Monday, 8 June 2009



If Keelung was to bill itself as a dim sum restaurant for lunch, no matter how pseudo the term, then I think that most of us will be disappointed by the offerings. Taiwanese cuisine, which Keelung is modelled on, is more restrictive, earthier, perceptively plainer and possesses less impact on the umami stakes than its Cantonese counterpart (quit the jokes on this). Came here for lunch with daughter on the strength of Kate’s helpful review here.

Let’s get two usual but boring points out of the way first. Unusually for a Chinese restaurant, the English name echoes the Chinese, Keelung is named after the port city in the northeastern part of Taiwan. And it’s owned by the chap who gave us the two Leong’s Legends (here and here for the best xiaolongbaos in London) and countless of debatable Japanese eateries that include the Hi Sushi chain. The restaurant is less dark and pretentious than the two Leongs in the same vicinity of Chinatown; the contemporary take suggests a more serious and mature dining atmosphere. I found the service here exemplary.

The A4 sized ‘dim sum’ menu is also your order form whereby you tick what you want for the meal. A tackily made À la carte menu (kitschy plastic that’s in conflict with the perceived upmarket nature of the place) is also presented for those who wish to push the boat out a bit.

What we had for lunch-

(I didn’t bother with the xiaolongbao as it can only be predictably good as the other two sibling restaurants)

Seafood Fried Rice
Some purists feel ashamed of ordering the dish, but if it tickles go ahead, just don't order Thai Green Curry in a Chinese restaurant or Singapore Fried Vermicelli in a Vietnamese. The fried rice is a good test for Chinese restaurants and thankfully this was very good, the decent amount of fish helped. Recommended.

Fried Prawn Rolls
Not convincing. Tasted bland and cooked from frozen.

Taiwan Mini Kebab with Pork
Twice the size and nearly half the price of the similar 'sandwich' found at Ba Shan and just as good.

Not the deep-fried cabbage green variety but the real thing braised in soy sauce. Daughter cried eugh! I begged to differ, simplistic and somewhat comforting to eat chew.

Fu Zhou Bun

This is effectively steamed buns with a meat filling that's been pan fried. Good.

Ban-Ban Chicken
To be honest the sight of drumsticks unnerves me, I'm more a thigh man. This soy sauce based dish was ok but the Cantonese Soy Chicken is miles better.

In the end daughter insisted that we go back to either Harbour City or Phoenix Palace instead for our future dim sum fixes. However I was less disappointed, it’s just simply a case of I can quite easily have the proper Cantonese version every week whereas the Taiwanese ‘tapas’ (bloody well hate that analogy) is more 'once a month'.


Twenty-seven hours later I came back here for dinner with Mr Lo, a restaurateur who owns a rather large establishment in Chinatown. Knowing that the place was going to be packed in the evening, we booked a booth (banquette). I love booths or perhaps they’re more appropriate for photography.

During dinner, there’s an impressive display of fresh fish displayed by the entrance.

The idea is to choose which fish appeals to you and then relate to the helpful chart above that guides you to the best cooking methods for it. I was also lucky to have a dining companion who can read Chinese from the other menu, the English description falls way short of how some or most of the dishes are cooked or prepared. The Boneless Pig Trotters dish was one such example. Again to confirm my lunch experience, the service at dinner was excellent. Just before we go onto the food, take my advice and order tea with the food (Chinese tea is perfect for countering the oiliness that's inherent and rife). I recommend the blend of Pu'er and Chrysanthemum, you’ll love me for this.

What we had for dinner-

Turnip, Tofu and Mixed Meat Balls in Sweet Sauce
Not brilliant as everything was drowned in some kind of spiced hoisin sauce, the latter should’ve be presented in a separate bowl for dipping. This dish is reminiscent of the great Malaysian dish of Yong Tau Foo but ultimately inferior.

Turnip Pork Ribs Soup
Clear soup with Chinese radish and battered ribs. For ying and yang diets, this is a ying (cooling) dish. Very good.

Gray (sic) Clams cooked à la Sichuan Hot and Spicy
We actually wanted Mantis Shrimps (pissing prawns in Chinese!), but they were out of them. The clams were terrific; sweet and fresh tasting. The Sichuan pepper once again caught me unaware, beware! Another must order dish.

Rice Wine Prawn in Bamboo Port
Three fat prawns in a herby soup that included Goji berries. Absolutely wonderful, be sure to order this when you’re here next.

Tainan Noodle and Mince Pork in Soup
Ordered this token dish to appraise Keelung’s push on Taiwanese street food. Once again we were impressed with this. Subtle spiciness complimenting a lovely soup stock. Another must order.

Boneless Pig Trotters
Heavy, stodgy and too much for two diners. Otherwise the meat was lovingly melty and unctuous. Recommended.

Mixed Cool Crystal Balls
As stated by Kate, this pudding dish was by enlarge an acquired taste. Out of the three fillings (to include eggy custard and sesame paste) we preferred the red bean paste. Look if you guys are hankering after something sweet, saunter off to Amato for some lovely cakes and coffee instead.

Keelung is indeed a decent addition to Chinatown. Unlike Ba Shan,Yauatcha, etc, this place offers tremendous value for money for the food they serve. I’m certainly going back. Highly recommended for dinner but only so-so for lunch. Enjoy.

6 Lisle Street

London WC2H 7BG


Su-Lin said...

I'm really impressed by those prices - I'm definitely going to visit! Went to Kopitiam on your recommendation yesterday and I liked it!

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

Looking forward to my visit, it's at the top of my list after reading Kate's review. I had dim sum at Leong's Legend the other day and thought some things were really good (loved the Taiwan mini kebab with a giant piece of pork belly), but not everything we ordered was classic Cantonese dim sum, but Taiwanese xiao chi. Now I have to decide on lunch or dinner at Keelung!

Helen said...

It seems you and the hermanos visited at the same time then! Apparently the Xia Long Bao were rubbish so you had a lucky escape! I will definitely give this place a go though.

bellaphon said...

Su-Lin- If you're going for dinner, you'll need to bring more than your other half. The more the merrier for obvious reasons and cheaper as well. Looking forward to your post on T&T.

HYL- You've had the 'small eats' at LL, I suggest dinner again. It might well echo your epic dinner at Hunan.

Helen- I'm a little perplexed by Hermanos' findings on the xiao long bao. I'm pretty damned sure these dumplings are made in a central kitchen somewhere (they should all be uniformly consistent be it at either Leong's or Keelung). Poor Hermano 2 must have been dished out some end of batch dumplings.

Hollow Legs said...

Mmmm trotters. Yet another to add to my list!

Zoe Perrett said...

I reviewed this place too!

Unknown said...

Really disappointed with lunch!

Dreary eel fried noodles - matchstick sized bits of eel, about one slice in total,lost in noodles, with tea came to over £10

About £5 more, but £5 less food value, than rest of Chinatown restaurants in vicinity would offer at lunch.

bellaphon said...

wgsimpson- Sorry to hear about your experience here; I would guess that this isn't the right place for a one dish meal and it's best to come here with a group of friends for dinner instead. I tend to review a place after two visits, as you've read the lunch I had was passable but dinner was much better. Thank you for commenting anyway.

Mr Noodles said...

With all the mixed reviews,I'm unsure about coming here but your dinner experience may change my mind. Seafood grid is a great idea although Jay Rayner in the Observer didn't seem to get it.

bellaphon said...

Mr Noodles- Hi again. Most reviews are inherently subjective. Give it a go yourself, you might be surprised. If you can't speak Cantonese, drag someone with you who does, it makes an immense difference!

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