Gosh, Iâ€™m impressed. Iâ€™ve had a few really lousy Dongbei (or Northeastern) suppers in London, and until last night had never had a good one. But a friend and I decided to visit Manchurian Legends, a Chinatown newcomer that has won some enthusiastic reviews, and for once it did live up to the hype. We began with homemade â€˜mixed chilled vegetable saladâ€™ (å®¶å¸¸æ¶¼èœ), an elegant mix of tofu skin, beanthread noodles, carrot, cucumber, spring onion and coriander, deftly seasoned with chilli oil, vinegar and lashings of garlic; and a couple of perky little fried pastries stuffed with scrambled egg and Chinese chives (éŸèœç›’å). The potful of sweet potato â€˜glassâ€™ noodles with sliced belly pork and pickled mustard greens that followed (é…¸èœäº”èŠ±è‚‰ç‡‰ç²‰æ¢) was delightfully soft and slithery in the mouth, soothing and refreshing at the same time, and we enjoyed another local speciality, thick, lazy ribbons of mung bean pasta on a bed of slivered vegetables, adorned with intensely-flavoured pork strips, chilli and vinegar (æ±åŒ—å¤§æ‹‰çš®).
We also ordered the Three Delicacies of the Earth ( åœ°ä¸‰é®®, translated here as â€˜sea spiced three vegetablesâ€™). Whenever Iâ€™ve had this dish before, itâ€™s been greasy, heavy and unappetising: here, the aubergines, potatoes and peppers in a soy-dark sauce were certainly rich, but delicious with plain white rice. The undisputed piece de resistance, however, was the â€˜Deep-fried pork in sweet and sour sauceâ€™ (é‹åŒ…è‚‰). Forget all those sickly-sweet, bright red sweet-sours you may have tasted in other Chinese restaurants, this was glorious: large, very thin slices of pork that had been lightly coated in batter and deep-fried to a perfect crispness, before being tossed with some slivered vegetables in a sophisticated, well-balanced sauce. Whoever was in the kitchen last night (presumably head chef Feng Yanshuang) was on top form, and fully in command of his fire (ç«å€™) and his flavours (èª¿å‘³).
The place, which is run by the folk behind the Leongâ€™s Legends chain, is nice too, with its bookshelves and old black-and-white photographs of Manchuria on the walls, and we found the service good and friendly. Prices were very reasonable too: frankly, the amount of food we ordered could easily have fed three or four people with a little more rice on the side, and the bill came to Â£56.00, including a couple of glasses of wine. As something of a southern Chinese food snob, I really didnâ€™t expect to be so won over by a Dongbei restaurant!!