Korean food has been having a moment for quite some time now; but it’s only recently that restaurants outside of New Malden – the Korean district of London – have been popping up and doing it well. I remember – not so long ago, when Korean food was marked as the next big food trend to hit the capital – being marched around New Malden by my unyielding Korean Godmother who had made it her mission to show me what real Korean food actually is. There’s no point pretending that any of these new, trendy Korean hybrid restaurants, like Jinjuu, is anything like the authentic eateries of Seoul or New Malden, but then again I’m not sure they’re trying to compete. Rather, in the case of Jinjuu, by fusing Korean food with traces of other global cuisines, opening up shop in central London for immediate mass marketing, and putting a celebrity chef behind the project, is only going to launch the once underappreciated cuisine of Korea on a new and exciting trajectory.
Located on the edge of Soho on Kingly Street, Jinjuu is the brainchild of celebrity chef Judy Joo, who trained under Gordon Ramsay and also starred on the Iron Chef TV shows. Given her semi-celebrity status the critics were always going to have their nails sharpened for Joo, but we decided to check out the restaurant on its merit alone. So we pulled up a pew, sat poised with chopsticks in hand and got stuck in to the newest Korean kitchen in London.
I am a big fan of authentic Korean, particularly after my thorough teaching earlier this year, so I’ll admit I came sceptical. We kicked off our Korean feast with some prawn crackers (nothing to write home about, but satiated our ravenousness all the same) and a glass of white wine. Predictably and purposefully we over-ordered. Starters quickly flew out of the kitchen, one highlight being the kong bowl, steamed edamame topped with the most moreish Jinjuu chilli panko mix, that were without a doubt the best edamame beans I have ever eaten. The Sae-woo pops on the other hand, a Jinjuu signature, were a little flavourless. The pops are crispy prawn cakes that come balanced on sticks with a creamy gochujang mayonnaise for dipping. The Jinjuu carnitas fries were ordered out of sheer curiosity – the description on the menu reads ‘Korean-Mexican Disco Fries’, who wouldn’t want to order them? – a combination that works as badly in reality as it does on paper. Sorry Joo, I’m just not sold on these, the fries were soggy and the combination of tomato, cheese and pork didn’t hit the spot. The tuna tartare however was superb. Fresh raw tuna seasoned with soy and ginger with a delicate topping of jalapeno and shallot salsa for essential tang. Delicious.
Then we moved on to bigger plates – mind you, the food comes out as and when, so really our feast was just an unremitting conveyor belt of grub. We shared the Signature Jinjuu chicken, ‘The Jin Chick’. A portion of Korean fried chicken was revealed, you can choose between thighs and wings, and came served with spicy Gochujang Red sauce and Jinjuu Black Soy sauce for dipping. I’ll be totally honest; I’m not really a fried chicken kind-of-girl, so I tried my hardest to evaluate the dish from the eyes of someone who loves it. My conclusion? It was tasty; the thighs were meaty, succulent and salty, and the batter thick (perhaps a little too thick as some of my mouthfuls came without meat). The only thing, to my mind, that made this fried chicken Korean were the aforementioned dipping sauces, both of which worked well with the umami poultry. The Bo Ssam pork belly sharing platter was the silver lining – twice-cooked Black Berkshire pork belly coated in a dweng-jang and gochujang glaze and served with a side of apple cabbage kimchi. Taking a classic combination of apple and pork was clever and adding in the fiery marinade to keep it Korean made the taste of the pork sing. Full but undeterred, we tucked into a bibimbap bowl. This traditional Korean dish is a simple combination of white rice, seasonal vegetables and your choice of meat – we went for Bulgogi marinated beef fillet – topped with a fried egg and drizzled with Gochujang sauce. It could’ve done with a little more sauce, as the rice, of which there was a lot, became dry quite quickly. But the thinly sliced beef was tender, tasty and worked very well with all facets of the bowl.
Overall whilst the meal was great and the service good for a restaurant so new, waiting staff knowledge of the food and its origins needed brushing up, but that’s nothing that can’t be fixed. I’d go back, but next time I’d avoid all of the fried stuff and stick to the more accomplished dishes like the pork belly sharing plate and the bibimbap, but with extra sauce, of course. It’s tasty Joo, but it’s not quite Seoul food.
15 Kingly St, W1B 5PS
020 8181 8887