“It’s like a delicious explosion in your mouth” said my friend Lucy after she had bitten into a xai long bao (£5) at the new Leong’s Legend in Bayswater. Xai long bao (or XLB as they are affectionately known) are dumplings filled with soup and so when you bite into one you really do get an explosion of broth. Leong’s Legend is well known in London for it’s XLB filled with pork or crab and the standard of the dumplings at the new branch in Bayswater continues to be high with the perfectly pleated wrapper being just the right thickness to contain the soup until it reached your mouth.
The Bayswater outpost of the restaurant has been open for just under a month and they invited me to come for a meal. While I am generally against restaurants turning into chains and often wish they would stay exclusive and stick with one site, I have to admit to being really rather pleased that Leong’s Legend is now so conveniently located.
The restaurant is a step up from most of the nearby Asian restaurants, for a start it looks great. The interior is supposed to be reminiscent of a Chinese drinking den. While I couldn’t spot any inebriated Chinese people slumped in the corners there is lots of dark wood and moody lighting. Low hanging lights covered in baskets and wooden lattice between the tables creates intimacy so that you almost feel like you are eating in a private booth. Service is famously rude at the original Leong’s Legend but our waitresses were brisk but attentive on our visit. They looked the part as well in glossy kimono style shirts.
The food here is Taiwanese although the menu does include quite a few Chinese dishes such as Szechuan duck tounges and kung pao chicken. The menu contains photos of some of the dishes which is handy if you are not familiar with Taiwanese food and also a helpful system where “must try” dishes are given two stars. Amusingly, some dishes are marked with only one star which we guessed meant “maybe try”! In any event, we asked the manager for some recommendations and also ordered some of the dishes that I had seen featured by American in London and Pig Pigs Corner among others.
Sticky rice with pork
Besides the XLB we also had the gua bao, mini kebab with pork (£3.80) and the “casket” (£4.20) as starters. The mini kebab was actually a big slice of juicy pork belly served in a doughy white man tau steamed bun. It was topped with chopped peanuts which gave a good textural contrast and some preserved vegetables for extra tang. It was one of those dishes you couldn’t not love. The casket was a bit more unusual, although apparently it is a Taiwanese regional specialty sometimes called “coffin bread” as well. The name comes from the shape of the dish which comes in its own edible container made out of bread coated in egg and deep fried and then filled with a thick chicken and vegetable mixture. Unsure of the correct way to eat the dish we broke up the case and used it to scoop the casserole onto. The crisp bread was a great contrast to the creamy filling.
Quick fried diced beef
Quick fried diced beef (£11.80) was a fairly small plate of cubed beef with slices of crisp fried garlic scattered over the top. The peppery flavour of the beef was memorable but the beef was slightly dry. Sticky rice with shredded pork (£4.20) was probably our least favourite dish of the night, it had a strange almost metallic taste to it which meant that we didn’t even finish off the glutinous rice. We much preferred the ginger chicken with rice wine and sesame oil (£8.50) which was almost a soup in a casserole container. The dish had just the right amount of heat but is probably best avoided if you are MSG sensitive as I am pretty sure it was swimming in the stuff. The proof is in Lucy who said her cheeks felt slightly numb and swollen after eating it (her face is like the ultimate MSG detector). To go with all that meat the wilted pea shoots were a vibrant green and sang of the accompanying minced garlic (£6.50).
Desserts in Asian restaurants so often seem to be a non-sequitir and so we decided to pass on the taro root cake, and on the concise and cheaply priced wine list in favour of the even more cheaply priced Chinese tea (£1.50). Although this branch of Leong’s Legends is still fairly new, all the early indicators point to a great value eatery with some really interesting Taiwanese specialties on the menu. It is worth a visit on the strength of the XLB alone.
Details: 82 Queensway, Bayswater W2 3RL (Ph 0207 221 2280) Tube: Bayswater
Damage: Such a bargain even my mother would approve.
If you are in the area, just down the street is another Asian food option, Kiasu which serves Malaysian cuisine. Or you might be interested in reading this post on how to make your own dumplings.
Gourmet Chick was a guest of Leong’s Legend.