Something for many years has kept me away from China Town. Only recently with the discovery of the C & R Café (mainly because my favourite Malay restaurant closed), and Rasa Sayang, and very recently The Baozi Inn, have I ventured anywhere near to China Town.
The first two do Malay or Straits Food. So not very Chinese there. The latter comes from a well groomed stable of restaurants. But that was as close to China Town as ever I got. The hoard of restaurants down Gerrard Street were off my list for many a year.
I have too many memories of eating bad food masquerading as Chinese cuisine. Those same old dishes that you always end up ordering cos that was all there was on the menus. Sweet and sour something fried, over steamed veggies with a hoisin sauce dolloped over it.
But something has been changing, not only in me, but in China Town also. The standard of food has shot up. Plus the menus have been a changing. Now you see more proper Chinese food on them there menus. More hot pots, more braised trotters, more food that I have eaten in China. Maybe this is because of Bar Shu, which has upped the game immensely.
Another reason has been because of the fantastic Fuchsia Dunlop who has made Sichuan cuisine more accessible to the masses. I am a big fan of hers and have tried (some times succeeded, sometimes not) to recreate some classic Sichuan dishes.
Maybe I was willing to give China Town another chance. Maybe after spending 10 weeks of more or less eating nothing but Indian food literally three times a day, has made me want to eat different foods. Plus sitting opposite to a girl at work, who says nothing without mentioning how great China and Chinese food is, maybe has had something to do with it.
So these little things had been working at me for some time, even before a disappointing night at the recent Malaysian Night Market in Trafalgar Square. See I am still upset by that. Before I knew it we were queuing outside Leong’s Legends Continue on Lisle Street in China Town.
I actually tried to visit the original Leong’s Legend on Macclesfield Street a few weeks ago, but it was having some refurb done, so we ended up at Rasa Sayang next door, again!! But hey they do a quality Straits Chicken Curry that I love. I’m a creature of habits so what can I do.
So this blistering cold night we ended up standing outside Leong’s Legends continue freezing my arse off and dieing to get inside and warm up. My stomach was a groaning just watching the young girl steam their selection of dim sum in the section by the front of the restaurant. Damn she looked mighty warm in there. Thankfully the wait wasn’t that long, and we were ushered inside to the first floor. Why do all Chinese restaurants have such small cold stairways?
The place was jammin’. Maybe everyone else form the night market had ended up here also. We were taken in by the good vibe. The décor is a little tacky, but I kinda like the way they have recreated the place to look like you that we are in the 11th Century “Water Margin” era. As if any of us white folk know what that would be like.
The menu is slightly influenced by Bar Shu and its off shoots, but there are some classics on there as well. Plus some Taiwanese food. I unfortunately know nothing of the food from Taiwan. But thanks to Mr Noodles for enlightening me on his blog. I am trying to learn.
Even before we entered, I was already set on the pork belly. Like most restaurants if they can’t cook pork well, they ain’t shit.
Lina was in the mood for some classic northern Chinese comida. Plus after seeing the table next door munching on some aromatic duck, she was sold. Hey she’s from Latin America and they do do stereotyping pretty well down there.
We also ordered as an amuse bouche, to get us in the mood for the feast to come. The classic cold Sichuan starter of cold beef and tripe slices (fu qi fei pian) with a kick in the arse chilli sauce. Wow that sauce packed a punch. Brilliant. My mouth was a tingling all over. Excellent. Any place that serves offal is always a winner with me, and I will always order it. The beef was tender and was pulled apart easily with our chopsticks. The tripe was awesome. Damn I love offal.
We ordered a couple of beers. I tried to do it with the Chinese hand signals for the numbers, but ballsed that up. I think the waitress thought I was retarded. I put it down to my Learning of them in Beijing. As I do with the naff way I pronounce anything in Chinese. I say it’s my Beijing accent.
The beers arrived and I love the way in keeping in with the décor, they serve them in little clay bowls. Very funky.
The aromatic duck arrived, and it was shredded, as you would expect it to be. Not at the table, but this is England, and not Beijing. The cucumber batons were crunchy and uniform, as were the spring onions. The sauce was mighty fine. The duck had a nice crispy skin and had a very subtle in flavour. But don’t forget my mouth was still kinda numb from the Schihuan chilli sauce. So I am amazed I could taste anything. The only thing I can criticise, and maybe I shouldn’t. The pancakes seemed a little too papery for me. Possibly I have gotten used to roti’s, and that anything not the same is not right. I don’t know but they were a little odd. But once everything was inside and rolled, they were ok. It’s a me thing I guess.
My pork belly came in large chunks in a subtly flavoured red sauce. This was good. The pork fat was soft and tender, just how I like it. The meat I could have and did tear apart with my chopsticks. It wasn’t as strong flavoured, as I would have liked. But I am a snob so what can I do.
What we ordered was more than enough for us. But I was seeing people who had gone overboard on what they had ordered. The two people on the table next to us had ordered enough food for 4. “Eyes Bigger Than Stomachs” as my dad used to say to me.
They came out with some classic lines all night. My favourite was the man saying to the woman. “I know the other place was cheaper, but it was a buffet my dear.”
I nearly fell off my chair larfing.
All in all it was a pretty good night, and has awoken a sleeping dragon within me. China Town is back on my list of places to go. Although I am going to be very selective in where I eat there.