Serving up quality northeastern Chinese cuisine, Manchurian Legends brings some well-priced reliability to Chinatown. Which is handy, given the tricky nature of finding somewhere good in these parts.
Chinatown is a confusing and hectic place, and it’s hard to tell the quality eateries from the overpriced ones. Still, Manchurian Legends stands out straight away thanks to its prettier-than-average décor. The open black and white exterior has huge windows and a bold sign written in both Chinese and English, immediately grabbing your attention. Inside, the black and white colour scheme is actually rather sophisticated, with high-backed wooden seating in black that matches the dark tables, acting in total contrast to the starkly white walls covered in black and white tiles and black and white photos. Sound too much? Actually, it really does work and is rather unique for a restaurant of this type.
Thanks to a flurry of good reviews in the press, Manchurian Legends has become something of a hit, even by busy Chinatown standards. As such, you may be turned away when the restaurant is full – particularly likely on Friday and Saturday nights. Go a bit earlier in the week and you'll stand a much better chance. The staff are friendly enough and the food is served quickly, albeit it in a ‘when it’s cooked, it’s served’ way which means you have to share, or risk sitting there watching your dining partner eat while your stomach rumbles.
The focus on the menu is food from from Dongbei; a northeastern region of China. However, you won’t be stumped by what to order as the large menu contains options you’ll probably have tried before. It’s best to just order a bunch of starters and main courses to share, and then tuck in.
One must-try dish is the shredded kelp. It arrives as a huge pile of greens in a light soy sauce, and covered in sesame seeds. It shows what the kitchen can do when a simple vegetable is turned into a dish in its own right rather than a side order, and at £4.50 it represents excellent value for money. Also great is the sweet, perfectly tender Mandarin pork served with – unusually – cucumber. Far from being slimy and bland, the cucumber is surprisingly crisp, working well with the softness of the pork. It's all covered in a sweet, slightly sticky sauce that brings all the flavours together nicely. And again priced at just £4.50, it won't break the bank.
If you fancy a dish with a bit more sauce then opt for the braised pork with glass noodles (£8.50). The pork is, again, cooked perfectly and is tender enough to practically melt in the mouth. It comes in a rich, almost gravy-like sauce with a hit of heat and enough Oriental seasoning to keeps it tasting Chinese. The glass noodles somehow avoid becoming too stodgy (despite being covered in the thick sauce) and add an interesting texture to the dish. Of course, if you want to be adventurous then pig’s intestines are also on offer too - perhaps best left to those looking for a taste of home. At barely £20, three dishes is enough food to feed two people for a lunch and more than enough for one person for dinner, which you could say represents something of a bargain.
The drink offering at Manchurian Legends is typically lacklustre - as it is at many Chinatown restaurants. However, they do have the excellent – and very complementary to the food – choice of Tsing Tao in bottles at just a couple of quid each so it won’t add too much to the total cost of your bill.
The Last Word
Manchurian Legends offers something a bit different, even if the average diner may not fully appreciate the complexities of regional Chinese cuisine. Just check out the good prices and large portions and that should be enough to keep you (very) happy.