Monday 2 February 2009

Chinese New Year at Leong's Legends

Saturday was full of serendipity. Three of us converged on Chinatown to continue our search for London’s best sandwich. Given that it is Chinese New Year, the theme for February’s sandwich is Chinese. It’s been quite a struggle to find somewhere that sells Chinese sandwiches, but yet again Chowhound has come up trumps by suggesting a pork belly filling in a steamed bun. My concerns that this isn’t a legitimate sandwich were dispelled when I read Su-Lin's review on Tamarind and Thyme.

I emerged at Leicester Square station and was amazed by the sight of a full on parade that brought back memories of the street carnivals in the Roger Moore James Bond films. I had been worried that Chinese New Year had been and gone. But this was insane!

Chinese lanterns

Boy in China Town

Chinatown chefs

Chinatown red crackers

Chinatown Dragon

Chinese New Year

Leong's Legends sign

Cowie and I met up at Leong’s Legends, Taiwanese restaurant, on Macclesfield Street having battled through the excitable crowd. As predicted by World Foodie Guide, the maitre d’, tried to bully us into settling for a substandard table, tucked away out of the action. But we stood firm and commandeered an excellent table with full view of the festivities outside and the buzz of the kitchen. His waspish behavior punctuated the experience, in a way that developed all the way from irritation to hilarity!

Leongs Legends indoors

Cowie and I played it safe with some wonderfully fresh dim sum.

Duck and chestnut puffs were brilliant. Sweet, sticky and flaky with a slight note of nutty sesame. Luckily Cowie wasn’t interested in this one so I scoffed all three!

Duck and chestnut buns

Cowie was far more interested in the dinky little steamed prawn dumplings which were gorgeous. The dumplings didn’t stick to the steamer and were utterly devoid of that claggy, dense feel you get from Ping Pong’s ersatz dumplings.

Prawn dumpling

Some cheung fun arrived which was a bit disappointing. Whilst it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t up to the standard of the other dishes. It tasted a bit flat but was lifted by the sweetened soy sauce. Royal China’s are far better.

Roast pork cheung fun

Some Beijing pork and chive dumplings were as delicious as they were un-photogenic and were served with a lively soy and black vinegar dip.

We devoured our sticky rice with shredded pork which had a deep gamey flavour and hint of wild mushrooms.

Sticky rice with shredded pork

As we were tucking into the shredded pork a pantomine lion from the parade outside attacked our restaurant much to the joy of the staff. He slashed through a lettuce that was strung up the restaurant's door. Apparently this brings luck to the restaurant and money to the lion dancers. It brought the whole restaurant to life and a look of glee to most of the sraff. (Thank you Su Lin for filling me in). I’ll leave the pictures to do the talking.

Leongs Legends chef

Leong's Legends smiling waitress

Leongs Legends steamy waitress

Just as Cowie and I were struggling with some slightly too dense siu mai dumplings when "Hollow Legs" Lizzie arrived fresh from sorting out her new flat to raise the stakes!

Cowie and I were uprooted from our comfort zone where we were happy learning to cycle with our stabilisers and launched into the exciting world of grown up Chinese food.

Century eggs with tofu arrived first looking stunning. I’ve wanted to try century eggs for some time, so this was a great opportunity. They tasted like super charged eggs. But it was their appearance that really amazed me. The dusting of chilli and spring onion set the tofu up brilliantly. I am not a big tofu fan but enjoyed several spoonfuls at well spaced intervals! That red sauce you can see lurking at the bottom of the bowl should come with a government health warning!

Tofu with century eggs

Slithers of beef and tripe in a incredibly spicy sauce arrived next. Again I’ve never had tripe before so this was pretty exciting. If it wasn’t for Lizzie I’d still be a tripe virgin! And you know what. It was really good. I doubt I will ever dream of eating tripe or order it that often. But I can now appreciate what it’s all about. The texture added an almost shitake mushroom feel to the dish and the aggressive chilli gave it an addictive warmth.

Spicy beef and tripe

A steamer full of exquisite xiao long baos, AKA soup filled dumplings, took us back towards our comfort zone with a burst of scalding hot soup! This set us up perfectly for the reason we had come; their soon to be famous pork sandwich which confusingly appears on the menu as Taiwanese Kebab Bun.

Sandwich long range


It was a delicious sandwich and well worth the trip. It really couldn’t have been a better fit for Chinese New Year. Arguably the best themed sandwich so far. But to find out more you’ll have to read about it on the Londonist’s Sandwichist column.

