For most people Chinese food means the familiar anglicised staples such as sweet and sour pork and chow mein. Saavier Londoners have moved on to more authentic, interesting and healthier dishes. The traditionally Cantonese-dominated restaurants have been making way for eateries serving food from the other regions of China – the country is almost double the size of Europe after all.
Leong’s Legends Continues in London’s Chinatown serves Taiwanese food, although its menu also includes many other dishes from across the Chinese-speaking world. As its name suggests, Leong’s Legends Continues (LLC) is a spin-off of the original branch which is mere yards away just around the corner on Macclesfield Street. Both are apparently named after an old Chinese folk tale. Both have a rustic inn look that’s pleasing to the eye, if a little cramped at times – even for someone as diminutive as The Picky Glutton. Depending on where you sit the tightly spaced seating could make getting up for a toilet break a tricky manoeuvre.
The interior of Leong’s Legends Continues is supposed to look like an ancient Chinese inn. Perhaps that’s why the staff act so gloomy and unhelpful – historical accuracy.
I’ve been to the original Leong’s Legends before on separate occasions with Bleeding Gums Murphy and The Euro Hedgie. While we’ve all been impressed with the tangy oyster omelette, the Hedgie found the rest of the food underwhelming. I decided to refresh my memory with a trip to LLC with the Flame Haired Squelchie and the Lensman.
Actually, this most recent lunch was the Lensman’s idea who has an unnatural passion for beef noodle soup. While most people find the idea of a noodle soup to be slightly odd, the Lensman could quite happily nom on the stuff for the rest of his natural life. Naturally he opted for the Taiwanese beef noodle soup which is spicier and tangier than the more well-known Vietnamese version. He seemed very satisfied with it and declared it the equal of the versions he had eaten recently in Taipei.
I opted for a different kind of noodle soup, one I hadn’t tried before – oyster noodle soup made with thin vermicelli noodles made from wheat flour rather than the rice flour I’ve encountered before. They’re heartier than the more common rice-based vermicelli and I prefer them. Overall, it’s a very strongly flavoured, tangy, slightly sweet dish. The broth-like soup tastes vaguely similar to oyster sauce which is often used in Chinese cooking although, as expected for a £5.50 dish, there aren’t that many actual oysters in it. It didn’t set my world alight as the beef noodle soup did for the Lensman, but I don’t regret ordering it and it could be a nice pescatarian alternative to the beef noodle soup.
Oyster Noodle Soup. Hm.
Oyster noodle soup close-up.
Being a vegetarian the Flame Haired Squelchie opted for the butternut squash congee. I’m not really a fan of congee, a Chinese rice porridge often eaten at breakfast but also at other meals, but the Jolly Giant can’t get enough of the stuff. I’m not sure whether butternut squash is a traditional Taiwanese ingredient, but the Squelchie seemed to enjoy her bowl of gruel nonetheless.
Congee, also known as jook and the bane of my childhood.
The Squelchie also seemed quite taken with the steamed vegetarian dumplings, although I found the filling of pickled and preserved vegetables a little bland and uninteresting which can’t be right since I love preserved veggies. The skins were moist and supple though.
One of the most distinctive dishes on LLC’s menu is Xiaolongbao, a sort of soup-filled steamed dumplings available with a variety of fillings, including pork and crab. The idea of soup-filled dumplings may seem magical, but apparently the soup starts out as a specially concocted gelatine or aspic that then gently melts as the dumpling is cooked.
While LLC’s Xiaolongbao is certainly good enough to get you addicted to the idea of soup-filled dumplings, both the Euro Hedgie and I find them to be a bit mediocre. The pork filling is swamped by an excess of ginger, while the soup is a bit bland. Like the vegetarian dumplings, the thick skins are quite moist, but not quite as supple as I would like. This is all quite sad since the xiaolongbao used to be quite good, but seems to be steadily declining in quality, which doesn’t bode well for consistency of execution.
I coulda been a contender!
To wash it all down, we all had pearl milk tea, a milky tea liberally sprinkled with small balls of chewy tapioca. The tea isn’t the best example of the beverage you’ll find, but slurping down the tapoica balls is undeniably fun. The Squelchie was in need of a beer and opted for a bottle of Tsingtao. What a lush.
A special mention has to be made of the service which, without exception, is sullen, cold and uncommunicative. Although service was efficient enough during my lunchtime visit with the Squelchie and the Lensman, on busier evenings at the main branch it was often slow with delays in getting old dishes taken away as the surly staff were more content to hide away and have a natter.
I suspect the staff’s disdain for talking to their customers led to the introduction of the lunchtime tick-box menus which you fill in yourself and hand to the moody, surly staff. This lunchtime menu does have the advantage of being a little cheaper than the full menu at the expense of having a smaller selection of dishes.
Leong’s Legends Continues is one of the more distinctive restaurants in Chinatown thanks to its interesting menu and eye-catching decor. It’s let down by its poor service and the inconsistent quality of its food though. With more effort Leong’s Legends Continues could be great, but at the moment it’s merely OK.
Name: Leong’s Legends Continues
Address: 26-27 Lisle Street, Chinatown, London, WC2H 7BA
Phone: 020 7734 3380
Opening Hours: daily, 12.00-00.00.
Reservations: recommended, if you can convince the staff over the phone to talk to you in polysyllables.
Total cost for one person including soft drinks: £12-15 approx.