16 Lisle Street, London Chinatown WC2H 7BE. manchurianlegends.com
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Just the numbers please,Ã¢â‚¬Â said the teenage, spiky-haired waiter, mercifully relieving me from bellycrashing through the visceral names of some of the 150 dishes at Manchurian Legends. Pretty much the whole body is covered nose to tail and the menu is not for the faint-hearted: stir-fried pigs intestines with leek, spicy pigs knuckle, marinated duck tongues, stir-fried chicken gizzard and heartÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
This Chinatown newcomer is (pig) shouldering the trend for regional Chinese cooking, and this time the food is from Dongbei in north-eastern China, apparently full of industry and mining works.
And perhaps that’s why the portions were so damn gigantic, enough to feed a factory of mechanics. And the chilli Ã¢â‚¬â€œ flecks of green and red rings decorating everything we ate Ã¢â‚¬â€œ is of industrial strength. Go slow if not used to such heat.
We started with some lovely, fragrant pork and pickle vegetable dumplings in flash white parcels and some Manchurian BBQ lamb and squid skewers at just £1.50 a pop. The lamb ones were supreme, encrusted in a dry-roasted cumin, chilli and salt casing and nicely rare inside. The squid were OK but a bit flabby.
The stir-fried crab with red and green chillis was meant to be just my dish but was big enough for four Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a whole crab that looked like it had been wrestled to the kitchen floor. The waitress helpfully loosened up the pinky scrapes of flesh in the carapace.
It was very tasty, when you could find any bits of snowy meat. The shell, being deep-fried, was not the easiest to navigate as it had been fried and butchered in the style of a soft-shell crab, but without crackers, it was hard to get the meat out. I wasn’t sure either about the gelatinous batter.
The Xin-Jian-style fried lamb was flavoursome Ã¢â‚¬â€œ lots of curly lamb fragments on a marshbed of perhaps too much onion with the ubiquitous chilli rings. It did go on a bit though, a little continuous. Already this was too much for two people but we’d made the mistake of ordering two vegetable-ish side dishes and it was too late to cancel.
Spicy aubergine with minced pork had lots of juicy aubergine but the pork seemed a bit additional. It was satisfyingly oily though so just as well the black fungus and Chinese cabbage, with cartilege-textured mushrooms, was a healthy counter dish.
Downstairs seemed a bit sullen but upstairs, the place is humming Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a cheerful red and black cafÃƒÂ© with sunbright lighting, vintage photos on the walls and diners separated into low, wooden booths. Most diners seemed young, excitable and of Chinese origin Ã¢â‚¬â€œ possibly not surprising given the location Ã¢â‚¬â€œ with a few bohemian ex-rock stars chucked in. But all in all, cheap, cheerful and a great place to chow down if you’re not too squeamish.