for what you pay for.
I deviated from the dim sum menu available at lunch hours and dived into the A La Carte. Dishes came, after a bit of waiting, and they were Steamed Eggs with Thousand-Year-Old Eggs and Salted Eggs, Taiwanese-Style Braised Pork Belly in Bamboo, Glutinous Rice with Steamed Crab, and Ground Pork Rice Bowl. Don’t be shocked. I ordered all these to share between us two. That said, I strongly felt I should have been warned that I might be ordering too much food.
All came, more or less, at the same time and I gasped at this mountain of food, thinking to myself which one would go into my takeaway box…
Let’s start with the good ones. The Eggs-travaganza pool of three kinds of eggs was full of texture. The steamed eggs were smooth, sensuously white and just lightly salted, with the aroma of the soy sauce hitting the nose. The pieces of gelatin-like thousand-year-old eggs and the tougher, powdery salted egg yolks added occasional variations of saltiness. This was probably the dish I’d like to come back for.
The second best dish was the Braised Pork Belly in Bamboo, served, of course, in a bamboo case. The pork was extremely tender and the infused fat was braised to burst juice in my mouth. The flavours of this dish were sweet first and then salty second, while the sliced pickled cabbage added sourness and bite. And why in a bamboo case? Well, the heat from the braised pork somehow activated the aroma of bamboo. Not entirely necessary but it was a refined touch.
Now the not-so-special dishes…
The Ground Pork Rice Bowl was nice. Salty and sweet. The flavours weren’t far off from the Braised Pork but it lacked the texture combination and the luxuriant grease that made the previous dish a must-eat.
And my most expensive dish of Glutinous Rice and Steamed Crab, which looked stunning, turned out the most disappointing. Though the crab was superbly fresh and perfectly steamed, it did in a million years go with the heavy glutinous rice – with dried shrimps and spices – was bland. There was nothing to gel the two elements together.
We couldn’t finish the meal. In fact, I should mention the table was too small for all these dishes and our bottle of water and glasses were relocated to the window sill. Enough hinting, how impressed I was with the service. Overall, the food at Dumplings’ Legend was good, though. Not perfect, but at least, the chefs there did not take their cooking for granted.
SECOND STOP: LEONG’S LEGEND NO.1
After the over-ordering, I went to Leong’s Legend by myself and bore in mind that I had to be more careful with the menu. The menu? It does not differ much from Dumplings’ Legend. There were some similar dishes, such as the braised pork belly and the Siu Loung Bao. This time, I decided to order three dishes from the dim sum menu and one other one from the A La Carte, thinking if they didn’t fill me up I could still get some more.
The dim sum dishes were as followed: (1) Baked Roast Pork Puff (2) Pan Fried Turnip Paste and (3) Grilled Minced Pork Buns. The pork puff was very puffy but with one obvious flaw: the puff was not properly sealed. The patry was near perfection, while the pork itself was sweet, tasty, but dry. Also, these three pieces were not very consistent when it came to the amount of fillings. My first one had so much in and it balanced itself off nicely with the flaky pastry, plus the fact the it was deep filled made the pork not as dry. The other ones had just half as much in and I could not taste much but the pastry. Thank goodness the pastry itself was good.
The Pan Fried Turnip Paste was my most favourite. The paste mixed with grated turnip was pleasant, smooth and refreshing. It was pan fried nicely to get the crisp on the outside. The Grilled Pork Buns, on the other hand, were plainly greasy. Though the buns were texture perfect, there was not much filling inside. The minced pork tasted good – with ginger hitting first, then the natural sweetness from the pork – but there was not enough of it to make itself tasted through the fluffy, marshmellow-like buns.
The last dish from the A La Carte menu was quite a pleasant surprise. The menu read Taiwanese Special Omelette giving not many clues. It turned out to be a sticky pancake of glutinous rice flour and egg with an oyster and bok choi filling, which interestingly, was a variation of a Thai oyster pancake dish called Or Suan. The Thai version would feature bean sprouts instead of bok choi. Both version came with a generous spread of sweet chilli sauce on top. The Thai one was vinegar-y, hence more acidic; the Taiwanese a lot sweeter. This pancake at Leong’s Legend had a brilliant texture, though the taste was understated. Very sticky and pleasantly chewy. There was not much oyster inside but enough to taste an oyster-filled pancake. The sweetness from the sauce took over a little bit, but it was still very good. That said, this was a dish that might not be to everyone’s liking because the flavours verged on being a sweet and savoury dish.
So, my verdict on the Leong restaurants? I genuinely think they are the gastronomic upper-crust in Chinatown, along with Four Seasons, Joy King Lau, (some dishes at) Special Zone 1997 and (dumplings at) Jen’s Cafe. Decent food, reasonable price, nice ambiance. The service is, plainly speaking, not very helpful at both venues.
My head rating for Dumplings’ Legend says, “6 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “6 out of 10″.
My head rating for Leong’s Legend says, “6 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “6 out of 10″.
15-16 Gerrard Street
4 Macclesfield Street
Tel. 020 7287 0288