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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!


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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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


…while Blai’s parents chose the crema catalana…


…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

The final Beijing post! It’s going to be a little haphazard but I just wanted to remember the best of the rest of the meals I ate there. Not every meal was spectacular but every meal was at least good. However, some of the good meals had spectacular dishes as part of it. Nothing was bad (except for the smell of stinky tofu which I just couldn’t get over – someone, please teach me how to eat it!).

On Ghost Street

After a day in the calming environments of the Lama Temple and the Confucian Temple, Blai and I headed to Ghost Street, a street full of restaurants that open long and late hours. We stopped into one (I forgot to note down its name) and picked pretty randomly from the long picture menu. The fried mantou, here in a basket with steamed ones, were just… well, let’s just say it’s hard to fault deep fried things.

Steamed and Fried Mantou

The restaurant also specialised in grilled skewers and the best we tried was skewers of mushrooms, here shiitake mushrooms. When grilled, they were incredibly juicy and even better when sprinkled with a tongue-tingling chilli and cumin mixture.

Grilled Mushroom Skewers

At a random restaurant near our second hotel

We went to this restaurant the night we moved hotels. While all the other dishes were average (but still very good when compared to most of London’s restaurants), this aubergine dish was quite the stand-out. The silky vegetable melted in the mouth.


A dinner at Guolin Jiachangcai

A terrible downpour one night forced us to stick to restaurants near our hotel again. We entered one very crowded place which turned out to be Guolin Jiachangcai, a popular restaurant serving homestyle food from all over China.

The star of that meal was this Hakka meicai kourou, steamed pork belly with preserved mustard greens. I nestled slices of the rich pork belly and the vegetable into the accompanying steamed buns and thereby ate some of the finest sandwiches known to man.

Meicai Kourou

From Sichuan province, we had this excellent mapo tofu, cooked with a firmer tofu than usual but I quite liked it that way!

Mapo Tofu

At a Chinese fast food restaurant

After watching the crowds at Hou Hai on the night of the mid-autumn (moon) festival, we trawled the area looking for a restaurant that could accommodate us so late at night. We stopped into one place on the street leading down from the Drum Tower that turned out to be a noodles and food on skewers fast food restaurant. Apart from a few skewers and a plate of dumplings, we also ordered minced pork noodles. A deep bowl full of hand pulled noodles sitting in a savoury broth studded with minced pork, diced potato, chives, carrots, tofu, tofu skin, and pressed tofu was brought to us. It really hit the spot that night!

Minced Pork Noodles

We also had the opportunity to see the all the staff at the restaurant (along with the owners and their families) sit down together to share an extravagant mid-autumn festival meal!

A work dinner

All of us from our group who travelled to Beijing were gathered together one night for a group dinner at a restaurant whose name I forgot to note down but I did hastily scribble down what I think is its web address. It was a seriously extravagant meal with our boss taking care of the ordering and well, over-ordering.

The restaurant was quite unique, consisting of just private rooms, each equipped with a wide screen tv with karaoke capability (we opted out this time). During ordering, we were even offered a fresh fruit platter with these fresh dates. I’d never had them before and was surprised by their crunchy, apple-like texture and not very sweet flavour.

Fresh Dates

The roasted pigeons were just finger licking good. There was a fantastic skin to meat ratio on these birds and they were just so juicy and tender.

Roasted Pigeons

I had too much of this – braised beef slices with mung bean noodles. The mung bean noodles had been wrapped into little bite-sized bundles. I helped myself to at least three bowlfuls of this – it was just all gorgeous in its beefy broth.

Braised Beef with Mung Bean Noodles

This Shanghainese dish is steamed red dates stuffed with glutinous rice, not something I would order if I saw it on a menu but they really are fantastic. They’re sweet as you’d expect dates to be but they’re less sweet than the brown dried kinds you find here and they’re not served as a dessert. The glutinous rice stuffing has the texture of mochi. When steamed together, they meld together into quite the succulent mouthful.

Red Dates Stuffed with Glutinous Rice

These radish puffs might look familiar – they are available in a certain Taiwanese restaurant in London. However, these in Beijing were just amazing – so light, so greaseless, so flaky. I somehow managed to fit in two of them.

Radish Puffs

It was also quite interesting to see how, in such a large meal as this (there were at least 20 different dishes), to see the progression from cold dishes to hot dishes to the pastries and breads and finally, dessert (a fruit platter).

Lunch across from the Pearl Market

OK, I didn’t have the name nor the address of this place and so rather than have a post to itself, this, our last lunch in Beijing, got stuck here. After a quick visit to the Pearl Market, we needed an equally quick bite before heading back to the hotel and leaving for the airport. We came across this little place across the street from the north side of the Pearl Market – that’s the best description of the location I can give you!

There’s one picture in the window and that’s of the one thing they sell there – flatbreads filled with meat. You can see them being made fresh in the front of the shop.

Brushing with Oil

We split one made with pork (beef was also available), dipping them into our own made dipping sauces of black vinegar and chilli oil. So delicious, I loved the huge variety of breads I encountered in Beijing.

Pork Stuffed Flatbread

As everybody else was having it too, we asked for the accompanying soup. This soup turned out to be an extremely bland and thick cornmeal “soup”. I have no idea what the appeal is but it was quite novel!

Our Lunch

And that completes my final Beijing post. If you need more, all of my Beijing photos can be found in this Flickr photoset (two trips to the Great Wall, anyone?!).