I don’t watch much tv these days. I could blame it on a certain someone hogging the screen with a constant stream of football, golf, NFL, snooker, darts even but the truth is there’s not much that manages to grab hold of my pea-sized attention span. The only exceptions are the occasion crime drama (really got into True Detective and Broadchurch) and, drum roll please… food shows. That didn’t come as a surprise to anyone did it?
All it takes is an episode or two and I’m already hooked on those cooking competitions, my favourites are quickly found and I’ve decided who the villains are. I could easily spend an afternoon putting up with Jamie Oliver enthusiastically talk me through a 15 minute meal I know will take twice as long, and if there’s a marathon of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on? Well that’s me for the night.
So it seems I like to watch people cook. It’s my inherent nosiness that needs to know how someone turned a celeriac, pigs ears and blueberries into something edible, or how chefs meticulously plate the most pretty dishes. I’ve noticed that more restaurants seem to be opening up their kitchens and making them visible to the dining room- this is a trend I welcome. A well-oiled kitchen shouldn’t have anything to hide during service, and I can get dinner with a show.
On an unplanned visit to Jinjuu on Saturday, their first proper Saturday night service, we were lucky enough to nab a couple of seats at the kitchen counter. When it is just the two of us, seats like these are my favourite but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The couple next to us were thoroughly unimpressed and made it clear they would have preferred one of the proper tables in the dining room or even something in the much glitzier bar upstairs. But I was most content watching the team of chefs prep, grill, fry, plate; I enjoyed seeing the waves of frenetic energy followed by moments of calm.
I was impressed to see chef Judy Joo at the pass, calling tickets and checking the dishes before they went out; in the age of the celebrity chef it’s so easy for them to put their name on the door but never actually get their hands dirty. I was comforted to see her scrupulous quality control, she did not hesitate in asking for a dish to be redone because it wasn’t quite up to scratch. Good to know this doesn’t just happen when Gordon throws a tanty on Hell’s Kitchen, and she was polite about it.
There is a lot to like on this menu but on the chef’s recommendation we started with the current crowd favourites of sae-woo pops and mandoo. The sae-woo pops were perfectly crunchy little prawn cakes paired with what the menu described as an addictive gochujang mayo. An exaggeration you think, but we certainly fell prey to the sweet and spicy mayo concoction, still lapping it up long after the pops were gone. As far as dumplings go, Jinjuu’s mandoo are top tier- the fact that the filling isn’t one indistinguishable lump of meat is a good sign to me, and they were well paired with the sharp soy dipping sauce.
We then moved onto the bo ssam pork belly platter of twice cooked pork belly slices served with apple cabbage kimchi, pickled radish, cabbage kimchi, ssamjang, toasted seaweed, fresh greens, and rice. There’s a bit of self-assembly involved but that’s part of the fun- for my first bite I wrap a bit of the ridiculously tender, sinfully fatty pork in a lettuce leaf with some of the turnip and ssamjang, in my next I try it in the seaweed with rice and both types of kimchi. All combinations are just delicious.
If we ended here, we would have left happy, it was only supposed to be a light meal anyway but then I remember chef Judy mentioning something about saving room for dessert. There wasn’t much room left but I’m glad we made space for the snickers hotteok, a Korean style doughnut with a crisp outer and a chewy middle filled with salted caramel. Served with chocolate ganache, ice cream and nuts, this dessert was so decadent and moreish that a certain someone went as far as proclaiming it to be his favourite dish of the night!
As far as I’m concerned, this was just a taster- we will be back for the sliders, tacos and fried chicken, as well as another platter, more sae-woo pops and I probably won’t be able to resist the hotteok! Pop into the buzzy ground level bar for a couple of drinks and anju, or sneak underground into the more intimate dining room… either way, just get there!
Have you been to Jinjuu yet? What was your favourite dish?