Jinjuu: The formula works (February 2015)

That a sign with a quote from Steve Jobs hangs above the open-kitchen at Jinjuu – a new and probably trending casual dining Korean-American experience in Soho – says a lot about the place. First, Jinjuu is very much a restaurant for Millennials, a non-pretentious place with fairly loud music, graffiti-decorated booths and where I would venture to suggest almost all its diners owned (and many were parading) several Apple devices. Second, the actual quote from Jobs is highly apposite, namely, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” This sentiment is certainly true of Jinjuu. Fresh from success in New York, chef Judy Joo seems to have hit upon a winning formula. Put simply, Joo takes the best of traditional American and Korean dishes, mixes them up, modernises them and rejects the nasty bits. It works. The menu also very helpfully provides a glossary of Korean culinary terms at the back so that unwitting diners can tell their Bulgogi (sliced beef) from their Kimchi (fermented cabbage). On a recent Tuesday lunchtime when a comrade and I headed here for lunch, the place was packed and I was glad we had reserved. The atmosphere is lively and the service swift (if a little bit rough around the edges). Not that we felt rushed, but we were in-and-out within an hour. Our server suggested that we each take around three dishes each, and on her advice, soon after having ordered, the first of these began to arrive. We began with the ‘Sae-woo Pops’ – basically prawn cakes, but served inventively on sticks and boosted with a delicious Gochujang mayonnaise (good old-fashioned egg white with Korean chilli paste mixed in). The meat dumplings were also cooked to perfection and, again, received a clever twist, enhanced by intriguingly delicate set of Korean spices. In terms of the mains, I could list all our dishes, but we particularly loved Joo’s piece-de-resistance, the ‘KFC’ – substitute Kentucky for Korean and what you get is pretty obvious. This was far better though than Colonel Sanders’ slightly lame offering: the chicken was fresh, the breadcrumbs light and the pickled radishes on the side a perfect pairing. Moreover, rather than ketchup, here diners are told to dunk their chicken in a mix of soy and chilli sauce. It was just divine. Furthermore, Jinjuu is great value. One can eat comfortably here for £20-30/head. We did not partake in drinks (other than water), but the wine list impressed and upstairs there is a bar serving cocktails and light snacks for those so minded. Go now, before it becomes hard to get a table.