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I knew I had a solo dinner in Québec and after reaching out on Twitter, Renée got in touch again (hello!) and recommended Légende, a highly acclaimed restaurant specialising in Boreal cuisine, i.e cuisine using ingredients only found in the Boreal (Northern) forests of Canada. No lemons or passion fruit or aubergines here! While not unique in Québec for serving boreal cuisine, it is unique in being one of the few restaurants in Canada to be on the Air Canada enRoute magazine’s annual list of Canada’s best new restaurants.

I’d booked a place for one and ended up at their counter, watching plates whizz by and drinks being made in front of me. There were a couple other solo diners there and it was a nice spot to chat and find out what brought all of us to Québec (work, it turns out). I was tempted to try the restaurant’s tasting menu (10 courses) but I was still feeling a little full from lunch and so decided on sticking to the a la carte menu of half-sized plates.

An amuse of clam and cucumber was brought out. It was refreshing and opened up my appetite a little (perhaps that massive sugar shack inspired lunch was a mistake….nah).

Clam and Cucumber

A tiny loaf of warm, fir scented bread with butter made my way at the counter. It took a lot of discipline not to inhale it in one go.

Fir Scented Bread

Now, I thought that perhaps with half plates, I could perhaps put away two or three and I started by ordering two. This was a wise move as they were half sizes of Canadian portions – read: larger than I’m used to! My first dish of pan seared scallops with egg yolk, smoked duck, fennel, Nordic shrimp was delicious, with lots of textures (like those crackers on top) and even a few fiddlehead ferns. This was probably my favourite dish of the evening.

Pan Seared Scallops

This guinea fowl dish wasn’t on the menu but replaced another poultry dish that I originally wanted. Yikes, I didn’t take any notes but I remember enjoying it and I remember being extremely full afterwards and definitely not being able to deal with a third dish!

Guinea Fowl

Dessert had to be their signature Candy cap mushroom frozen parfait with fir balm infused mousse, crystallized lichen. Lichen! Fir! Mushrooms?! These are not words I normally associate with dessert! The mushrooms turned out to be formed of the frozen parfait but the lichen…the lichen was lichen! I never knew it was edible! The dish overall was more of a fun novelty rather than your typical sweet ending to a meal but I still loved it.

Candy Cap Mushroom Frozen Parfait

Overall, it was a fabulous meal. Definitely recommended and if you’re a solo diner like I was, the counter is a great place to sit and be taken care of.

Légende
255 Rue Saint-Paul
Ville de Québec, QC
G1K 3W5, Canada

Update 19/11/2008: Charmaine and Chowhound confirm that Leong’s Legends is open again!

Update 06/11/2008: Not sure what’s up with this restaurant lately but I’d heard they’re closed for renovations and now I’ve heard they’ve closed completely! Will update again when I find out what’s happening. Here’s the review anyway!

There was a queue outside Leong’s Legends when we went to visit one weekend. If we had known beforehand that the wait would be long, perhaps we would have gone elsewhere but we stood there and waited and waited and eventually, after about 45 minutes, we got a seat in this small restaurant. We were given menus while we waited and so by the time we finally sat down, I was ravenous after reading all the menu items and we knew exactly what we wanted to eat. We placed our orders and then contemplated the low hanging lamp (if we leaned too far forward, we’d hit our foreheads on it). Table sizes were also nice and large, providing plenty of room for the dishes we ordered.

First to arrive was the xiao long bao, those famous Shanghainese soup-filled meat dumplings. Bizarrely, the bottoms were too thin while the tops were thicker which meant that we lost almost all the soup while trying to pick up the xiao long bao as the thin bottoms stuck to the steamer, tearing holes in the dumpling skins. A shame it was as the flavour of the dumplings was fantastic.

Xiao Long Bao

Next was a Shanghai style fried pork chop with noodle soup. I was so happy when I tasted this as it had the same flavour as my beloved Taiwanese fried pork chop! The coating wasn’t as crispy as it could have been but the flavour made up for it.

Shanghai Style Fried Pork Chop

Soup Noodles

As a small dish on the side, we had a braised pork belly bun, something I’d never seen in London. Though the slice of pork belly was not as melt-in-your-mouth as that I’d had at Momofuku Ssam Bar in New York, it was still tender and paired well with the crushed peanuts, pickled vegetables and soft white steamed bread.

