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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

LEONG'S LEGEND: A MYTH NOT A HIT













There is an ancient Chinese legend, which tells of two weary travellers who, after a long journey, find themselves in the heart of a big city. Famished from their journey, they approach a cheery tavern where they are quickly seated in the warmth and presented with hearty dishes to assuage their hunger as the friendly inn owner and his wife bustle about making sure that they and all the other guests receive perfect hospitality.

Their food is spectacular. A soup made with noodles and beef tendon warms them to the soul, small dumplings threaten to burst so filled are they with savoury broth and little nuggets of chicken crackle with the sound of recent frying.

It is everything they could have dreamed of. It is the stuff of legend and, sipping on restorative tea they close their eyes to savour the moment.

Er, and then they wake up and find that they are in fact two impoverished food writers seated in a draughty corner of yet another restaurant in Chinatown, which promises to deliver something different but fails. The service is perfunctory and the food, cheap though it is, still doesn’t feel like the real thing.

Leong’s Legend (you knew there had to be a point to the beginning of our tale, didn’t you?) is one of those places that crop up in Chinatown every now and again and get peoples' undergarments all in a knot.

“Squeal, it’s the real thing. Squeal” You know the drill.

They are of course no such thing and although, like Bar Shu, they have some aspects the purists can cling onto, the economic factors of their location and therefore their clientele ensure that they are never going to take too many risks or be too (dreaded “A” word alert) authentic.

LL has been around a while now and had people raving about its interpretation of Taiwanese food and its soup filled dumplings but, even on a brief and cheap lunchtime excursion and even to our palates, untutored to this island’s cooking, the dishes all seemed listless, neutered and lacking in taste.

While the beef tendon in a “spicy” soup was pleasingly fatty and soft, the noodles were pre-cooked to mush and the broth lacked any discernable flavour at all. Likewise fried chicken, where the small pieces of bird had toughened up to little rocks as if they had just been refried from the previous night's service.

The much vaunted siu long bao, dumplings filled with soup, are originally from Shanghai but taken to excellence by many Taiwanese places, as I found at Din Tai Fun in L.A. The elastic pastry of the best examples bulges ominously as you pick them up but never bursts giving you the pleasure of biting a hole and slurping out the contents. Here, the juice was already leaking over the steamer and the wet dumplings had already attached themselves to the base, which meant that any residual liquid was lost as we struggled to pick them up. The meaty contents were well seasoned and a final dish of braised belly pork with rice, was perfectly fine , but like the rest of meal, all far too polite to cause a raised eyebrow.

Our bill of £24 including service charge was low enough not to depress us too much but did add to our conviction that all this talk of a new beginning in Chinatown is, like the beginning of this post, a bit of a myth.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Paulie said...

Totally unrelated, but thought I'd mention that some friends and I gorged ourselves at Quo Vadis last week and it was just as good as hyperbole about it on here would suggest. Thanks for the heads up!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 12:06:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, so LL re-opened; I've heard it was closed for rat infestation for a while. Anyway, I agree about the food - nothing spectacular. It's one of those places Time Out promotes like there is no tomorrow (like Baozi Inn and that Pizza place in Brixton) and then huge queues form in front of them...

eytan

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 8:54:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your visit was a case of not choosing the right things from the menu - if you do go back, can I suggest trying the following:
Crispy Shredded Turnip / Stir Fried Chilli Crab / Aubergine with mashed Garlic and Taopan Sauce / Stir Fried Green Beans with Minced Pork. LL also do a nice range of drinks including a good soy milk and longan drink with ice.

For the best siu long bao, you need to head to Joe's Shanghai in Queens, New York and try their version with additional crab roe. Nowhere in London comes close but London Hong Kong on Lisle Street does a good one on their dim sum menu.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 9:58:00 am  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...

I think the idea of choosing the "right things"on a menu is a red herring. If there are wrong things on a menu, they shouldn't be there. If they are just there for the tourists, then that tells you all you need to know about the place. I will, however, give it another try and sample some of your suggested dishes.

I have been to JS in NYC and I enjoyed a lot. I thought the ones at Din Tai Fun were better and I think the ones at Mian Jiang come very close

Thanks

S

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 10:02:00 am  
Anonymous zuriga said...

I think you just saved me some money.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 1:31:00 pm  
Anonymous C.elder said...

Try the Magic Wok on Bayswater !
Never eat in Soho chinese they are pretty awful.

Friday, November 28, 2008 1:45:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

I believe LL is Taiwanese. Do you have any good recs for Taiwanese in London.

Friday, November 28, 2008 11:37:00 pm  
Anonymous Vivi said...

went to LL wen its first opened. terrible, terrible. Worst service ever, food was erm nt great either. LL is taiwanese, but then taiwanese food is quite similar to chinese food.
I disagree with C.elder. Mayflower, chiense restaurant in soho is good! Whenever we eat as a family its mayflower all the time.

Sunday, November 30, 2008 8:02:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think, as someone else suggested you might have missed the point and order the wrong food.

I have not tried such a fresh menu in Chinatown for years!

I have been twice: once on the one you show in your picture (a Saturday lunch time) and another time the one by the prince Charles cinema (a Friday night).

The first time I tried the crispy shredded turnip, which was absolutely delicious. Pan fried tofu stuffed with crab which was amazing, seafood noodles (which only criticism was that I would have eaten more) with Chinese steam rice and crab meant siu long bao (dim sum).yummy

The second time I had the crispy shredded turnip, which was absolutely delicious again, if only a bit less crispy. the vegetable dumplings (with Chinese mushrooms) made to order, a dish of slightly spicy but super fresh sea bass (apologies for not remembering the name)and steam rice.

My tip would for the "two brothers" to try actual Taiwanese food at a Taiwanese restaurant!

Thursday, March 26, 2009 1:18:00 pm  

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