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.