It is very rare for me to feel that the design of a restaurant and its management style can work so badly with each other that it turns the dining experience miserable, until I went to Dumplings Legend.
Its name suggested their dumplings, or Xiao Long Bao in Mandarin to be precise, are so amazing that they are legendary. It is hard to find great dumplings in Chinatown. Chinese Experience used to do the best ones but they folded last year, unfortunately. You can imagine my excitement when I first heard about this restaurant.
If you eat on the ground floor like we did, you would walk past a gallery kitchen in which the chefs prepare all the dumplings fresh. It was a pleasure to watch and certainly my appetite was stimulated. Promising start!
The restaurant is mainly decorated in white- white painted plastered wall with mirrors. It certainly looks smart and modern from Gerrard Street. But what the owner and the designer overlooked is that this kind of wall finishes are very bad in absorbing sound. On the contrary, the hard surfaces reflect the sound back to the space efficiently. It does not help that they were playing music loudly. This ‘music’, together with the chatting of the diners, were ‘amplfiied’ in the dining area. It was very unpleasant. People had to raise their voices in order to talk to each other. So the space got noisier and noisier as it got busier. It was a vicious cycle! Ideally they should play music when the restaurant is quiet to build an atmosphere, but turn the music down when the restaurant is busy. No one is listening to, or enjoying the piped music!
Putting noise aside, another problem I had with the restaurant was the staff and the flooring. It is a strange complaint, I know. What did they have to do with each other? Well, I am not complaining because no one came and asked what we would like to drink 10 minutes after we sat down (it was true though!). It was not because the top of our table was very wobbly and the staff did nothing even though they saw us lifting the tablecloth to investigate (it was, sadly, also true though). The waitresses just rushed everywhere. The new vinyl floor must have been fixed onto some loose timber. When they walked around in turbo speed, the floor bounced up and down accordingly. It was far from calm and was very distracting. In addition, the tables were packed together and the aisles were quite narrow. My chair got brushed by the turbo waiters on average about 2 times a minute. I am used to eating on the street, in the hawker centres or food courts in the Far East. But I do expect more in this kind of ‘modern’ and ‘designed’ setting.
We ordered the special spicy dumplings and the classic dumplings with crab meat. To me, a good dumpling should have thin skin and there should be a nice broth inside which bursts out inside the mouth. It is a delicate balance as a thin skin means that it is hard to hold the broth inside before the dumpling gets to the mouth. Dumplings Legend’s dumplings have just the right broth inside in terms of temperature (sometimes the broth could be too hot and it burns you in other restaurants) but unfortunately not in terms of taste. The spicy one is not that spicy but very salty- it reminded me of artificial MSG. I could not taste any crab meet in the classic dumplings with crab meat. Each order of dumpling has 8 pieces by default. They are served in bamboo steamers. The dumplings should have been placed with a good distance from each other so that when they are cooked, they will not stick to each other. Our dumplings stuck together and the skin was torn as the dumpling was lifted up. Careless mistake!
The problem I have with Dumplings Legend is the lack of attention to details. They have created a great theme but failed to develop it successfully. They can certainly learn from the real ‘dumplings legend’ Din Tai Fung . Having a modern minimal looking interior does not automatically mean that the restaurant becomes modern and upmarket. The manager needs to run the place with a modern mind, not like a traditional Chinese restaurant. It is very rare that I wanted to leave so badly in a restaurant. I lost the mood to try dessert by the end of the meal.
Most of the errors in service could be down to teething mistakes, and the staff just being rushed off their feet, and while I hope the restaurant will improve and flourish, I won’t be returning for a long time, if ever.Dumplings Legend
A meal for two with tea, £35 incl. service charge.
15-16 Gerrard Street, London, W1D 6JE
Telephone: 020 7494 1200