Welcome to Jinjuu, London’s latest addition to the Korean dining scene which has taken Carnaby by storm since its opening in January.
Up until now, my experience of Korea has been restricted a bizarre stopover hotel room, complete with 3 dormitory arranged double beds, 100+ toothbrushes (our dental hygiene really didn’t require such attention) and one of those incomprehensible robot toilets that we definitely didn’t flood the bathroom with. The food we experienced was entirely restricted to Korean Air vacuum pack spicy rice mush and certainly not an experience I was prepared to judge the entire cuisine upon. Thanks to Jinjuu, the stomach churning taste of plane food is a distant memory and one which I am more than happy to leave behind.
JINJUU, meaning “PEARL” has celebrity chef, Judy Joo, at the helm. After working for a number of years at Morgan Stanley, she decided it was time to swap the calculator for a spoon, training at the French Culinary Institute and then under Gordon Ramsay before working at The Playboy Club.
Now in her first solo venture, she’s gone full steam ahead with two different dining concepts, both playful, casual and bursting with charm. On the ground floor you’ll find a long bar where cocktails are masterfully whipped up using a combination of known favourites with the more obscure Korean alcohol. It’s got one of those menus that requires an accompanying translation so grab the bar tender at hand who will be more than happy to take you on an adventure through its pages.
The ground floor food focuses on small dishes or ‘anju’ which are meant to be eaten while drinking. After food envy took over as we watched dishes being taken to surrounding tables, we attempted to be restrained with our ordering. Attempt failed, we ordered most of the menu, not helped (or very much helped depending on whose side you’re on) by the skilfully persuasive methods of our waitress.
While we awaited our feast, I became quickly obsessed with the most ergonomically beauteous silver chopsticks I have ever experienced, each perched delicately on a little tiny screw. It’s a wonder that the grey jumper opposite stuck around to hear me wax lyrical about the dining equipment but then I guess he couldn’t have left before he’d tasted the prawn pops, because, well, look at how tempting they are! (We’ll return to my further thoughts on the dining equipment later).
Sweet, sticky beef bulgogi style sliders with crunchy lettuce and traditional savoury dumplings took to the table alongside pork belly filled tacos tucked inside special Jinjuu serving blocks. Each mouthful packed a punch with oriental flavours that contained just the right amount of spice. Also, just take a moment to appreciate the gorgeous grey wood table and pale earthenware crockery. Simple and lovely. It's always a pleasure to spend time at a restaurant where such detail has gone into every last element of the dining experience, right down to the (yes I'm going to mention them again), the chopstick holders.
And onto the Bibimbap, the Korean comfort dish literally meaning ‘mixed rice’ arrived in a smooth granite stone bowl (dining equipment envy engaged), with each of the components separated out for us to see. Chopped and mixed at the table with expert hands and the option of extra spice, the aromas wafted around our poised chopsticks that were itching to dive in. Rice, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, marinated beef, gochujang sauce and egg were combined together to create the perfect sharing dish and we were glad our self control hadn't prevented us from ordering the scrumptious mix.
Downstairs is the main restaurant where you can watch the chefs at work while tucking into larger, meatier dishes and sharing plates. A return trip is in order to taste these delights! Meanwhile, we were getting involved with the dessert. It took no time for us to decide what it was going to be. The Snickers Hotteok combined peanut, salted caramel and Nutella dust. The Hotteok was described as a Korean style doughnut, but don't expect anything towards Krispy Kreme territory. It was far more cakey and scone-like but surprisingly delicious. After storming our way through the menu we were presented with the bill, tucked inside a shining oyster shell, a pleasant touch and completion to our Jinjuu experience. I'm not sure where the picture of me cupping the shell in my hands and raising it up into the air, Simba-style went but I'll just have to do the whole thing all over again another time. I think I can handle that!