Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Off The Blog 3 - Chinese Restaurant Special

Here's an Off The Blog special featuring three Chinese restaurants that showcase three different regional cuisines, Sichuan, Taiwanese, and Cantonese.

As regular readers will know, one of my favourite restaurants is Chilli Cool but before they opened, I used to be a regular at Snazz Sichuan on Chalton St (near Euston station). Alas, Snazz Sichuan is no more and it has been taken over by the Red 'N' Hot mini-chain. I've previously reviewed their Chinatown restaurant, where I uncovered their racial profiling policy, which they also have in operation at this branch.

The Randomness peeps organised this outing and Bellaphon also joined us. Their more detailed reviews can be found here and here - Bellaphon's review has a video of the meal ! We ordered a wide selection of food including benchmark dishes such as dan dan noodles (£5.60)shui zhu niu rou or hot and numbing beef (£8.80), and la zi ji or special fried chicken w/chilli and cumin (£12). Of these the chicken was my fave, possibly on a par with Chilli Cool's version. However the dish of the evening was in my opinion, the offal-ly good fire-exploded kidney flowers (£7.80).

The bill including drinks and service came to a reasonable £25/head. I felt a bit bad eating here, as it felt like I was cheating on Chilli Cool. I still prefer the 'Cool but I would happily come here if I wanted to eat Sichuan food in a more elegant setting. By the way, I think this branch is better than the one in Chinatown.

Red 'n' Hot on Urbanspoon

Leong's Legends is an oft-blogged restaurant but one I had never visited until a month ago. There are now three branches of this Taiwanese chain, and Mr Wine and I went to Leong's Legends Continues on Lisle St, as there was a queue at the original branch.

For starters, we went with the signature dish of pork & crab siu loung bao (£6) or xiao long bao, as they are known in Mandarin. These soup filled dumplings were good but not as good as I was led to believe. It was hard to discern any crabmeat and the 'pinch' at the top was too doughy. Part of the problem is that I've eaten top-notch xiao long bao in Shanghai and the versions back home compare unfavourably.

Our other starter was the Taiwan mini-kebab with pork (£2 each). I liked the belly pork in this but with hindsight, eating a sandwich each before our mains was a bit much. It was too filling and it spoiled our appetite for the rest of the meal.

Onto the mains and we found ourselves playing that old game of 'Chinese-menu Russian Roulette', in which the dishes you order are either excellent or crap. In the latter category was the sea bass fillets in sha cha sauce (£9.50), which came in a gloopy sauce that wasn't made with sha cha sauce as I know it. The aubergine with mashed garlic and tao pan sauce (£5) was our old friend, fish fragrant aubergine according to its Chinese name. This was also disappointing as it was unevenly seasoned in that it was either very spicy or not spicy at all.

Thank god that the chicken with rice wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil (£7.80) saved the day. This famous Taiwanese dish is called san bei ji or three cup chicken in Chinese as it is made with a cup each of rice wine, soy, and sesame oil. The resultant sauce was divine and was further enhanced by the aniseedy notes of the Thai basil. Mr Wine remarked that mashed potatoes would go down a storm with this sauce.

Together with rice, a bottle of Aussie Foundstone Chardonnay (Mr Wine went with my choice!) and a tip, we paid £30/head. I liked the ambience on the top floor and you could imagine that you were in a medieval Chinese inn. I also thought the service was excellent although I'm never sure whether being able to speak Chinese makes a difference.

Leong's Legends Continue on Urbanspoon

On the last couple of occasions, my folks have been in London, they've eaten dim sum at Phoenix Palace and Pearl Liang. They liked the food but they didn't like the fact that there wasn't a Chinese supermarket nearby. The thing is, my parents are typical Chinese of their generation and like to go to food shopping after a dim sum feast.

So between the Noodles' siblings, we were tasked with finding a decent dim sum restaurant in Chinatown, easier said than done. We chose Golden Harvest – coincidentally owned by the same group that operates Leong's Legends and the Empress of Sichuan – on Gerrard St. It was nicely decorated and comfortably accommodated our family group of all ages.

Sadly that's as good as it got and I won't bore you with too many details of the actual dim sum, as it was very mediocre. My favourites of har gau (prawn dumplings) and mak yu beng (cuttlefish cakes) were poorly done. There was some good stuff like the wor tip (grilled pork dumplings) and portion size was very generous but otherwise, it was largely forgettable.