Braised Pork Belly Bun

Braised Pork Belly Bun

I had ordered one portion of dim sum just to see how it would be and the little dish of my choice was one of my favourites, fried turnip paste. It’s not really turnip but daikon radish shredded and steamed with rice flour into a cake that’s then sliced and panfried. Quite good but from other reviews I see that I should perhaps have tried the shredded turnip roll – next time!

Fried Turnip Paste

All this food plus a large glass of fresh soy bean milk came to about £20 for the two of us. Service wasn’t terrific, which sadly I’ve come to expect of all Chinese restaurants in London’s Chinatown. Just after I’d put my last bite in my mouth and placed down my chopsticks, the waitress swooped onto our table and cleared everything from it, including my napkin. I couldn’t even wipe my mouth! That’s just ridiculous and it definitely needs improving – and I hope it does improve before my next visit for the excellent food.

Leong’s Legends
4 Macclesfield St
London W1D 6AX

Leong’s Legends on Urbanspoon

The second day saw us wake up again stupidly early but that meant we could get to Russ & Daughters Cafe before 9am on Sunday for breakfast (no bookings are taken). There we were served by a very serious young man who declared that everything we selected was a “good choice”.

Coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice were necessary to get our internal engines going.

Coffee and Orange Juice

Are kasha varnishkas a typical breakfast food? Probably not but when topped with a poached egg, it sure felt like one. This Jewish-Ashkenazi dish of buckwheat and pasta and caramelised onions was supremely comforting with its butter and possible schmaltz.

Kasha Varnishkas

We also split a Classic Board – Gaspe Nova smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, onion, capers – all served with an everything bagel (“Good choice!”). The salmon was excellent and I loved their bagel.

The Classic Board

By the time we left, the place was packed and people had started queuing for a table. Yeah, get there early.

A short stroll away was Economy Candy, the legendary candy shop that’s been going since 1937.

Inside Economy Candy

What a fun place this is! The proprietor asked Blai if he was taking me on a first date there (apparently that’s common) but when I explained that we’re not from around there, he quipped, “I could tell – you’re here early!” True that! It wasn’t even 10am then! We ended up leaving there laden down with goodies.

We then caught another 6-train up to the upper east side (we got very familiar with that subway line) and spent the rest of the morning at the Frick Collection. If you get there between 11am and 1pm on Sundays, it’s pay what you like. It’s a fine little collection that’s definitely worth seeing!

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For lunch, we headed to the branch of Luke’s Lobster that’s nearby. We split a lobster roll, …

Lobster Roll

…a crab roll, …

Crab Roll

… and a side of their Boston clam chowder.

Clam Chowder

It was fantastic. Those buttery toasted rolls were chock full of shellfish with just a tiny bit of mayo and a sprinkle of something heavy on celery salt. Fabulous. I’d never seen Blai so enthusiastic – he demanded, demanded!, that we return on his last day in the city. Seriously, I can count on one hand the number of times he’s demanded some particular dish and this was almost shocking! But they are worth the enthusiasm!

And then it was onwards to the Guggenheim. While the building was quite spectacular, as was most of their permanent collection, we were disappointed that one main gallery was closed and that most of the space was dedicated to a major exhibition by On Kawara. Now, Kawara’s work is interesting as a concept but seeing a lot of it there (and it’s quite repetitive) got tiring after a while.

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After our time at the Guggenheim, the warm weather had us thinking about gelato and we took the subway back down to the East Village and headed to A.B. Biagi, which I’d heard had some excellent stuff. The shop was much smaller than I expected (there were only three seats inside) and the menu was equally tiny (maybe about 5 flavours that afternoon) but what we tried (lemon sorbet, chocolate and pistachio) were all excellent.

Gelato - Lemon, Chocolate and Pistachio

Somewhere in between gelato and dinner was another subway ride down to Battery Park to bask in the sun and peer out at the Statue of Liberty and a long walk back to the subway as a few stations were closed around Wall Street due to filming of some movie. Ah, New York!

Dinner that night was back near Chinatown on Canal Street at Pies ‘n’ Thighs.

Three pieces of fried chicken made up their Fried Chicken Box and on the side, we had a lovely refreshing green salad. The chicken was excellent – moist on the inside, seasoned goodness on the outside. Oops, I think a piece of chicken was already missing from the plate when I took this photo.

Fried Chicken Box with Green Salad

And there was a biscuit on the side. I miss biscuits so.

