KEELUNG: DINING WITH THE SHADOWS
Who knew that Sir Cliff and The Shadows were so big in Taiwan?
Well, if the décor of Keelung, a new Taiwanese restaurant on Lisle Street from the people who brought you Leong’s Legend, is to believed they are obviously gods. Particularly when said décor is added to the restaurants chosen soundtrack for DH’s Sunday lunch which blared tribute to the former Mr Webb’s & Co’s career from the Soho coffee shop days of “Move It” through the pomp magnificence of “Wired for Sound” and all the way up to the solo Yuletide smash that is “Mistletoe & Wine”
Mind you, if the job lot of black & white pictures which adorn the wall of Keelung are to believed the Taiwanese also dig The Rat Pack, love Louise Brookes and, most oddly of all worship at the feet of Dame Anna Neagle.
The confusion was added to as we took a booth in the darkened restaurant and were presented with a variety of menus to work our way through and an ordering form that would have made Alan Turing take pause.
Keelung offers itself up as a “Seafood Restaurant” and the first piece of paper listed all the available fruits of the sea along with the nine ways they could be cooked ranging from simple steaming to Sichuan style and even as sashimi, reflecting the influence of cooking from all over China on the island.
Added to this there is the standard menu, which offers up small plates of Taiwanese specialities under the unnecessary Esparanto of “Night Market Street Food Tapas” just in case any customer was is stupid to understand the small plate concept without reference to Spanish dining. Finally, there was one more paper sheet upon which you were asked to mark your order and which listed some but not all of the dishes from the previous two menus.
After about ten minutes our collective ninety five years of life experience had just allowed us to figure out an ordering strategy and, while making a token nod to reason the restaurant exists, DH were more attracted by the offer of pig and its innards in various forms than fish or seafood.
The dishes arrived rapidly and in no discernable order and soon the table for four was covered with the opening salvo of stir-fried Morning Glory, gua bao, a Taiwanese take on the hamburger and three light flaky puffs with a curry filling. The puffs stood out, piping hot and crumbling nicely on the tongue to reveal gently spiced contents, although I again had to wonder if the menu use of the word “samosa” has some origin in ancient trading routes or was another nod towards the expected stupidity of diners?
Braised belly pork with rice could have been a contender but if the meat had not been dry as a bone, but the pig factor was saved by the appearance of a bowl of boneless trotters also braised in soy and rice wine, which were rich and fatty falling apart as we tried to move them from bowl to plate.
Given our love of meat the fact that the star dish of the day was a plate of crisp bean curd cubes in a sharp plum sauce with a heaping helping of deep-fried garlic should tell you just how good it was, better even than a plate of four meaty prawns served Sichuan style in a tell tale slick of chilli infused oil. We had asked for the dish to be cooked “Kung Pao” style, also from Sichuan but, whether through our confusion or that of the kitchen, peanuts were noticeable by their absence although the excellent prawns themselves were soon being eaten, shell and all, with the heads sucked dry before being discarded.
A final dish of sixteen Xia Long Bao, including a special with crab meat, were a step too far away from Taiwan and not very good at all. Suitably soupy with a good broth, the dough was tough and scarcely worth the effort it took to break through and in the end the final handful were left in the steaming basket with neither of us showing any enthusiasm for completing the job.
Keelung has a large wine list and a range of that rather nasty bubble tea that was all the rage a few years ago, but we stuck to tea and with an added service charge our bill came to £52, about the same as a typical DH Sunday afternoon sortie for Dim Sum and enough to convince that it may just be worth another visit to spend more time exploring the list of seafood and Taiwanese specialities.
As long as they promise to buy another CD. Sorry Cliff.