Dabbous

Three years of trying and finally I bagged a table that wasn’t 5.30 or 10.30 on a Tuesday night. Back when Dabbous opened it was the go-to restaurant for contemporary cooking in London. There was a buzz surrounding the restaurant, and the chef, Oliver Dabbous, who was being touted as the man to take the London restaurant scene in a new adventurous direction. It made it virtually impossible to get a reservation. Now the hype has died down and there are other restaurants with a similar style of cooking like The Clove Club, The Typing Room and Portland, but after eating there this still feels as fresh and new as anything I’ve tried in London recently. With tables now easier to get, there are few restaurants I can recommend more.

The decor is deliberately minimal with exposed bricks and pipes, which fits the menu which only has two choices- a Tasting Menu (£68) or a set Dinner Menu (£56)- both with no choice over which dishes you are getting. It’s a ballsy brand of cooking that has no place to hide if it doesn’t deliver. But Dabbous absoloutely pulls it off. 

A starter of Fennel with lemon balm and olive oil, placed all it’s emphasis on the central ingredient. The cooking was exact and precise, and it quite simply was the best that this ingredient could be. Caesar mushroom shavings with lesser calamint, pine nuts and bitter leaves, was a clean and fresh dish, with waves of flavour in each bite. First a barbecued earthy flavour from the mushrooms and pine nuts, and then a herbal peppermint wash from the lesser calamint. It was familiar and yet surprising, a dish that seemed so simple with very little actual cooking, but takes an excellent kitchen to execute.

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Next Lard on toast with black truffles (£9 supplement) was a dish I wanted to hate. Served on a black slate there was nothing to distract from the fact that with a few shavings of truffle you’re looking at a £20 slice of toast. But it just tasted so good- creamy and fatty and then the luxury of the truffle coming through. 

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Cornish squid with butterhead lettuce and clover was again a winning combination. The shrimp has been shredded so that it resembled noodles and served in a buttery, nutty sauce. Best of all was barbecued Iberico pork that was trimmed of all fat and cooked perfectly. An acorn praline and radishes provided the added crunch and the sharpness from the crushed green apples brought the dish together. It was a faultless plate of food.

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A pre-dessert of iced lovage was surprisingly refreshing and then the only dish that didn’t blow me away- milk pie infused with fig leaves. It was a little bland and stodgy- the milk sauce was too thin and only had the faintest hint of the fig leaves, and its texture was a bit like half-baked croissant dough. The sort of dessert you’d eat if you’d left you dentures and palate back in the house.

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The meal came to over £100 a head but on the cooking and service was as good as any high end restaurant. So often a tasting menu can drag- this was a seamless experience, bang on two hours. There may be hotter tables to get in London now, but this still feels like some of the boldest best cooking in the city. I only hope it’s not three years until I next dine here.

9.5/10 (££££)

39 Whitfield St, London WIT 2SF

Dabbous Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Portland

Most exciting things happening in the London food scene are taking place in the East. Rents are slightly cheaper there meaning less barriers to entry for up-and-coming chefs to ply their trade, and there’s more bearded hipsters who are willing to give their new, paired back brand of cooking more of a chance. Portland is Fitzrovia’s attempt at joining this scene. With only a choice of three dishes for each course, the menu is confidently minimal. It matches the dining room which is simply designed with white walls and school chairs, lacking slightly in any real warmth or identity. Take away the open kitchen and you have a school detention room. This being Fitzrovia, it was busy with ad execs and creatives (think Oliver Peoples and casual shirts), and the menu with it’s unusual combinations might well have been drawn up in one of their think tanks. It’s all very present, but lacks any roots that give you a way in.

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Snacks were the most enjoyable dishes of the night- a thin crisp of chicken skin had a rich liver parfait on top with candied walnuts and a slice of grape (£1.50 each) to cut through- it was a skilful piece of cooking and tasted as good as it looked. As did the wild rice cracker with yellow fin tuna, lime and shisho (£3 each) which was a refreshing mouthful. Bread with smoked butter and shaved ox heart (a bit of a pointless addition) was lovely, but only 3 half slices left you wanting a lot more.

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For starter a Halibut sashimi with buttermilk and black radish (£11) looked like an anaemic flower petal. The black radish added a freshness and light crunch but it distracted slightly from the flavour of the fish. It was a dish that was all surface, with nothing exciting beneath. The other starter of Salsify with thin strips of ‘Mangalista’ pig (basically crispy bacon) and Comte (£10), was forgettable. These flavours all work together, but there just wasn’t enough love in the cooking to make it anything more than a shrug of the shoulders.