Biscuit

We also split a chicken biscuit. This chicken breast had been coated in a crumb coating and was slapped between a biscuit with lashings of honey butter and hot sauce. Mmm… honey butter and hot sauce. Excellent stuff.

Chicken Biscuit

We couldn’t leave without a slice of pie! Here’s their apple pie a la mode, which was just ok. The crust could have been flakier and the apples cooked a little longer.

Apple Pie a la Mode

And that was our second full day in the city. When I look back at it, butter seems to have been the running theme throughout the meals.

Russ & Daughters Cafe
Russ & Daughters Cafe on Urbanspoon

Luke’s Lobster
Luke's Lobster on Urbanspoon

A.B. Biagi
A.B. Biagi on Urbanspoon

Pies ‘n’ Thighs
Pies-n-Thighs on Urbanspoon

We travelled onwards to Barcelona from Marseille, stopping by in Montpellier on the way there. After a whole week of eating out, it felt great to dine on home cooking again, all thanks to my fabulous mother-in-law! And this continued untl a few days into our visit, when we all took a day trip to Banyoles, a beautiful little inland town in northern Catalonia with a huge lake that, legend has it, has a dragon (we didn’t see any – Blai, you owe me a dragon). There’s plenty of history in the town and that lake – that lake! It’s all quite beautiful.

The Lake of Banyoles

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It’s a lovely spot to visit if you can. There’s swimming in the lake and lots of nature to enjoy. However, after a long drive there, food was the first thing on our minds. I had done some googling the night before and Blai’s mother had reserved a table for us at Can Banyoles, a restaurant that was only about a five minute walk from the information centre at the lake.

Their lunch menu is only €12 per person (I’ve written about the menú del dia before) and you’ll see soon enough why this is quite the deal if you order well. For my first dish, I chose the local pear tomatoes with ham. These tomatoes were amazing – grown locally and with, yes, a pear shape, they were simple but fantastic. They were ripe and full of flavour and only needed a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

Pear Tomatoes with Ham

But Blai and his mother chose even better than I did – they ordered the rice cooked in a cassola. This took absolutely ages to arrive and when we demanded an explanation, we were told that this was cooked to order. What came out was a magnificent sight. That cassola was still bubbling as it was brought to our table.

Rice

The rice was portioned out for the two of them but the four of us could have easily shared all this. The rice had been cooked with some pork and peas and was infused with the flavour of seafood as well. It was delicious even if it was a bit on the soupy side. I helped myself to quite a bit as well – so so so good.

Rice

Second courses were good and hearty (seriously generous portions here) though not amazing. Blai’s botifarra with a garnish of grilled peppers and boiled green beans and potatoes was fine.

Botifarra and Garnish

Blai’s father’s curry was not too bad – quite a nice curry actually! The meat was tender and had a good spicing.

Curry

My calamari was well fried, not too greasy and generously portioned but became a bit dull halfway through. A garnish of some sort would have been nice.

Calamari

Desserts were very simple but it’s exactly what one wants after all that food. I went with juicy slices of watermelon…

Watermelon

…while Blai’s parents chose the crema catalana…

Crema

…and Blai went with a simple slice of torró ice cream.

Ice Cream

So yeah, really quite a bargain for €12, especially if you order that rice. Bookings are essential, even for lunch on a weekday – the place is popular with locals and visitors alike! I understand though that rice is only available on Wednesdays (from a conversation I overheard between a waitress and another customer). Go on a Wednesday!

Restaurant Can Xabanet
Plaça del Carme, 24
17820 Banyoles
Girona, Spain (Catalunya)

I returned to Min Jiang in Kensington for dinner the other week, this time by invitation to try their Beijing duck and to learn about Chinese dining etiquette along with a few other bloggers. This was a first for Min Jiang – they’d not performed any blogger outreach previously, mainly depending on word of mouth. I did ask why they’d suddenly chosen to do this and they replied that they just wanted to remind everyone that they were still there and doing quite well. Indeed, the restaurant was packed on the Tuesday night that we dined.

We started at the bar with drinks (I went with a refreshing nonalcoholic cocktail of jasmine tea, lychee juice and soda called a Jasmine Sling) and appetisers. In the distance, we could see fireworks

A Jasmine Sling

The Bi Feng Tang Soft Shell Crab with Garlic and Chili was fabulously fried soft shell crab with a sticky glaze and plenty of fried garlic and chili on top. It’s dangerously moreish and quite nice with drinks.