With some sides of noodles and siu yuk (crispy belly pork), the bill clocked in at £15/head. You could say it was good value but I'd rather pay an extra fiver for higher quality dim sum.

{Update Oct 10 - Golden Harvest is now closed and it has re-opened as Dumplings Legends. This restaurant specialises in Shanghai-style xiao long bao and also serves a small selection of other dim sum at lunchtime as well as a pan-Chinese main menu. I've yet to visit but it's on my list.}

Golden Harvest on Urbanspoon


  1. I've been to Leong's Legends (the one on macclesfield street) twice now and it was just too variable for me to return. Siu mai were horribly stodgy, but siu long bao were good enough examples and I really enjoyed the pork belly bun. I've given up on dim sum in Chinatown now.

  2. Ah, fire exploded kidney flowers, now there's a dish I haven;t tried that I want to. It looks like Red & Hot might an alright place to give them a go.

    Shame about the dim sum though, especially when you take your parents there. The question is, did they get a decent bit of food shopping done afterwards?

  3. Lizzie - I agree that Leong's Legends was very variable but there's enough good stuff like the three-cup chicken to merit a return. And I also agree that dim sum in Chinatown is nearly always a bit of a let down.

    Gworm - My folks did do a bit of decent food shopping afterwards. Whilst It was a shame about the dim sum, it was still good to get together, as yum cha is as much about meeting up with family and friends.

    The fire exploded kidneys were good - not too spicy but very tasty. There's a photo on the link below

  4. Well the XLB at Leong's simply is uncomparable to the excellent stuff available in Taiwan, HK or Msia but it's probably the best available in London for now.

    From Pearl Liang, it's only a short walk to Queensway and there are now two Chinese supermarkets there.

  5. WB - I guess I had my hopes built up over the XLB at Leong's Legends, as everyone has bigged them up. They were far from bad but if you've had really good stuff, they can seem ordinary.

    I know Pearl Liang isn't too far away from Queensway but I'm not sure my parents would consider it a short walk!

  6. I used to absolutely love Snazz. Shame it's gone. Chilli Cool is my regular haunt now. I have to say I've hardly ever had a good Chinatown experience either. Sigh.

  7. Helen - from what I understand, the kitchen staff remains the same, so Snazz kind lives on. That said, I'd still go to Chilli Cool most of the time. For Chinatown, try the Empress of Sichuan.

  8. I was back at Leong's yesterday for dim sum, and while I agree the food there is variable, I still think it's the best of the bunch in C-town. [I only ever go there for dim sum now, by the way.]

    Their turnip cake is still top notch. As for their XLB, I order them every time, but they have definitely declined in quality since the original LL opened two years ago. Contrast this photo of the XLB from August 2008 with what LL is now serving:

  9. AinL - C-town is quite barren for dim sum and imho, its best for one dish meals. That said outside of dim sum, Empress of Sichuan is a cut above.

  10. Popped into Leong's Legend Continues and wow, was very impressed. I had always stayed away from China Town as my memories of the food there was less than good.
    I will be returning to eat at other joints and hoping that LLC is not just the tip of the culinary iceberg.

  11. Dave - I'm glad you enjoyed Leong's Legends Continues. I've not been back yet but as you point out it's a good place to have in the locker given the variable quality of Chinatown.

  12. Leong's Legends is one place that i won't eat in again, as the were close down by Westminster city council EHO teams, as was there other branch, including Golden Harvest, which they are now doing a rebranding.

  13. Steve - stating that a restaurant has environmental health issues is a serious matter. I hope you can substantiate your claims and it would be helpful if you can provide more information.

  14. Leongs has enough good stuff on the menu to ensure a return trip. Some of the Taiwanese dishes are hard to find elsewhere. Decor is nice too.

    It's not that variable, come on. You've been twice and it's 'too variable' for you is it Lizzie. Christ some people are so tiresome...

    Keep up the good work Mr Noodles.

  15. Daily T - welcome! I do like Leongs but like so many Chinese restaurants, there is an issue with making sure that you order the right dish. RE: your comments on Lizzie's comments, you're of course entitled to your opinion but please play nice.