Leong’s Legends was huge fun. It was an extremely fortunate treat that our visit coincided with the Chinese New Year parade. And Lizzie’s “out there” suggestions of century eggs and tripe have expanded our repertoire beyond the world of prawn and pork dumplings. It has cured us of the shock we had at Peninsula where we had a cultural collision with a pork hock and jellyfish dish! Leong’s was pretty good value and was buzzing with atmosphere. We will definitely return soon.

Leong’s Legends on Urbanspoon


kattebelletje said...

These pictures really look great... getting hungry and no Chinese restaurant in sight!

Anonymous said...

Great write up! I love that sandwich, it looks amazing, can't ait to hear all about it. I'd also love to try those century eggs, it's on the list. I'm already a tripe lover though and I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it :)

Browners said...

Glad you like the pictures. It's a super place. Really recommend it.

Browners said...

Hi Helen.

Super sandwich. Just writing about it now. The parade was awesome.

What's your next sandwich?

Anonymous said...

Glad you liked Leong's Legends! I need to get myself back there...but first I need to try the Malaysian restaurant next door.

As for the animal "attacking" the restaurant, it would most likely be a lion, not a dragon. Your 5th photo depicts it. There would've been some lettuce and a red envelope filled with money tied to the top of the door frame and the lion would eat that package. It brings luck to the restaurant and money to the lion dancers.

Browners said...

Thank you very much Su Lin. I've updated the post accordingly. Thanks for filling me in. Very keen to try the Malaysian place you mentioned.

Browners said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Firstly, fabulous photos. Really well done.

Secondly, glad you had some tripe and seemed to enjoy it! I was introduced to it many years ago--a really spicy version--by Chinese friends in Chicago and have been enjoying it ever since. (Although truth be told, I only order it when I'm out with Chinese friends.)

Browners said...

Hey Krista. First,thanks for dropping by. Delighted you are impressed by the photos. I almost didn't take my camera and was about to settle for Cowie's mini compact one. But luckily went on a huge detour home to get it. I would have been livid with myself if I hadn't brought it.

And secondly, I am delighted that Lizzie has taken away my tripe virginity. I can now understand, if not fully appreciate, what all the fuss is about.

Le laquet said...

Oh my god, sitting here dribbling - the food sounds gorgeous and the photos are brilliant. I'd have to be convinced by the tripe - not on my list of foods to be eaten again. Yum to everything else.

Browners said...

Hey le Laquet

Glad you like the photos. They woldn't have come out half as well if it hadn't been such a well lit space.

Food was great and I am delighted to have expanded my repertoire.


Joshua said...

Great photos of Gerrard Street.

I got caught queuing up for a restaurant under the lettuce a couple of year's back and had the dragon-lion dancing around a foot in front of me whilst everyone snapped away. I must be in so many people's photos.

Hollow Legs said...

Really glad you guys enjoyed it, I had a great time. I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about ordering those dishes, but you guys were troopers! I'm really impressed with their siu long bao.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am a fan of Leong's, despite complaints about the service there. I'm so glad to hear the food was tasty (and I didn't realize they served the pork belly-on-the-man-toh sandwich . . . awesome. I will have to get that next time).

The Leong's xiao long bao were what really got me hooked on Leong's last year. The ones at Pearl Liang are good, too, but that's more of a journey for me, so I usually end up at Leong's when I have a craving.

Browners said...

Hi Joshua. I've just added you to my blog links and embarrassed that I hadn't done so up till now. The lettuce attack was amazing. Such drama. You can see it in the eyes of the waitresses! Amazing atmosphere.

Browners said...

Hey Lizzie. Thank you so much for making us try such crazy new stuff. You have cured us of our pork knuckle and jelly fish experience!

It was huge fun. Can't wait to get stuck in again.

Browners said...

Hi American in London... The soupy dumpligs were brilliant. The almost burnt our mouths off! But that's a good thing. Definitely ordering them whenever I can.

Joshua said...

No worries. I've only just stuck you on mine too.

We should meet up for food one day.

Browners said...

Nice one Joshua. Good idea. Let me know when are where you want to meet up.


Kathy Brown said...

Heartwarming photos; just wish I had been there to enjoy all those glorious colours in the parade and then share that fantastic food. Great idea to seek out a Chinese Sandwich. What would you do for a Charles Darwin sandwich?

Kathy Brown said...

Heartwarming photos; just wish I had been there to experience such a gloriously colourful parade and then dip into the restaurant and enjoy that sumptuous food...great idea for a sandwich quest. Where would you seek out a Charles Darwin sandwich?

Browners said...

Thanks Mum! It was an amazing atmosphere that we really weren't expecting.

A Charles Darwin sandwich... that's a tricky one... I'll have a think.


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