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Done out like a storybook market inn, this Soho sibling of the Bayswater original is patrolled by tough silk-clad women, who aren’t above rushing their customers, but can be persuaded to offer
guidance if you don’t know what’s what. Taiwanese dishes to look out for are the siu long bao soup dumplings, spicy beef noodles & braised pork belly, all served in generous portions; a dish
called ‘Taiwan’s most popular omelette’ is a homely staple, if salty enough to beg for some rice, & there’s always plenty for offal-seekers, such as hot & fiery beef slices with tripe or
fried pig’s liver. If the place is crammed, a less crowded satellite called Leong’s Legend 2 is a stroll away at 26 Lisle Street (020 7734 3380).
We knock, a bolt slides open and a face appears behind the crack of the door and tells us to wait outside until a table is free. The door then closes again and the bolt slides shut. I’ve witnessed this door policy at the nearby up-their-own-arse cocktail bars Opium and Experimental Cocktail Club, but never at a fairly run-of-the-mill restaurant bang in the middle of Chinatown. If I hadn’t found it so strange and funny, I’d probably have seen it as just about the least welcoming introduction to a restaurant I’ve had. Fortunately the wait was only a couple of minutes and we were soon seated with a steaming pot of Chinese tea in the tasteful (for Chinatown) and warm surroundings, studying the intriguing Taiwanese influenced menu, which to my delight me was heavily pork centred...
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My friend and I had a slight hangover and thus meaning I had one of two cravings - dim sum or sushi. Today dim sum was calling and therefore being a short hop to Soho I decided to try somewhere other than my beloved New World. Hearing mixed reviews about the Taiwanese restaurant Leong's Legend I decided to try it for myself one lunch and left with my craving content. The restaurant is set out simply and similar to a small Chinese tea house, lots of wood, low tables and as traditional exterior as possible in Soho...
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Leong's Legends was a bit of a mixed bag. Fortunately, the things I picked out of that bag were great and on that basis I'd go back again. My friend George wasn't so lucky and it was his dishes which were duds.I heard about Leong's Legends when I sent a plea to secret_london for places in London that do soupy dumplings after I was disappointed with the ones in Beijing Dumpling. So all I was really interested in was how well they did this one dish. And they were far superior to the Beijing ones - these ones actually had a spoonful of porky soup in them, and the dumplings themselves were tasty - light skins, fully filled.But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.There was no queue when we arrived and we were asked to wait on the stairs. As was everyone else who came in behind us, keeping the growing queue out of sight from passersby. We watched with a keen eye all the tables which might soon be leaving and we struck gold - we got a booth away from the slurps and chewing noises of other diners! Best table in the house, tucked round a corner at the back.I knew I was going for the soupy dumplings but they had a variety of dishes which sounded a bit different and for my other dish I chose a ginger chicken soup with rice wine and sesame.Stephen, rather courageously, ordered the century egg with tofu dish because he'd liked Two Hungry Girls' version so much, and then went for the old staple, braised pork. George was also a little adventurous and ordered stuffed dates with honey and then something reliable - an ordinary noodle dish.The century egg arrived and both George and I said it was a mistake on a plate. A huge cube of tofu surrounded by jellified egg. Stephen didn't even recognise the egg for what it was at first. We demurred trying any until he had. When he attested that it really was nice, I had a bit. And it was! I don't think I could have eaten a whole dish of it on my own, but I did like a few bites of it. It came in a spicy/sweet dressing which was also really, really good.Most of our food came at about the same time. Stephen's pork was a particularly good version - it had a very deep, sweetish flavour. I only had a bite or so but I would happily have a whole dish of that to myself. Fantastic.George's noodles didn't look all that much and he didn't think they were amazing either. A bum note for him. But my siu long bao lived up to and exceeded my expectations as I said.Hard to see but that's a whole spoon of porky brothWe were almost done with these dishes and were beginning to wonder when mine and George's others would arrive - they were the only two we'd ordered that hadn't been on the order form you fill out. We worried they were forgotten, but the waitress just assured us they 'needed time to cook'. A good five minutes or so after we'd eaten the rest of the dishes, my soup came out. It was full of ginger strips and pieces of chicken on the bone. Not a good dish for me to order in retrospect as I'm not great at eating chicken on the bone. The flavour of the soup was fragrant and the sort of thing you could eat if you're feeling a little under the weather. It got a little salty for me towards the end but I liked it.Finally, the stuffed dates arrived. I don't eat dates anyway so I didn't try them but they didn't look great. Sadly, it seems they didn't taste great either (and God knows what they were doing with them that it took so long to make). George and Stephen couldn't figure out what the dates were actually stuffed with. SOme weird gelatinous substance that left a chalky taste in the mouth apparently. We asked and it turned out to be rice! Who knew.So, for me, and enjoyable meal and I would definitely go back. They had a number of dishes on the menu that I thought sounded intriguing or just tasty. George probably had a completely different experience to me and Stephen and would say the exact opposite.
