At the end of my meal at Jinjuu I discovered what I’d been missing, as I descended stairs to the loo. Tucked away below the main floor of the Carnaby-area Korean restaurant is the perfect cultural symbiosis of food and art. This subterranean diner-like area seemed a more appropriate environment for the à-la-mode street food I’d been inhaling upstairs; up there was a suitably sexy-fun dining experience, but down here was a Korean Happy Meal. Brass pipes dangled from the ceiling, catching the light. Art splashed the booths and polished concrete walls. Metal chopsticks clicked against a smooth house soundtrack. It felt like Asia for beginners: colourful and cool, but comfortable.
My friend and I were seated on the ground floor, which was not unlike other bar-restaurants in Soho—dark tones, wood tables, and a massive bar. It lacked the vibe I had picked up downstairs but that didn’t detract from the yum. We sank into soju cocktails —mine like summer in a glass, the perfect after-work antidote when you have finally escaped recycled air and long for something that wakes and soothes.
The friend added Bulgogi (marinated) beef to her main of Jap Chae, a colourful pile of veggies with sweet-potato noodles and egg. I selected Kimchi fried rice to accompany Bulgogi beef tacos. In addition to the main menu, Jinjuu offers one of anju, Korean small plates and side dishes.
Both mains were solid choices, and either would make a reasonable late-night indulgence, having that slightly sinful touch of grease and goodness we all demand from our street food. But the kimchi fried rice was a mealtime victory; I abandoned my tacos entirely, crudely excavating the bowl with my sticks, moving from crunchy seaweed crisp to smooth fried egg to tender rice and chewy pancetta.
Scanning the rest of the menu, I wondered whether Korean-Mexican-American fusion has made its way to Korea. My first taste was at the iconic Kogi BBQ truck in L.A., but the buzz has floated over the pond and cross-pollinated Western menus far and wide. Jinjuu’s speciality is their fried chicken; it may suggest KFC but it screams Korea with hot, sultry sauces and white radish on the side. Also on offer were carnitas fries and sliders, plus more homogenous Korean plates like dumplings and bibimbap bowls.
My next visit to Jinjuu will comprise a binge downstairs after a few cocktails in some random Soho bar. Not because I need alcohol to appreciate, but because it’s a bit heavy and a bit naughty, and infinitely better than a corner-shop kebab.
Jinjuu, 15 Kingly Street, London W1B5PS, http://www.jinjuu.com