Central Cross is the re-branded and re-developed heart of Chinatown that links Gerrard Street to Lisle Street and Charing Cross Road. As part of its spruce up it has inexplicably lost its landmark pagoda, rendering what could have been a focal point for the area into a rather bleak pedestrian expanse, though it has at least gained a new pair of restaurants, Modern Shanghai and its neighbour JinLi, a sequel to the well-established JinLi on nearby Leicester Street.
JinLi is a smart (by Chinatown standards) space, with a split-level dining room spread over the ground floor and mezzanine. In many other respects, however, it offers a very traditional Chinatown experience, most noticeably in the brusque and chaotic service – though unlike many restaurants nearby, our food took an absolute age to arrive.
What was eventually brought to the table was decently done, but nothing out of the ordinary. We thought the spice levels were tame compared to some other restaurants with a strong Szechuan influence, though it should be said that there is a very long list of appetisers that will be unusual to Western palates: pork lung, shredded pig’s ear, spicy pig’s foot and the like.
We wimped out with prawn toast, salt-and-pepper squid and veggie spring rolls followed by kung po prawns and braised aubergine hot pot with minced pork – all nice enough, but nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly lacking the thrill and refinement of some other recent Chinese openings. But if you’re looking for the reassurance of a conventional Chinatown experience – and you’re not in a hurry – JinLi should do just fine.