At the heart of nearly every big city in the world is a vibrant Chinatown, a place with fruit markets, restaurants, and occasionally the somewhat seedy looking bar or game parlor. London is certainly no exception, with a good sized Chinatown tucked away at Leicester and Lisle Streets. According to a tour guidebook, two restaurants in particular stand out in this area: Golden Dragon and Joy King Lau. Since the Golden Dragon had an electrical failure and was closed (they had a sign and everything all set up…this must be a common thing), we pressed our luck and found the Joy King Lau, just off the intersection of Lisle and Leicester Street.
Joy King Lau is a rather interesting place because it looks more like a converted apartment building than a true restaurant. There isn’t a big dining hall to speak of; the serving area is split over five floors, each with its own staff. The kitchen, I’d assume, is somewhere on the middle floor, but that’s anybody’s guess. Each floor is ridiculously cramped, and on the weekend it can be almost stifling. Calm atmosphere? Hardly.
As with many Chinese restaurants, dim sum is available from 11 AM until the early evening. That doesn’t restrict the main menu, however; in fact, everything is made to order, so you can get pretty much anything you want. Just try to get everything in one go; they can get sort of cranky if you keep ordering things here and there, as the kitchen gets backlogged by tiny orders, and slows the entire restaurant down. With its annoyingly complicated layout, it really magnifies the problem tenfold.
The food fare, however, is something to be proud of. The dim sum is typical fare, with the classics like siu mai, char siu bao, and lo mai kai all on the menu. However, the quality of the food is much better than anything else I’ve had. Embracing the need for healtheir food, the restaurant uses significantly less oil and no MSG, leading to a fresher product with much better taste. My only complaint is that the siu mai and some of the other items are a bit too salty for their own good, but it’s a minor issue. Really.
The menu is also strong in its own right. Leading the list of starters is aromatic duck, which is a house variation on the ever popoular peking duck dish. Instead of taking thick cuts of duck, the aromatic duck uses shredded duck, making it much crispier than the peking duck. The spices used also makes it tastier. Thus, this is a dish that is not nearly as oily, and yet more flavorful and healthier. Add the hoisin sauce and vegetables, and this is something incredible.
I would have loved to try the rest of the menu, but by the time I hit the fried rice I was stuffed. If the aromatic duck is any indicator, however, the dinner is clearly worth the price, which I must mention, is not bad. After all, this is Chinatown, and all the Chinese restaurants compete with each other with prices as well as food quality.
Atmosphere aside, Joy King Lau is a must-hit when you go to London’s Chinatown. It’s cheap, it’s flavorful, and it’s healthy. Once you’re done, enjoy a milk tea and take in the sights around you. Chinatown is a unique place to be.
**Excellent, healthy food for a good price
**Can’t beat having lunch in the middle of Chinatown
**Weird atmosphere with the apartment-like setting
**Cramped rooms with brusque service
Joy King Lau
3 Leicester Street, London, WC2H 7BL
Tel. 0871 3328291