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From the specials Partridge with blood sausage and fermented damsons (£24) was a taster menu portion. The meat was slightly dry and there just wasn’t enough to the dish to make it of much interest. It needed the side of potatoes with Montgomery cheddar (£5) just to fill the dish out, but even they lacked any love. The boiled new potatoes were under-seasoned and had not been cooked with the cheese, so none of its flavour had seeped through into them. Miso-grilled deer with aubergine and yoghurt (£26) was cooked well but again it was criminally seasoned meaning the meat couldn’t shine. Perhaps chefs here must be allergic to salt. A side salad of baby gems with radishes and buttermilk (£5), was crunchy but nothing else.

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Dessert was an interesting combination of apple with rosemary ice and vanilla ice cream, again presented in a distinctive modern way that didn’t immediately draw you in. The flavours were a perfect marriage and it was a refreshing finish to the meal, but an added texture or maybe just chunks of apple would have made it feel a little more substantial. Like the rest of the dishes it felt like more of an essence of something, or an idea for a dish, rather than something complete in itself.

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I really wanted to love this restaurant- it’s trying to do things differently and it was refreshing to see a slim, focused menu. But having a menu this minimalist was a bold statement that didn’t quite come off. It’s confident cooking with obvious flair, but less focus on the look and idea of the dishes and a little more attention to depth of flavour (or just salt) and things would have been a lot better. At £65 a head I had expected more. It was all texture and colours, without a soul.

6/10 (£££)

113 Great Portland St, London W1W 6QQ
Portland Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Similar: Picture10 Greek Street

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Bo Drake

At it’s best you don’t notice service. It’s a seamless part of the dining experience, one you only remember in recollection. A good waiter will first of all know the menu and know what to recommend because they have tried it, not because they’ve been told to up-sell that dish. But most importantly, a good waiter knows when to leave you alone. It seems so simple, and yet so few restaurants get this part right. There’s fine dining restaurants that seem so eager to justify the service charge that they do everything except wipe your arse for you. Then there’s the restaurants with staff who pull up a chair and ask you so many overfamiliar questions that you end up checking your starter for their signs of their bodily fluids. And then you get the worst of them all. The waiters who are like incessant little flies, pestering you from the moment you enter, literally turning the table as you are still sitting there. Tonight, Bo Drake fell into this last rung in hell.

From the moment we sat down, we were given a menu and immediately asked if we were ready to order. No, we’d like to at least have a look at the menu first. Maybe some water. A minute later and he was back. We sent him away again, or rather he hovered three foot behind me waiting for the next moment I dared to open my mouth for conversation with my partner- a sure signal I had made my mind up. On the third attempt we gave in and ordered our dishes- which given how concise the menu is, was just about everything worth trying. Three minutes later the food came. Yes a whole 180 seconds from the waiter writing it down in his pad, to the order being passed to the kitchen, to the chefs cooking 7 different dishes, to it being put down on our table. This is no exaggeration. Needless to say not one of the dishes served was hot.

Having now ordered and been served, I could take the restaurant in. Bo Drake clearly took its design inspiration from what was hot last year- brown paper menus, matt-grey walls and exposed pipes. Minimal, cold, and drab- something between a prison cell and a pervert’s sex dungeon. With it’s menu and look, it is in the same vein as restaurants like Flesh & Buns and Pitt Cue Co, but it lacks their boozy basement buzz and the food doesn’t pack as much of a punch.

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First up KFC (Korea fried chicken) with soy garlic, grapes and rosemary (£8.50) which would have the Colonel turning in his grave over this poor pun on his classic. At their best Korean chicken wings blow your balls off. They’re red hot dirty finger food, something Flesh & Buns have nailed. Here the skin was soggy (maybe from standing pre-made on the pass for the last thirty minutes?) and they had no kick of spice. Bo Ssam was smoked pulled pork with kimchi (£14) that you forked into lettuce parcels, although it looked more like a can of cat food that had slurped onto the plate. The smoke was lacking and the meat was without that fatty goodness you associate with pulled pork. Smoked duck bao (£9) were tasty little bites, but not the best I’ve had.

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From the specials striploin beef served rare with truffled shiitake, tofu cream and shizou (£18) was a dish that you’d get in a restaurant like Zuma and happily pay twice the price. Cooked perfectly with good clean flavours, albeit served lukewarm, it showed that the kitchen can create moments of magic here. Only moments though, as a side of smoked aubergine with a miso and vine tomato water (£7) restored the order- it was like slurping down smokey slugs. Sweet potato fries with kimchi island dressing (£3.80) were better, but only because the pickled vomit flavour of the kimchi wasn’t coming through.

