Monday, 12 October 2009

Keelung review - Taiwanese street food in London Chinatown

Keelung is along the quieter Lisle Street

Keelung, serving Taiwanese hawker fare, is located along Lisle Street in Chinatown, which is not exactly where the action is. If not for See Woo, which is a popular Chinese grocery store, Keelung would probably have to count on word by mouth. Then again, with Liang Shan Hao Han - The Legend Continues, an off shot from Liang Shan Hao Han (Leong's Legend) just a street away, there is a critical mass of Taiwanese restaurants in the area.

We were in Chinatown on a late Saturday afternoon and was looking for a quick bite, and it was a tussle between Jen Café and Keelung. We decided to try something new and headed towards Keelung.

From what I gathered, Keelung was named after a major port city in northeastern Taiwan and I imagine the restaurant to be serving the Keelung's local food. At the first glance, the menu did remind me of Liang Shan Hao Han's but upon closer inspection, there were some subtle differences.

Siu Loung Bao (or Xiao Long Bao)

The Keelung Siu Loung Bao (see: how to eat a Xiao Long Bao) - 8pc for £5.50 tasted rather decent. Though I couldn't really taste the difference that one would expect with 'Keelung' attached to its name, it was nevertheless one of the more palatable ones.

Won Ton in Spicy Sauce - more oily than spicy

I ordered Won Ton (dumplings) in Spicy Sauce - £4.20 on a whim mainly because I was hoping for some soft Cantonese styled dumplings. I should have known really; Taiwanese dumplings, unlike the Cantonese counterpart, are wrapped in tougher and thicker dough. The spicy sauce was a tad oily and was essentially chilly oil. It was definitely a hearty dish, nothing to shout about really.

Crispy Oyster - salt and pepper battered

The Crispy Oyster - £5 was a wild card. Having just had some nicely done fried calamari a couple of days back, we thought of trying some oysters. Like all oyster dishes, you would have to like the taste of oysers to begin with. That, I have somehow acquired after feasting on oysters at Whitstable. Lighly coated with salt and pepper batter, it was a welcome change from the rest of the dishes we ordered. Interestingly, it oysters were far from crispy. Perhaps Keelung should rename the dish as Salt and Pepper Oyster. Hmm.

Essentially minced pork rice - a stomach filler

I ordered Tainan Grounded Pork Rice Bowl - £3.80 purely to fill up my stomach as I didn't think that the oysters and dumplings would suffice (I was wrong). A simple workman dish with some minced pork sprinkled on a bowl of plain rice topped with two slices of pickes. Would probably not order this again if I were to return.

Taro and Red Bean Paste pastry - a surprise winner

The surprise winner of the meal came in the form of dessert. Although we were rather stuffed, we had to try out the Warmed Taro and Red Bean Paste - £3. Lightly crisped on the outside, soft on the inside, the two layers - red bean paste encompassed by a thin layer of taro were exposed once you slice it open. Few Chinese restaurants do their desserts well and in my opinion, this is a must order at Keelung.

Keelung's décor is rather interesting. While BaoZi Inn has got its Chairman Mao's posters and Leong's Legend has its Inn theme complete with mock weaponary, Keelung offers a huge poster of what I could only imagine to be a scene of the port city Keelung, and just round the corner, you have vintage photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Mohammed Ali and a whole lot of other celebrities. Bizarre combination you might think but then again, the last thing we need is another Leong's Legend wannabe in London Chinatown.

Address: 6 Lisle Street, London WC2H 7BG
Tel: 0207 256 5045
Nearest Tube station: Leicester Square

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £15 ppService charge: 10%
Taste: ***
Service: **
Ambience: ****
Suitable for: a late afternoon snack. Note that staff will ask you for additional gratuity even after service charge of 10% is included in your bill.

Keelung on Urbanspoon

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