The sign outside the restaurant translates as ‘drunken men’s tower’ – yet while some Chinatown eateries get rowdy late at night, this seems unlikely at JKL, despite its proximity to Leicester Square. The decor is nicer than it appears from the outside, best described as being on the posh side of nondescript, over all three floors. The clientele is overwhelmingly and reassuringly Chinese, many of whom come for the long-renowned lunchtime dim sum. A robust air-conditioning and ventilation system (switched to US levels of chill on our visit) repels the summer heat and keeps the smell of grease in the kitchen.
If you’re not in a hurry (and not wearing anything white or that needs dry-cleaning), it’s worth ordering a messy dish such as crab in pungent, fragrant black bean sauce, to see the kitchen excel and to exercise your shell-cracking skills. Other winners include crystal prawns with a perfectly juicy texture and the taste of the sea. Lowlights of our meal were what might be Chinatown’s saltiest roast duck, and an aubergine dish that hadn’t been stewed long enough to get rid of the skins’ bitterness.