Bi Feng Tang Soft Shell Crab with Garlic and Chili

A Steamed Dim Sum Platter was also brought over – their green vegetable dumpling was, I thought, better than the gloopier version at Pearl Liang. I still feel funny eating dim sum in the evening though!

Steamed Dim Sum Platter

We then moved into the dining area for their Beijing Duck (legendary and wood-fired according to their menu). As soon as we sat down, a chef immediately brought over the duck on a trolley and started carving it up.

Carving Up the Duck

While that was going on, we were distracted a bit by the appearance of moutai, an extremely strong Chinese liquor that… well, I don’t like it. We each had a bit of a taste and were warmed from head to toe (shh…I broke the rules and only had a sip… I’m not good with alcohol).

Deadly Moutai

I was more focused on the duck. Slices of the just the duck skin was first presented to us and just like in Beijing, we dipped this crispy skin into fine granulated sugar.

Beijing Duck Skin

The chef continued slicing the rest of the duck skin and meat and incredibly thin homemade pancakes were brought out to wrap these up. The condiments available were traditional (sweet sauce with shredded leek and cucumber) and the modern Min Jiang style (garlic paste with radish and tientsin cabbage). No photos of my wrapped pancakes as I was too busy eating them! The duck was excellent.

Beijing Duck

After the duck was cleared, two duck dishes made their way to our table – these were made with the rest of the meat picked off our duck carcasses and one is included in the price of each half or whole duck. Spicy Minced Duck with a Lettuce Wrap made good use of the leftover meat.

Spicy Minced Duck with a Lettuce Wrap

Individual servings of Fried Rice with Diced Duck (the second leftover duck dish) were also placed in front of us. I thought this was a bit bland though it went well with the main courses that were to follow.

Fried Rice with Diced Duck

Those main courses were placed all together on the lazy susan in the middle of our table and were shared family style. Alaskan Black Cod Fillet Roasted in Sha Cha Sauce was beautifully flakey with the savoury sauce served on the side. I’ve never really figured out what’s in sha cha sauce as every version I’ve tried seems to be very different – still, this was pleasant enough.

Alaskan Black Cod Fillet Roasted in Sha Cha Sauce

Clay Pot Sanpei with Corn fed Chicken was Min Jiang’s version of the Taiwanese three cup chicken. I was impressed by the balanced flavours in this and loved the hint of heat imparted by the dried chillies.

Clay Pot Sanpei, Corn fed Chicken

Diced Rib Eye of Beef with Black Pepper Sauce was punchy with its pepper heat but the dish didn’t stand out for me.

Diced Rib Eye of Beef with Black Pepper Sauce

A vegetable is always included in a proper formal Chinese meal. This time, it was tender Baby Pak Choi Stir Fried in a Garlic Sauce.

Baby Pak Choi Stir Fried - Garlic Sauce

Two desserts were brought out though I’ll admit that most of us just managed to pick at them. Their Black Sesame Paste Dumpling coated in Peanut Crumbs was a dessert I had tried previously and it remained excellent.

Black Sesame Paste Dumpling coated in Peanut Crumbs

Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly taken by the Min Jiang Sichuan Pancake with Cornish Vanilla Ice Cream, a slightly hard pancake filled with red bean paste.

Min Jiang Sichuan Pancake with Cornish Vanilla Ice Cream

Of course, all this would come at a pretty penny if dining on your dime. From my calculations, I think the meal that night would have cost each of us £35-45 per head for just the food – of course, if you’re looking for a place to treat yourself, you can’t go wrong here. Of everything I’ve already tried, I’d probably recommend going for lunch for duck and dim sum and perhaps some noodles too; it’s also the best time to get a great view over Kensington Gardens.

As for the Chinese dining etiquette, it was interesting to learn how to dine at a business dinner, how to toast with moutai, even how a woman should drink (though I’m ignoring all that I heard of that). And if you order the duck there (ordering in advance is recommended), a lesson in how to wrap duck pancakes is included.

Thank you very much to Min Jiang, the Royal Garden Hotel and Sauce Communications for the invitation. I’ve also previously blogged about Min Jiang here.

Min Jiang
Royal Garden Hotel
2-24 Kensington High Street
London W8 4PT

Min Jiang on Urbanspoon