The Hungry One and I went on a date with dumplings.

This is not something new for us.

On our second date he took me to his beloved Chinese Noodle Restaurant.
(NB that really is its name, not just a description I’ve afflicted with excessive capitalisation)

There were grapes hanging from the ceiling and rugs hugging the wall. Through the window I could see family elders slapping out ropes of noodles, the product of confident  hands. It’s cramped in that white tiled cave in Sydney’s Chinatown and cups would occasionally get knocked to the floor by the wayward twirl of backpacks. I drank a glass of white wine from a plastic up while he taught me his preferred ratio of soy: chilli : black vinegar.

I think I looked nervously about the space and his face, trying to see a future.

With a platter of braised lamb and carrot dumplings  I was sucked in. The squish of the noodle, a nursery soft centre of meat and the salty kick of sauce. The way that skinny chopsticks looked in strong hands.

That date lead to more.  Soon dumplings and time with him began to feel like home.

Here in London there’s a roof over our head, but we haven’t sat down to dumplings since we left Sydney’s shores. If this is going to be home for a while, a dumpling date spot is sorely needed.

And so the search begins.

Leong’s Legends II

(NB, there are two Leong’s Legends in Chinatown. This visit was to the Lisle Street location)

Just tucked around the corner from Leicester Square, this strip of London’s Chinatown is lined with bobbing red lanterns, like balloons that can’t quite bring themselves to leave.  

In the window of Leong’s Legends there’s a white toque wearing chef using a lone chopstick to make impressions on the top of dumplings. The ceiling feels low and there are small rooms which lead off each other inside and upwards. The interior is dark wood and walls are protected by curious leopard print rugs.

Leong’s specialises in Taiwanese food. It’s a bit finer in texture and more precise on the palate than our northern Chinese staples. The pork xiao long bao are puckered at the top like a kiss from your Granny. They’re heavy with stock at the base, which when you bite in, floods your mouth. It’s best to leave them for a little while for the soupy insides to cool down.

Seafood dumplings are braised, with a sturdier casing of noodle. The interior paste is combination of shellfish and white fillets. It’s soothing, if not particularly exciting.

What is something to write home about is the ‘Taiwanese kebab’.

Cheaper than a flight to New York for a  Momofuku pork bun, and potentially packed with more sticky fat. It’s a yawning open mouth of squishy steamed dough holding a slab of pork belly, ground peanuts and shallots. Add an extra squirt of chilli and you’re in for a ride. 

We’re plodding through a menu with English translations, guided by codes which indicate the level of spice and house specialties. When it comes to drinking there’s tea, Tiger and Tsingtao beer and a wine list that works its way from a house white to a bottle of Chateuneuf du pape.

There’s the option of mango pudding but this time The Hungry One is craving spice more than sweet. To close it’s an order of spicy chicken with chilli. The sauce is a little cloying and some chillis seem to be there for decoration more than anything else, but it still brings a flush to the cheek.

There are Taiwanese love songs being piped throughout and all around us are young couples out on dates.
Maybe Leong’s will become their dumpling place.

As for us? I’m not sure I’m ready to make that kind of commitment just yet.

Leong’s Legends II

26-27 Lisle Street WC2H 7BA
Tel : 020 7734 3380

Tube: Leicester Square

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