Jinli and Shanghai Modern have both opened at the Chinatown Central Cross development, orchestrated by Shaftesbury. JinLi already has a restaurant on Leicester Street, with Shanghai Modern a new restaurant entirely, but both these new openings — in this new development — are designed as contemporary operations, in order to capture a young, social media-aware, largely student audience that Shaftesbury believes is the hallmark of Chinatown’s future. This strategy is already visible in the signing of Instagram-first brands like Bubblewrap — which recently collaborated with Hello Kitty — internationally successful Taiwanese fried chicken brand, Monga, and locally successful Mamasons Dirty Ice Cream, which is also open at Central Cross. There is also the upcoming Yiu Fat Noodle, with its Balenciaga-meets-La Croix moodboard and promise of “Chinese cuisine, using British ingredients and Western techniques,” and a new site for the trendy Bun House.
Jinli’s original restaurant on Leicester Street is singularly Sichuan; this new, 4,300 square feet opening introduces Cantonese dishes as a gesture toward ‘accessibility’ — a compromise, or concession, to Shaftesbury’s strategy, which is intended to replicate contemporary dining trends in China and so bring in its desired audience. That means whole fish in chilli oil, double cooked pork, and gong bao chicken, alongside crispy fried duck, chicken in oyster sauce, or fried rice. The 150 cover site has an interior which is, again, designed to replicate traditional restaurant designs.
Shanghai Modern, meanwhile, serves xiaolongbao; wontons; deep-fried seabass; and grilled dishes described as “Chinese tapas,” in another gesture towards breadth of appeal. Its 4,000 square feet site site also features a ‘show kitchen,’ to allow diners to watch food being prepared.
This targeted expansion by Shaftesbury is intended to maximise footfall in the area, but must be understood in context: consistent immigration raids on Chinatown’s restaurants led to a shutdown last summer; Shaftesbury, at the time, offered no comment on the reasons behind the shutdown. Two of London’s most acclaimed Chinese restaurants, Joy Luck and Lanzhou Lamian Noodle Bar, have suffered from immigration raids in the case of the former, and rising rents in the case of the latter. Joy Luck, whose restaurant operation has been inextricably altered, sits within Chinatown; Lanzhou, which will soon close thanks to those rents, is on its edge. As Chinatown changes, commercial decisions made by landlords to open, establish, and drive a certain kind of restaurant forward will, necessarily, have ramifications on those restaurants that aren’t that certain kind. More soon.