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As a one-time resident of Hong Kong my idea of a traditional Sunday lunch is Cantonese dim sum as much as it is an English roast, although I love them both. Since my return to London I tend to get my dim sum fix at the same restaurant in Chinatown (see my blog post in July, which also explains what the main dishes are) but have been thinking I should really at least try somewhere else for a change . . . so this time we veered slightly off our beaten track and went to Leong's Legend in Macclesfield Street. Actually a Taiwanese restaurant, the dim sum nevertheless came highly recommended.Two points to note if you are planning to eat here. First, they have two restaurants in Chinatown: this one and Leong's Legends Continue in nearby Lisle Street. As far as I can tell the latter is more of an overflow venue so the food should be pretty much the same, but if you're arranging to meet friends it might help avoid confusion.Second, actually getting in to the restaurant gave me a slight speakeasy flashback; the welcoming doorway to the left of the venue, next to the window with visible seated diners, is in fact only for the Candy Cafe upstairs. To get into Leong's you knock on a really solid-looking door to the right of the window which needs to be opened for you from inside by a member of staff. Squeeze in and you will find yourself in an attractive and unexpectedly stylish tea-room type interior with wooden tables and benches, deep blue walls and gentle lighting.We were seated immediately and given both a la carte and dim sum menus. For those unfamiliar with dim sum, it is a meal of several small sharing dishes (think Chinese tapas) either chosen from passing trolleys wheeled by staff or ordered from a tick-sheet menu. Leong's is the latter version; helpfully the English translation is written underneath but do make sure you are ticking the right box as it can look a little confusing mid-page. Dishes arrive at the table in no particular order and you just tuck in. Our selection was as follows:Prawn and Celery Cheung Fun - quite good, but the prawns had a very solid texture that made me wonder if they had been in the freezer a tad too long, or were perhaps a little overcooked. I couldn't detect any celery in them, although there was coriander . . . which is called cilantro in the US. A possible typo? Nice mix of flavours though.Prawn Dumplings - classic har gau, generously sized but again I felt the quality of the prawns was a little lacking.Sticky Rice with Shredded Pork - a squat tower of sticky rice topped with a moist and well-flavoured mix of pork and mushrooms. I had expected the sauce to be hot but it was actually mild and sweetish. This was good, although I kind of miss the theatre of unwrapping the rice from a lotus leaf as in other restaurants.Pan-fried Turnip and Shrimp Paste - the flavour was good, but they were a bit heavy; I prefer the outside/edges a little more crispy and the inside a little less dense.Legend's Pork Siu Loung Bao - English translations of Chinese dishes are notoriously variable but these soup dumplings are usually found on menus as 'xiao long bao' or just 'XLB' for short. You can either bite the top off and sip at the spicy soup and pork filling or pop one in whole, bite down and let the flavours burst into your mouth. I prefer the latter but do be careful; dim sum is freshly-cooked, so these will arrive very hot! The filling was excellent, with a meaty depth to the soup and a kick of ginger, which I love. The wrapping was quite thick which made them a bit stodgier than I would have liked, but otherwise these were great - and very good value at £5.50 for eight pieces.Prawn and Ham Stuffed Rolls - not deep-fried spring rolls but steamed in a very savoury (MSG?) sauce. I liked them but my companion found the flavour a little too pronounced.Egg tarts - nice filling but a little too much pastry. I flaked most of the outside of mine onto the plate.A word about the staff; on our visit they were absolutely fine, perfectly helpful and courteous. Perhaps we were lucky, but I do wonder if the repeatedly negative comments about staff attitude is a cultural thing; you just don't get that American chatty new-best-friend version of service, more a polite and reserved efficiency which is seen as more appropriate. Personally I would rather have my food and a brief smile than some teenager hunkering down by my table and quizzing me insincerely about my day.So this is Leong's Legend - I enjoyed my visit, just not quite enough to tempt me away from my regular.Yours, faithfully,Girl About Town xx
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