This restaurant has been open a couple of years and is a sophisticated spot for smart-casual dining; but one starts the culinary adventure before one even reaches the table. The open dim sum kitchen is your introduction to the eponymous creations Dumplings of Dumplings’ Legend.
The restaurant is a contemporary vision of white with mirrors. It’s a large restaurant with seating for up to two hundred people, and a private dining area that can cater for another hundred or so guests. Its impressive picture window gives views onto Gerrard Street in London’s bustling Chinatown that attracts Chinese locals, Chinese tourists and Europeans from London and across the globe. The street adds much to London’s economy and is now being taken seriously as an attraction in its own right.
Those dumplings or Siu Long Bao are the cornerstones of this restaurant for much of the day. They are sometimes classified as a dumpling outside of China, but they are far from a European dumpling which is usually a ball of something substantial, rib-sticking and hearty. One might think of the suet dumplings found in traditional British meat stews, but Siu Long Bao are delicate gems of Chinese gastronomy.
There is a variety of Siu Long Bao at Dumplings’ Legend, but they all take broadly the same form: bamboo steamer trays filled with small dough wrappers that are deftly folded and twisted around fillings. It’s the production of these morsels that one can watch at the entrance to the restaurant. The filling is smeared on the dough and then the unprepossessing mass is transformed by skilled fingers into the characteristic pleated dim sum. I noted that the dough here is thinner than some used for similar dishes elsewhere.
Eating Siu Long Bao is an art but a delicious one. First select your dumpling from the steamer and carefully transfer that to your spoon with your chopsticks. You will doubtless realise that the texture of the dumpling is that of a balloon filled with liquid. That’s the striking thing about these exotic bites – they have a meat or seafood centre which is surrounded by a flavourful broth. I have no idea how this is achieved as the filling looks like a paste when it’s in its raw state. Take a little nibble and enjoy the soup and then perhaps take a bite of wrapper and filling to appreciate its moist richness. Dip the remaining dumpling into chilli sauce or add some shredded ginger and devour the rest. I am sure there is Siu Long Bao etiquette but I am only a Gwailo so I manage the best I can.
For our first visit to Dumplings’ Legend we wanted to stick to those famed snacks and we ordered a mouth-watering overview. Fresh Crab-roe Siu Long Bao is a speciality here and it’s unique. No strong flavours but a smooth and mild seafood filling bathed in an equally light broth. It’s not always available but do try these if they are on.
Spicy Pork Siu Long Bao is perhaps my favourite of this type of dim sum. The wrapper is just as thin as for the other dishes but the filling has a robust and Sichuan pepper-laced flavour that gives that characteristic mouth-numbing sensation. That might not sound appealing to the untutored but it is truly remarkable and different from any other dumpling that would likely just be flavoured with the more common red chilli. These spicy dumplings are unmissable and moreish.
No trip to Chinatown is complete for me if I miss buying a steamed barbecue pork bun. I prefer these to the baked alternative although even those are addictive. Dumplings’ Legend offered Juicy Barbecued Pork Bun and it was as good as I have had. The steamed dough is light and snowy white and it cracks and bursts as it rises in the steamer to show a seam of the mahogany-coloured filling. Warm and aromatic, this is a classic bun.
Turnip Cake is another dish that doesn’t immediately entice the novice to order. A turnip is an ingredient that is seldom craved, written about in culinary literature, or lauded as a vegetable hero, but Turnip Cake with Assorted Dried Meat here could change your at best non-committal attitude to this root. I think the turnip in question is actually a mooli which is processed and flavoured and presented as blocks of golden-fried comfort. Yes, that probably is its appeal, it’s comforting. There are no strong flavours and the texture is glutinous and starchy. Even that description by this lover of a turnip cake hardly has one rushing to try it, but suffice it to say it’s a winner and well worth ordering. It’s the same as with mashed potatoes – what’s not to like?
The desserts are tempting at Dumplings’ Legend. My companion had never tried the celebrated (I am not sure that’s the word I am looking for) durian fruit. I am rather fond of it but it’s a fondness that has taken time to cultivate. I can understand the reluctance to lower a segment of the fruit from the assault that it might have made on one’s nose to the taste buds that will probably already be in a state of panic. But make the effort and try this fruit a few times and you might start (slowly) to understand the appeal.
We ordered Durian Puff Pastry and it was a gentle introduction to the flavour and aroma of durian. The pastry was flaky and delicious and had a seam of fruit running through it. The texture of the filling was rather like a thick apple puree and indeed the colour was very much like that. The sweet flavour was not overpoweringly durian but the slight aftertaste gave a nod to that characteristic pungency. OK, so it’s an acquired taste but these pastries will have you hooked after a visit or two.
It’s a universal truth that however stuffed we are with savoury dishes, there is always a little space for dessert, and if you can only manage a vey airy pud then try the Malaysian Cake. It has a warm tan from brown sugar and is as light as a feather. It’s steamed rather than baked so it’s moist and an ideal accompaniment to a cup of tea.
The star of the dessert selection is without a doubt the Egg Yolk Custard Bun. These look like smooth and well-rounded snowballs but there is a sunny, sweet and hot centre that should be treated with respect. My advice is to use the fork provided to cut into the fluffy dough and release the yolky magma which will cool slightly as it flows. This is the most memorable dessert I have had in Chinatown and I can recommend it to anyone who wants a truly different dessert
I hadn’t known what to expect from Dumplings’ Legend. It could have been a humid café offering stodgy and heavy dishes that would be bound to settle like bricks but I found a clean, bright and busy restaurant with a host of regulars and that’s always a good sign. The staff are helpful, smiling, efficient and charming but the food is what will bring you back time and again. I am impressed, and I look forward to my own return to try the non-dumpling menu in the near future. My expectation of good quality in the dishes is high, although I wonder if they could perhaps find another Egg Yolk Custard Bun somewhere on the premises as well.
15-16 Gerrard Street
Chinatown, London W1D 6JE
Phone: 020 7494 1200
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018