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Posts Tagged ‘xiao long bao in London’

Dumplings Legend

Happy Year of the Rabbit!  (Of course, I keep thinking that Rabbits get a bum deal for having *just* missed being a Dragon – which everyone knows is much cooler).

By coincidence, LondonEater also blogged today about Dumplings Legend, the latest Chinatown offering from the Leong’s Legend people.  And I completely agree with him that DL is aiming to be the Din Tai Fung of London.  Having recently visited the original Din Tai Fung in Taipei, I can say that  Dumplings Legend certainly looks the part, from the white-chef-hatted cooks assembling the xiao long bao in the window down to the xiao long bao-headed cartoon character.

I’d gone to Dumplings Legend hoping it was a dumpling house.  The sort of place that specializes in all that is beautiful in the world of filled dough, from baozi to jiao zi to xiao long bao.  Instead, it’s a place that serves several types of xiao long bao and then offers a long menu of totally random and generic “Chinese” dishes.

pork and crab xiao long bao at Dumplings Legend (£6.50)

It sounds like LondonEater had dim sum at DL, whereas I was there recently for dinner.  That said, we both ordered the star attraction at Dumplings Legend:  the xiao long bao.

The XLB we ordered were visually unattractive, but at least they were super soupy.  They were no better than what you’d get at Leong’s, though, so considering the rest of our experience at Dumplings Legend, I’d return to Leong’s.  (Note that even at Leong’s the quality of XLB has gone downhill over the years.  Click here to see how gorgeous the XLB used to be there, way back in August 2008.  It as if the more XLB are offered in London, the worse their quality becomes.  That makes no sense, until you figure most of the XLB seem to be offered by restaurants that share the same ownership as Leong’s.  A mere facade of competition).

steamed crab and sticky rice (£16.50)

In any even, while the XLB tasted alright, I wouldn’t stray too far from the dumpling offerings at DL.  The space is large and sits on Gerrard Street, so I reckon it’s a commercial necessity to appeal to the many diners who are randomly picking a place to eat in Chinatown.  Which means it’s not surprising the rest of the food is pretty mediocre.  The menu blurb at Dumplings Legend talks up the seafood offerings, so we gave the steamed crab a go.  And while the crab was large, the meat was a bit tough and not very sweet.  And the sticky rice pretty dry, failing to absorb any delicious crab flavors.

sweet and sour spare ribs (£7.50)

I had hoped that sweet-and-sour spare ribs might be the real deal, but instead it was just cloying orange sauce poured over tough bits of fried spare ribs.  Classic Gerrard Street fare.

Service, while rushed, was fine up until the end of our meal, when the waitress dumped vinegar and soy sauce all over my shirt while clearing our table.  She tried to wipe at it (always dab, people!  dab!), and when I asked her to just give me napkins so I could dab myself, she disappeared and was replaced seconds later by another server who just handed us the bill.  You could only laugh, really.  We paid the bill, and while Jon was using the gents’ upstairs, another server swooped in to change the table cloths while I was still sitting there.  It’s not like there was a queue of people waiting to sit down, either.

So, for food and service, thumbs down.  For xiao long bao, Dumplings Legend was fine, but for the same quality of XLB, just go around the corner to Leong’s Legend.  They offer better food, generally, and the service is better.

Dumplings Legend, 15-16 Gerrard Street, W1D 6JE; 0207 494 1200; Nearest Tube station:  Leicester Square.

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Polpetto - as close as I got to eating there, sadly.

Like most food lovers in London, I like the small snack-y Italian dishes served at Polpo.  Their fried goodies, pizzas and seafood are dependably good; prices are reasonable; and the atmosphere’s lively.  The only thing not to like are the queues that form every night thanks to Polpo’s no-reservations policy.

So really, I should have known better when my friends and I made plans to drop by Polpetto (Polpo’s recently-opened sibling) on a Wednesday evening.  Optimistically, I’d hoped that because we were arriving just before 7 pm on a Wednesday, and because the initial-opening hype had died down, the wait would be minimal.  Based on early reports by Gourmet Chick and Hollow Legs, who were at Polpetto during their soft opening (when prices were 50% off), Polpetto sounded like a real winner.  So I figured the risk of a wait would be worth it.

Well.  The four of arrived at just before 7 pm, and the *single* four-person table was occupied.  (Polpetto, you may have heard, is about half the size of already-tiny Polpo).  So Polpetto’s maitre d’ took one of our mobile numbers and promised to text us when the four-top was free, which he estimated to be in an hour, max.

The French House, the pub downstairs, was heaving, so we parked ourselves next door at slightly-seedy-looking Lupo (whose bartender, by the way, gets a shout out for exceeding expectations).  We chatted, we sipped, we waited.  At 8 pm, we received a text saying the table in question had skipped dessert and was on coffees.  We got excited and finished our drinks.

8:05 pm – We received a text saying that Polpetto was cash only that evening.  So we wandered around Soho for the next 10 minutes looking for a cashpoint.  They’re not as ubiquitous as you’d think.

8:15 pm – We received another text informing us that the table in question still hadn’t paid their bill.

8:30 pm – We gave up on Polpetto and just walked over to Leong’s Legends (which is clearly visible from Polpetto).  Good ol’ Leong’s.  There, we loaded up on xiao long bao (slowly going downhill, but still better than most London versions), dou miao (sauteed snow pea leaves) and pork belly dishes (both the gua bao “taiwanese kebabs” and the braised dish).  £15 a person.  All good.

Really, nothing is worth a 90-minute wait (at least).  And why is Polpetto able to seat only one group of four at a time?  Were there no adjoining two-person tables that became free over the course of 90 minutes?

Advice:  If you want to eat at Polpetto, go as a party of two.  Not four.  And have a backup plan.  Leong’s will do just nicely.

Alternatively, don’t even try to get into Polpetto.  London Eater thinks there are more misses than hits on the menu anyway.  If you simply must have your bacaro experience, stick with Polpo instead, where even on a bad night, I’ve never waited more than an hour.  And at Polpo, you can order food while you wait at the bar, which is something you can’t do at Polpetto.

Restaurants of London:  please please take bookings!  Dishoom, Barrafina, Polpo — we love you yet we hate you for not taking bookings.

Leong’s Legends, 4 Macclesfield Street, W1D 6AX; 0207 287 0288; closest Tube station:  Leicester Square

Polpo, 41 Beak Street, W1F 9SB; 0207 734 4479; closest Tube stations:  Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus

Polpetto, 49 Dean Street, W1D 5BG; 0207 734 1969; closest Tube station:  Leicester Square

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