What’s in a name? When it comes to restaurants, are names terribly important, and if so, what brings in first timers? I have to say, the Dainty Legend Chinese Kitchen appealed instantly.
Sitting on the corner of Yorktown Square in Launceston, tucked behind the Grand Chancellor Hotel and quietly beckoning like a Chinese dancer in fine robes, this restaurant opens out like a Chinese puzzle box.
The décor is definitely upmarket, with elegant carved furniture and the walls festooned with artwork. This is one expensive fit out and the main dining area is just the beginning. Who’s behind all this? Fred Yu and Lixia Liu have poured their energies into this quaint spot, and with chef Shi cooking the Cantonese and Sichuan menu, we were excited, as the waiter squeaked across the room from the bar and set our menus down beside us.
I giggled. He actually squeaked. I looked at his feet – large running shoes that creaked and squeaked on the polished floor let us know instantly where he was. We were late – it was almost 2.30pm, and we were worried that it would be too late for lunch and too early for dinner.
“No problem. No problem. Chef still here – you order what you want and Chef Shi cook for you.”
How refreshing. After having recently read so many posts on Social Media about the appalling service in Tasmania, here we were in a kind and welcoming environment that put the hospitable back into hospitality. Bing!
On the way in, I’d picked up a small colour brochure that promised “an experience like no other,” and a “culinary experience in the ambience of a private gallery.” Well it is that alright. Lixia is apparently an accomplished artist, and her work surrounds us as we chuckle at the squeaking waiter and await our late lunch.
Function rooms around us and upstairs abound, from the “Spring Blossom Auditorium” to “The Lotus Room” to “The Heavenly Cloud Room” and “The Double Happiness Room”, “The Phoenix Room” and “The Eight Treasure Room” all named after the artworks that dominate the spaces I would guess. This is one ambitious undertaking, and as our food starts to come out, we are pleasantly surprised.
I say that only because I took my mother to Beijing in 1985, and was going to open a chain of restaurants in Beijing. My lawyer wisely advised me against that folly, and our experiences of settings and food were mixed, to say the least. It’s so often the way, isn’t it? That an entrepreneur will spend a huge amount on the décor and the food and service falls way short of the surroundings.
A case in point: in 1985 the only Western restaurant in the whole of Beijing at the time was owned by Pierre Cardin, and called “Maxim’s of Paris“. It was a weird plastic version, complete with imitation Maxim’s mirror in the foyer, and two ‘waiters’ hanging over a bar at the front listening to bright sounding Chinese music. They regarded us suspiciously at first, then ushered us in to a table down the front under a small stage, where a middle aged Chinese man came out and sang magnificent Italian opera arias as part of the very mixed entertainment. The food? I honestly can’t remember it, so it must have been dreadful. But the experience? Surreal. I wouldn’t have swapped it for the world.
And as our squeaky waiter waited, patiently, while we perused the menu, I struggled to float back to the present, and downtown Launceston. We had ordered a few dainties to try: a ‘Fried Lotus root with Pork’ $6; Duck Spring Roll $6; Fried Chinese Style Beef $5; Prawn Dumpling $10 and Siu Mai $10. The siu mai and dumplings were soft, tasty, and perfect for their genre. The Duck Spring Roll was crispy on the outside with a melting pot of flavours and textures inside, and the fried beef was like our potato cakes but with beef inside rather than the humble spud. Delicious and different.
The only slight disappointment was the Fried Lotus Root with pork which was sort of like a deep fried battered pork parcel, but had a slight fatty residue as one chewed and tried. Almost lardish in the mouth feel, and for me, not as clean as it could have been.
On the whole? A good and worthwhile experience, and certainly a restaurant I would visit again without hesitation.
Fred and Lixia are obviously dedicated to bringing some interesting flavours and experiences to Launceston, and have invested their hearts and souls into this funny little big place that leaves one almost with the question: “What was that?”
Well, it was a pleasant change, that’s what it was. A boutique, tiny place that has a big heart, and is trying hard. Not the usual plastic and laminex barns of the old Chinese restaurants of the past, thank goodness. Somewhere that spans that cliché and brings it into this century, this era, this town.
I wish them all the best.