Restaurants & Bars

U.K./Ireland

River Melody, Chinatown, London

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River Melody, Chinatown, London

limster | Sep 15, 2012 03:53 PM

A new place located across from Leong's Legends and Rasa Sayang in the former Manchurian Legend's spot (Manchurian Legends has moved to Lisle Street, close to Wulumuchi). The menu describes this place as specialising in the cuisine of Jiangsu in Eastern China, which is largely accurate, save for a few Sichuan and Cantonese dishes here and there, along with the Lanzhou style handpulled noodles and Shanxi style knife shaved noodles.

Those familiar with Shanghainese cuisine will know that it's a combination of the dishes from Jiangsu and Zhejiang; some of these dishes are on the menu at River Melody.

Shen1 jian1 bao1/pan fried buns filled with pork are called Shanghai shui3 jian1 bao1/water fried buns here for some unknown reason. These partly steamed and then pan-fried dumplings appear in 2 forms, one with shell that has a slightly fluffy bread-like texture, similar to the Cantonese steamed buns (e.g. cha siu bao) but slightly thinner, while others resemble the iconic Shanghainese xiao3 long2 bao1 with its firm and thin-ish skin. The rendition at River Melody falls into the latter camp -- they look essentially like xiao3 long2 bao1 that have been pan-fried, and they have a nice brown crisp to the bottom. The dough in the dumpling skins have a slight sweetness to them, and the pork filling is ok. Satisfying, which is good, since they're the only source of these dumplings that I know of in London. (Royal China Club has a distant variant filled with lamb that is excellent, but it's basically another species.)

Kao3 fu1 is a solid rendition of the classic cold dish, nice heft and soft rippy texture to the pieces of wheat gluten, contrasting with soft and slightly stemmy lily buds, peanuts and the occasional shiitake mushroom. The sauce is appropriately sweet and deep, but a tiny shade more clovely flavour from star anise wouldn't hurt. Probably better than what I had at M&Z, though I wished for occasional bites of snappy black wood ear fungus for additional depth of flavour and texture.

Chicken with chestnuts is a homey comfort food. The version here was somewhat weak -- the pieces of chicken could have been more tender and succulent even though they did use the correct thigh cuts with bone. Sauce did show some depth from Chinese rice wine, but the chicken pieces seemed slightly bland, perhaps lacking a penetrating marinate. Chestnuts were pretty good.

The menu had a bunch of cold starters typical of Shanghainese cuisine, including vegetarian goose, smoked fish etc. Also came across various braised pork dishes, such as braised trotters. Prawns stir fried with tea leaves under the seafood section looked right at home, as did a squirrel fish that I'm looking forward to trying (the version of this dish at Empress of Sichuan was somewhat ordinary).

It's newly opened (in the last 3 days), so one could probably expect some variation in quality etc. Worth exploring further as the cuisine isn't common in London.

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