By Suzanne Parker
When I sunk my teeth into the succulent winner of the appetizer category at Queens: A Taste of the World, the scarfing event held annually by the Queens Economic Development Corp., I knew it was time to pay another visit to London Lennie’s.
This venerable institution (and there aren’t many restaurants in Queens or elsewhere to which that descriptor applies) walked away with top honors for its appetizers for the second year in a row. This year it was for the restaurant’s fresh Florida panko-crusted shrimp over green Japanese noodles with tangerine sauce. Last year its crab cakes ruled. It also won a special award in 2003 for “Best Restaurant Partner” for its long and laudable record of civic-mindedness.
London Lennie’s has been part of the Queens scene since 1959. It began as a fish ‘n’ chips shop and fresh fish market. Lennie himself could be observed frying the fish in what was then an open food preparation counter. In the 1970s the restaurant grew in size and ambition and eventually morphed into the upscale seafood eatery that it is today. It is owned and run by Lennie’s widow, Joan Barnes, and their son Les Barnes.
London Lennie’s has a loyal following. On an ordinary Tuesday night in early May, this large restaurant was three-quarters full. Going there on a weekend without a reservation is chancy if you don’t want to wait for a table.
While examining the Tuesday specials, we were served cole slaw and a round loaf of bread. The cole slaw was first-rate, but the bread was somewhat sub-par. It was fresh from the oven but spongy rather than chewy.
The daily specials include some of the more creative and seasonal offerings. Some are listed on the menu, and others are offered verbally by the waiter. Unfortunately, our waiter was a mumbler — and subtly grouchy, to boot — so he didn’t do the verbal specials justice. While we were attacking our desserts, the waitress at the next table made us regret not having demanded a more eloquent recitation or a different server. She made everything sound so good.
We started with a soup — crab corn chowder. It was densely creamy, sweet and didn’t stint on the crab. Our other appetizer was a jumbo lump crabmeat cocktail. The crab was very fresh Maryland Blue (when we asked our waiter what kind of crab it was he replied “lump”) and the portion generous. It is a pricey appetizer but adequate for two diners to share.
Finding stuffed shrimp with Maryland crabmeat, a Creole meuniere sauce and Cajun potatoes quickened my pulse. That dish was the subject of one of my favorite Emeril episodes. The shrimp are stuffed with a tasty blend of crabmeat, bread crumbs, shallots and seasonings, and they are drenched in a rich creamy sauce with a kick.
The Cajun potatoes are a mix of white and sweet. This dish would have been extraordinary, but the kitchen’s timing was off, so the sauce had cooled by the time it was served. The cooled sauce was delicious, but after we sent it back to be rewarmed, it lost something. The sauce formed a slight skin, and the potatoes lost their original texture.
Our other entrée was pesto-crusted Canadian halibut on a bed of oven-roasted tomatoes and leeks. The pesto crust was more subtle than one would expect from such an assertive ingredient. As with all fish here, the halibut was first-rate.
For dessert we shared a rosemary-scented apple turnover with caramel sauce and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The scent of rosemary was undiscernible and the apples were mushy, but the Ben & Jerry’s and caramel sauce carried the day.
The Bottom Line
This is a spot that has built its well-deserved reputation for quality seafood over many years and retained a loyal clientele. If you stick with the basics such as fish and chips, or any type of broiled or fried fish or seafood, you can feel confident of an excellent meal. If you veer into the more uncharted waters of gourmet cuisine, chances are you’ll have a lucky catch. On weekdays there’s a nice early bird dinner for $19.95 for those seated by 5:30 p.m., and on Tuesdays a Shore Dinner including a Maine lobster with the works is all inclusive at $21.95.
63-88 Woodhaven Blvd.
Rego Park, NY 11374
Cuisine: Upscale seafood
Setting: Large, well-appointed restaurant with nautical and English motifs.
Service: Generally good; avoid the waiter with the little beard.
Hours: L&D daily
Children: Kid’s menu
Private Parties: Yes
Credit cards: The usual
Noise level: tolerable
Handicap accessible: Yes
Jumbo Crabmeat Cocktail…$15.95
Pesto-Crusted Canadian Halibut…$22.95
Stuffed Shrimp with Maryland crabmeat, Creole meuniere sauce & Cajun potatoes…$22.95
Broiled Seafood Platter with sole, scrod, shrimp and scallops…$18.95
Fish & Chips made with scrod…$15.95
Homemade Maryland Crabcakes with herb mayonnaise…$21.95