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It wouldn’t take an imaginative chef to pad out the dessert list. A choice of three was cut to two as the most appealing one- passion fruit brulee- was unavailable. At 7.30pm on a Friday? Maybe it had melted on the pass having been prepped three days before? That left a choice between sesame soft serve ice cream or apple tarte tatin (which really didn’t fit with the rest of the menu). It was a tarte tatin cooked by a Korean kitchen. Uninspired and out of place. A dribble of soft-serve vanilla ice cream did nothing to lift it.

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Having now eaten there, I can see that Bo Drake is an after work place where you go for a quick bite and a few drinks. Had I gone expecting this, I might have been more forgiving for being rushed through a meal in 45 minutes. I know London restaurants like to turn tables, but less than an hour is really pushing it. It was all bang on-trend with the decor and style of cooking, but food like this should be vibrant and punchy that makes you want to drink. The only thing making me want to drink more here was the shite service.

4/10 (££)

6 Greek St, London W1 4DE

Bó Drake Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Similar: Flesh & BunsPitt Cue Co

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Coya

In our quest to constantly try what’s new without having to leave the W1 postcodes, Peruvian cuisine has recently been given the London makeover. Lima, of Fitzrovia, remains the best if you are going for the food alone, and was awarded a Michelin star for it. But eating in London is rarely only about the food. So if it’s a pleasant demonstration of Peruvian cooking without the risk of the unfamiliar or too foreign, then Coya will be perfect for you. With outposts already in Miami and Dubai, it is a restaurant made for the international class- those who stay in the Grand Park Hyatt and look down on the exotic streets from their 30th floor room. You can say you’ve been there, and tick it off the list, but really it’s no different to your experience of any other city or cuisine.

Opened in 2013, by Arjun Waney, who is one of the founders of Zuma and Roka, the restaurant is all high design and has a menu that is constructed to please. Set in a grand old house on the quieter end of Piccadilly, it’s a glamorous postcode, but in reality is a thoroughfare for taxis, buses and tourists heading to Hard Rock Cafe. Suited bouncers and an upstairs members club set the scene for a pricey meal. The basement pisco bar and restaurant has a dark and metallic decor with flashes of colour, giving it the feel of a posh bomb shelter. The menu is split into sections, too many to read through, but is essentially raw dishes or food from the grill. It’s Zuma-high prices, so no matter what combination of dishes you put together you’re looking at over £80 a head.

From the starters a wild Sea bass ceivche was a beautiful fresh dish with orange and fennel shavings and a zingy avocado and red onion salsa (£12). Pork belly (£12) had been cooked on the Josper grill giving it a strong smoky flavour, freshened by the fennel and mint, but there just wasn’t enough of it. This was Weight Watchers pork belly, with all the flat trimmed off. A corn salad (£8) was full of different textures, but served by itself meant you were just eating spoonfuls of what tasted like tinned corn. It would have been far more enjoyable alongside the skewers which came next- first beef (£10) that had a lovely spicing but a slightly unusual mushy texture, and then monkfish (£10) which were perfectly cooked with a smoky red pepper dressing.

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A main of sea bream with potatoes and a fennel salad (£17) had a great balance but was let down by the overcooking of the fish. Grilled Tiger prawns with chilli salsa (£27) could have been braver with the chilli and again were a little overdone. From the waiter’s recommendations, sea bass (£33) cooked with rice, lime and sweet corn in iron pot was the best dish of the night. It was a soothing best savoury porridge with an incredible depth of flavours. Once all mixed together it was the sort of dish you want to spoon up on a hungover Sunday. Sides of patatas bravas were like the best bits from the roasties tray and broccoli with sesame seeds and chilli tasted as it does on any other menu.

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To finish a thin slice of salted caramel ganache with raspberry sorbet was rich, and needed the raspberry to cut through it.

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Portions are small and expensive, and if you’re in the mood for drink, the meal can easily creep up to the £100 per head mark. My previous experience of Peruvian cooking was at Lima, where the flavours were completely new to me and every dish surprised. Here the bold flavours are toned down, and many of the dishes taste very similar to what you have at Roka or Zuma, just with slightly different spicing. It’s undeniably a seductive restaurant that coaxes you into emptying your pockets, but break from its spell and you’ll see that it is far from an exciting take on Peruvian cooking, and is just another addition to stylised international Mayfair scene.

