One of the most recent big openings in London has been Jinjuu - already declared by The Independent as one of the restaurants you must visit in 2015, must, simply must darling...Well, that's what they say, but what about your ol' pal Creamy Steaks? Will this classy establishment reach the lofty heights set by oh, the Domino's Hot Dog Stuffed Crust Pizza, or a Russell Stover Red Velvet Santa?
We were very lucky to get a lunchtime table last week on Sunday - checking again at the beginning of that day showed all tables taken up around that time for the next two weeks! However, I did notice quite a few empty tables when we were there. Not that the place wasn't busy, it just wasn't "no bookings, stack 'em on top of each other" busy, you know? For that reason I'd suggest not falling into despair if you can't get a table - it's worth just showing up, as they may have some tables reserved for walk-ins anyway!
So it's considered small, sharing plates for the most part - anju in style, Korean food best had with alcohol. So, clearly we had to order cocktails. I highly recommend both of the ones that we tried, and I'll try to remember the names: South Korean Sling and Soju-juicy, or something? They were both strong & fruity without being overly sweet. A great accompaniment to the meal! If they don't tickle your fancy, there are tons of cocktails to try, all of which have at least one exciting ingredient, other than booze.
It was with much despair that we decided to not gorge ourselves to the point of sickness and - spoiler alert - we did not end this meal with dessert. Regardless of how you hear that this place is small portions & sharing little bits, or you're advised to eat x amount of plates each, I think our amount of food was perfect for a big, sumptuous & very filling lunch.
We started off with Gochu Bombs, three served on a plate, jalapeno 'poppers' in style: filled with bulgogi beef & pork, cheddar & Parmesan cheese and served with ranch on the side. These were very nice - I was a bit worried they'd be overly rich with jalapeno, bulgogi-marinated meat, and all that cheese. Honestly though, for my druthers it could've been a bit stronger throughout.
The jalapeno ended up being the dominant flavor for me, along with a slightly sweet & spicy bulgogi pork. I didn't get much of any cheese, but that might've been for the best. I'd get these again, but maybe not for my very next visit. They just lacked a bit of heat, and I probably would've liked them more if instead of bulgogi it was gochujang pork & beef - certainly would've hotted the proceedings up, but maybe it would alienate people who don't have iron stomachs & mouths like me. The ranch sauce it was paired with was definitely more on the sour cream side of things than a full-flavored ranch, but again - probably for the best for the average tastebud.
Then we had the Bulgogi Beef Tacos, two served per plate. The beef was tender & sweetly spicy, not a ton of heat so these would be totally fine for a person with a more mild sensibility. The slaw & kimchi were both fresh & zingy, with a good amount of crunch. I'm not sure exactly how kimchi is meant to be prepared, but I like it both crunchy & floppy - this one was crunchy. These were super satisfying even though they weren't large, and both of them plus one more dish (and a cocktail) probably would've made for a decent lunch by itself. I'd like to try Korean-Mexican fusion in San Francisco, presumably the place it was born when you consider immigration patterns, sometime. If it's anything like this, it works really well. The asian slaw & kimchi acts almost in the same way as a salsa, bulking out & adding some freshness to some well-seasoned, spicy meat. I can see where the two marry well.
Then we ordered their sort of hallmark dish, the Jin Chick thighs (you can also get wings), 4 big pieces per plate, with both sauces Jinjuu Black Soy & Gochujang Red. The fry batter is crispy & light -bordering on tempura but a little thicker- with a savory & salty hit. It must be lightly seasoned before being fried. The meat itself is dark & well trimmed, with no odd bit of gristle or anything. I don't know how restaurants do it, because every time we've tried to cook chicken thighs at home they're quite dreadful. These were super tasty though. The two sauces, as recommended on the menu, do go best together & compliment each other very well. The dark soy sauce is a little bit sweet and a lot umami, while the gochujang red has a punchy, spicy heat. When you put them together, it's almost like all the best elements of Korean flavors & even more, that special different 'taste' that Asian cuisine in general has compared to Western spices & sauces. Really excellent stuff.
Alongside this one we had the Kimchi Fried Rice, which was the largest and cheapest plate we ordered. I was surprised at how generous this one was, at just £4 it was loaded with pancetta, vegetables, and of course, kimchi. All that topped with a fried egg? I'd happily order it for a lunch during the work week and be fully satisfied. It was soft, pickle-y from the kimchi, and the pancetta was salty & smokey. Nothing to complain about here, and I still can't get over the price.
I'd love to go back to Jinjuu, as a matter of fact, I must. I need to try the bibimbap & the Snickers Hotteok, of course. If they ever put something in the style of tteokbokki on the menu, I'd be there the very same night. It's a great place with a cool & unpretentious atmosphere, and I found the staff super pleasant and helpful. There were a table of older ladies next to us who seemed a bit unfamiliar with Korean food, and they got lots of attention and consideration. It's definitely not the kind of place that's 'too cool' for anyone, and the prices for the food is all quite reasonable given the portion size, especially on some of them like the kimchi fried rice & the chicken. The cocktails were expensive, but intriguing. If you could resist them, you'd actually have a right reasonable bill at the end of it all, I think!...but why resist? They're very nice.