Food gems in London’s Chinatown are few and far between. There are probably about half a dozen or so places that I do dine at, generally only frequenting each place for a particular dish. So when I heard news that a new dumpling restaurant had opened and the general consensus positive, I wasted no time paying a visit. An offshoot from the team that own Leong Legend and Empress of Sichuan, Dumplings Legend is located smack bang in the middle of Chinatown on Gerrard St. Specialising in Xiao Long Bao (XLB), or Shanghainese soup dumplings, the restaurant is rather bright and modern looking. Like Leongs Legend, the restaurant has a dining-room-facing dumpling station where you can watch your XLB’s being folded.
We visited on a Friday evening when the restaurant was in full swing. The patrons were predominantly non-Chinese (generally not a good sign), but I think most likely because of the restaurants location on the main Chinatown drag. For a restaurant that specialises in dumplings, the restaurant’s menu really doesn’t reflect this. On the inside cover of the menu, westernised set menus are proudly displayed (which explains the non-chinese clientele), and the rest of the menu divided by starters, dumplings, meat, seafood etc.
Given the restaurants claim to specialise in XLB’s I was anticipating more regional northern Chinese food, so I was surprised when the menu was mix of both standard Cantonese and northern Chinese dishes. Interestingly food with a north/west china origin was generally marked as a speciality of the restaurant, so it was with those dishes we stuck to.
Unfortunately with only two people to share the food amongst, we decided to stick with the XLB’s and a few cold dishes to start.
Our cold starter of drunken chicken (£4) arrived first. I have really fond memories of this dish from many visits to Shanghai. The dish is essentially cold white cooked poached chicken that once cooled is soaked in Shaoxing rice wine, absorbing the ‘drunken’ flavour. Unfortunately the Dumplings Legend’s version was a few slivers of fridge-cold white chicken which barely had absorbed the flavour of the Shaoxing. Not a good start to our meal.
Next to arrive were was a delicious plate of cold chilli Beef tendons (£4) which is interesting described as cold beef tender filet on the menu – what a major error if you didn’t actually eat tendons! The beef tendons were deliciously crunchy without being chewy and were marinated in a wonderful chilli oil that I just couldn’t get enough of. Major plus.
Our final cold starter, was a cold chilli cucumber dish with garlic (£3). Like the drunken chicken, this dish was a little blah. A good version of this dish should be presented with the garlic and chilli sauce absorbed through the flesh of the cucumber, yet still remaining crisp to the bite. Dumpling Legends version was simply sliced cucumber with garlic and chilli oil poured on top.
We had fairly high expectations of the XLB especially since the restaurant is apparently famed for it. We ordered both plain pork and crab meat/pork versions and I’m pleased to say that they did indeed taste different. The plain pork dumplings (£6, 8 per serve) had a thin skin, perhaps more moist than Din Tai Fung’s dry, malleable skin, but slightly thicker, all secured with a slightly-too-thick knot on top. The pork was flavourful and the broth inside the dumpling rich albeit not enough. Crab meat and pork XLB’s (£6.50) were similarly encased, and the sweet taste of the crab was obvious in both the broth and meat mixture. Eaten with black vinegar, the sweetness is even more evident. My small complaint is that I wished for slightly bigger dumplings (more soup) and finer chopped ginger slivers.
XLB’s at Dumplings Legend do pretty high on the London XLB scale and are definitely strides ahead of the current standards at Leongs Legend.
I’d be interested to go back to try some of the other ‘recommended’ main dishes to see what the quality is like in their mains.
15-16 Gerrard Street,
Soho, London, W1D