The word on the foodie street is that Chinese food in London is nothing very special and that, unlike Indian food, there’s no good reason to seek it out when visiting. Accordingly, when I was here last August I didn’t look at any Chinese restaurants. However, when your visit is not for a week or two but for three months the prospect of going without any kind of Chinese food is untenable—for us anyway. As it turns out, one of London’s better reviewed Sichuan restaurants is a hop, skip and jump from our flat—we’ve already eaten there once and I’ll have a report once we’ve eaten there again. But how about non-Sichuan Chinese food?
When you’re living in another city for three months you also need to outfit your kitchen. Our flat is furnished but the owners’ conception of necessary appliances doesn’t extend to a rice cooker. And so we sallied forth recently in search of one. As there are no major supermarkets near us—only a smaller outpost each of Tesco and Waitrose—Chinatown seemed like the best bet. And since we were going to be there I looked around to see what the better reviewed restaurants might be—and since we were going to be there at lunch time I particularly looked for dim sum.
Early signs were not good. A number of reports say that the best Chinese food in London is no longer found in Chinatown and that most places in Chinatown are somewhat tired. Sort of like Los Angeles, then, it seemed. One of the few that seemed to show up on a number of lists of the better places to eat dim sum in London was Joy King Lau. As luck would have it, it was just a few steps from the supermarket we had planned to visit, and so we showed up at their door. Our expectations were not high—it only needed to be better than the dim sum in the Twin Cities, which is pretty uninspiring. And…it turned out to be quite a bit better than decent.
Located a bit off the main Chinatown drags of Gerrard St. and Lisle St., Joy King Lau is spread over three floors, though neither of the two we saw encompasses a particularly large space. We arrived around 1’ish and the ground floor dining room was pretty full. We ended up on the middle floor. It was quite empty when we arrived but by 1.45 it too had filled up. The clientele was quite mixed, both ethnically and generationally. The tables are a bit too close to each other and the decor is somewhere in the borderlands between pleasant and drab, but it has a nice atmosphere nonetheless. There are no carts here—you order off the menu and if you’re not on the ground floor your order comes up a dumb waiter and is brought to your table.
As we were there only for dim sum we looked only at the dim sum menu. It seemed to cover all the standard dim sum all-stars with a few things we’re not used to seeing in the US. We ended up sticking mostly to the standards anyway. Everything came out piping hot and fresh. The average quality was above average and a few things were on par with iterations at the better places in the San Gabriel Valley (outside Los Angeles). For what we ate and brief commentary please launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for cost and final thoughts.
Something I didn’t pay attention to while ordering was price. It wasn’t listed on the dim sum menu itself and I just sort of assumed it would be on the cheaper side. The total came to £60 all-in and while this may well be cheap by London standards it felt a little high for how much we ate: we had 12 orders, so an average of £5/order with vat. and service charge included. We were the equivalent of three adults eating and so I guess it came to £20/head—which, I suppose is on the cheaper side in London (and it’s about the price for dim sum of lesser quality in the Twin Cities).
I still probably wouldn’t recommend Joy King Lau to anyone visiting London for a short trip—certainly not if you’re from the Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York areas. It doesn’t compare to the top tier in the San Gabriel Valley but it compares quite favourably with a place like Empress Pavilion in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. But if you’re coming in from a place with marginal dim sum, if any, it’s certainly plausible. And if we lived here we’d happily come back. And we may do so on this trip as well—though I think for our next dim sum outing we might branch out elsewhere (recommendations from Londoners, if any are reading, are highly welcome).