What: A new Sichuanese restaurant in Chinatown’s Central Cross development. Named after one of Chengdu’s most famed streets for restaurants and street food, Jinli launched down the road in Leicester Street in 2015 and now operates restaurants in Uxbridge and Birmingham.
Who: Yi Fei. A young Chengdu-born restaurateur. He had little experience in the business prior to opening the first Jinli and attributes much of his success to his decision to serve food exactly as it would be back in Sichuan province.
The vibe: Jinli’s flagship, the Central Cross site is the largest yet with 150 covers and is spacious by Chinatown standards (the majority of restaurants in the area are squeezed into awkwardly proportioned converted townhouses). The fit out is unmistakably Chinese. While to Western eyes it may feel a bit themed, it’s intended to be a replica of what you’d find in China.
On the menu: Despite being on a backstreet, Jinli’s original site is one of the most popular restaurants in Chinatown and serves a clientele that’s 90% Chinese. The second Chinatown Jinli’s more obvious location sees it target a more mixed demographic, and with this in mind Fei has devised a menu that blends authentic Sichuanese dishes with more accessible Cantonese dishes. The menu at Jinli is large by Western standards but not nearly as comprehensive as most Chinese restaurants in Chinatown.
The signature dish is grilled fish in chilli oil: a large whole sea bass grilled then covered with oil and topped with a potent sauce of dried chilies, fresh chillies, spring onion, coriander and mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Other key dishes include Sichuan classics double cooked pork; gong bao chicken; and fried pickled beans with pork mince. Cantonese-style dishes include sliced pork and sizzling rice crust; and Jinli fragrant rabbit.
And another thing: While many won’t have heard of it, Jinli is well known in the Chinese community (it’s been voted the most popular restaurant for Chinese students in London for two years running and regularly features on Chinese TV). Later this year, Fei expects to open a restaurant in Canary Wharf, taking his group up to five locations.