It hasn’t always been, but my favourite restaurant in the world, Joy King Lau, is now nestled between M&M world and the Nickelodeon shop. It’s on the wrong side of Chinatown, next to the only empty cinema in Leicester square and now opposite a Burger & Lobster, but it’s basically my happy place. Joy King Lau is definitely a Londoner’s dim sum secret because it is pretty unassuming from the outside, but has been gaining notoriety in recent years, which for some people (My father) is an outrage as they raised their prices last year for the first time since 1989. They’ve also got a brand new menu with pictures, another outrage for the regulars, there’s no fun in ordering mystery meals when you can see the unflattering picture.
Despite all these things, Joy King Lau is still an incredibly cheap, bloody delicious and authentic dim sum restaurant. I’ve been going since before I was a tiny baby and have been going very (very) regularly ever since. I can have sat down and ordered in the space of five minutes no worries, I’ve got all the good stuff.
Their two standouts are their Cheung Fun and Shanghai Dumplings. Cheung Fun on the menu is described as chinese lasagne, a description that once you have it sitting in front of you makes absolutely no sense. They are big white slippery slimey tubes filled with whole prawns in a dark soy and vinegar dressing. Big albino primordial slugs basically, but once they have slithered into your mouth, you aren’t complaining anymore. If you were Italian you would be very confused, but I’m not so I’m going to slurp up anything lasagne-esque or not.
Shanghai dumplings are big soup-filled dumplings with pork and prawn. I don’t know how they get the soup in there, one day it will be my mission to unlock the secret, but for now it doesn’t matter as long as they are always there waiting for my greedy chopsticks. There is a tendency with dim sum to eat faster than is normally physically possible, but shanghai dumplings are the one dumpling you’ve got to slow down for. If you shove one those soup beasts in your mouth straight away, there is going to be some of the hottest liquid known to man coursing down your throat. Honestly bathing in boiling magma would seem like a glacial dip compared to the heat of the magic shanghai dumpling soup bursting in your mouth. I recommend a five minute wait time for optimal temperature control. Obviously if you are Jim (the other half of Chosen Food) you instead wait five seconds and subsequently almost die – half of overheating and half of deliciousness.
Despite not needing reassurance, the infamy of Joy King Lau is known throughout the land. Due to a drunken conversation with the owner of a local Chinese in a very small Surrey village, I discovered that it was his favourite Chinatown restaurant too. He told me that all the chefs there were from Hong Kong, home of dim sum, an apparently rare occurrence in London kitchens. Wherever these guys are trained they know what they are doing. No matter what day of the week, the place is always full of hungry Chinese clients looking for a taste of home. If you ever want to go on the weekend, especially Sunday, always book in advance.
Whatever flavour noodle you order, always ask for it crispy. The vietnamese spring rolls maybe aren’t Hong Kong traditional but they are amazing. You get a lot of curried squid per serving. No matter how hard you try to figure out what the table of old Chinese ladies next to you have ordered it will be impossible to decipher and is probably almost definitely off-menu. The grilled chive cakes are excellent. Don’t take it personally if it isn’t the friendliest service you’ve ever received, it kind of makes it more fun.
So if you’ve ever wanted to eat like the pig people in Spirited Away, or really enjoy your service without a smile, Joy King Lau is the place for you. Please don’t tell anyone though, if they raise their prices again I think my dad might cry.