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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.