I am a huge advocate of all things Korean. Their skincare is unrivalled, their pop music is adorable, and their food…well. Korean dining is having a bit of a moment in London, but people still seem afraid to go full Korean – and that’s where Jinjuu, a contemporary take on traditional Korean dining, takes centre stage. The last time I visited was at the soft launch, but as the restaurant has been up on its feet for a while I felt it was only time to go back. We spent last Friday there eating and drinking the night away, and so I thought I’d share my recommendations (plus some serious food pics that make me wanna take a lunch break while writing this).
Jinjuu is the brainchild of celebrity chef Judy Joo, whose former titles include executive chef for Playboy Club London, and one of the four iron chefs of Iron Chef UK. The restaurant’s concept revolves around ‘Anju’, the Korean term for food eaten while drinking, and as you step in the place exudes modern cool – a contemporary drinking den with exposed bulbs and high tables that makes you immediately feel like you might be papped any second. The bar is backlit with stark white and red, with accents of carved bamboo containers and statuettes of Pucca that give the upstairs its Asian vibe without feeling like a themed bar.
Downstairs is the main dining room, a chic space tailed by the restaurant’s open kitchen and decorated with graffiti and the kitchen staffs’ motivational quote of the week. Last time I was here we sat downstairs and devoured the menu’s signature whole Korean Fried Chicken, but this occasion was a bit more of a relaxed affair, so we took our seats upstairs near the bar and ordered ourselves a selection of food and cocktails.
The drinks are the stars of the show for me, as I worked in a cocktail bar for a while at uni so I’m a bit of a sucker for cocktails. The serves are elegant, with witty names and novel touches, for example the Psy Sour (above) with soju (a classic Korean spirit) and unique flavours of ginseng and lavender, complete with a little ginseng jelly sweet. The menu features lots of infused soju, teas and herbal flavours, with tongue in cheek names like The Interview (after the controversial James Franco/Seth Rogen film) and Our Dear Leader. Not pictured, we also went for the famous Spiced Kimchi Mary – the best bloody mary you’ll ever have!
Jinjuu’s food embraces Korean flavours, but uses those to put a spin on familiar crowd-pleasing bar food. We went for a variety of Anju, but there was so much more on the menu we didn’t get a chance to try. The subtle flavours of Korean spices, kimchi and gochujang (a fermented Korean condiment with chilli and soybeans) give these dishes their moreish twist.
On top of all this we also had the Tuna Tartar, delicious but not as amazing as the Yook-hwe (Korean steak tartar) which didn’t last long enough to be photographed…!
Not to be finished off so easily, we moved on to dessert and more drinks. We couldn’t leave without having some more soju, paired with the Snickers Hotteok (a flat Korean doughnut stuffed with salted caramel and roasted peanuts, peanut parfait, chocolate ganache, praline and Nutella powder), and a selection of ice-creams. At one point I went to the toilet (decorated wall to wall with K-Pop idols), and came back to find the plates being CLEANED of any last trace of food by the boys in our group.
It was a fantastic evening – Jinjuu is a contemporary, chic venue that showcases the hustle and bustle of Carnaby Street in a spot that gives you your space, and once you leave and hit the pub crowds spilling out onto the pavements of Kingly Street you just want to go back inside and order another cocktail.
Don’t go to Jinjuu expecting authentic Korean cuisine, but go there to try something that seems familiar but different (and to coax your friends into finally trying some kimchi)! My ultimate recommendations are the Spiced Kimchi Mary and refreshing/all too easy to drink South Korean Sling, plus the Steak Tartar and Pork belly Tacos. If you venture downstairs into the dining room, definitely go for the whole chicken (pictured below in a snap I took on my phone at the soft launch earlier this year), served family style and with lettuce and kimchi for wrapping.
So if after a long day of shopping on Oxford Street you fancy trying something new, or if you’re finishing work and need a good drink in Central with some nibbles that are a bit more exciting than Kettle Chips and peanuts, Jinjuu is the place to be!
Jinjuu, 15 Kingly Street, London W1B5PS, http://www.jinjuu.com