7/10 (££££)

118 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 7NW

Coya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Duck & Rice

Chinese food- the British staple. Ten pints in the local followed by a chicken chow mein and some bright red gloopy meat dish. Food we’ve all grown up on. We’re rarely sober when eat Chinese. We might start sober, but by the end of the meal we all have a tinfoil box of leftovers tucked under one arm, are grabbing a handful of mints from the bowl by the door, and shaking hands with the owner- Kevin- who we are of course on first name terms with, and promising to see him at the same time next week and asking if he can keep our special table free. We’ll all swear that we have the best Golden Dragon or Pekking Palace, that serves the best Number 23 in the country, but we all know it’s the same flavourless crap wherever we go.

Well now we can kill two ducks with one stone. Alan Yau, the creator of Hakkasan and Yautcha, has opened Duck & Rice in Soho. Ignore all the pretentious bollocks it will throw at you about it being a modern public house, this is a boozer (albeit it a £5.40 a pint boozer) that doubles up as a classic British-Chinese restaurant. The bottom end of Berwick Street (with the exception of Polpetto) had previously only been for a certain type of dining, not one you too proudly write a review on. Thankfully there’s more reasons to go now. Duck & Rice has taken over from a grotty pub called the Endurance, which I passed daily without ever having the urge to go in. It was the type of place that would serve you a lukewarm glass of piss and still charge you Soho prices. I’ve read other reviews where people whinge about this old Soho classic closing down, and protest that it’s another sign of how Soho and London and the whole fucking world is losing its true identity. These are the no doubt the same people who bombard you with out socialist flyers about rent prices as soon as you get off the overground anywhere East. Well thankfully Duck & Rice has priced them out the market.

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The restaurant has an imposing glass and metal frontage- something a restauranteur can only do if he has absolute confidence in his style and money in the bank- both of which Alan Yau no doubt has in abundance. Inside, once you get past the awkwardly placed huge Pilsner Urquell copper tanks, the bar area is lavishly done out, with shiny metal surfaces and walls that resemble Chinese teapots. It’s the most deliberately constructed restaurant I have been to in a long time, the price of which they are seemingly clawing back with the elevated food prices.

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The menu is crowded, just like every other Chinese menu in the country, and has most of the greatest hits on there- including its very own aptly named ‘Number 23’. From the dim sum we tried the char siu bao (£4.50), Shu Mai (£6.50) and Har Gau (£6) which were all fine, but didn’t have a touch of their own to make them stand out. The Sesame Toast £6.50) did, and was a world away from the greasy flavourless triangles that are usually served up. A whole prawn served on a crispy piece of toast finally made me understand exactly what the appeal is with this dish.

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Salt & Pepper Squid (£10.50) was a little dry and unremarkable for the price. It worked well with the beer but could have done with a fiery dipping sauce. Shredded Pork Crispy Noodles (£10.50) could have been crispier and were heavily salted (lets hope it wasn’t MSG). Mains were the real strong dishes here, first the House Duck (£24 for a half) did the house name proud. We were told that it would be left to rest for fifteen minutes so that the meat is served lukewarm. It meant the juices had flowed back through the duck, making it more tender and flavoursome.

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A whole Crab with curry sauce was the standout dish of the night. A huge plate of legs and flesh covered in a deeply coloured thick curry sauce. If you’re on a date, ordering this is essentially cock blocking yourself- I still smelt of curry on Monday morning. The sauce was too strong for the delicate flavour of the crab meat, but this is only a minor complaint for what was a fantastic dish to get stuck into.

Apart from a few of the mains, there weren’t any dishes that you wouldn’t find at your local Chinese. They were more refined here, but not enough so that you will remember it as the best chow mein or ho fun you’ve ever eaten. When you’re paying £60 a head the food should be better, but it didn’t really bother me, as it played second fiddle to the atmosphere and overall feel of the restaurant. It’s not a place to go if you want great Chinese food- Yauatcha next door is far more suited to that. Instead come here in a group with the intention of getting drunk and having a good night, without having to wander down the street for your Chinese feast afterwards, and you’ll leave a happy punter.

7.5/10 (£££)

90 Berwick St, London W1F 0QB

Duck & Rice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Fischer’s

Where The Wolseley and Delaunay (part of the Corbin and King mini-empire) are effortlessly grand and ooze class, this was all a bit Disneyland. It was too shiny, too constructed, as if it had borrowed it’s facade from a plastic surgeon’s table. Harley Steet is only a short walk away, after all. Think Grand Budapest Hotel. The sort of place you find potty old women who look like Joan Rivers (god rest her) feeding their handbagged poodles with strudels from the sterling cutlery. The artwork is like something a rich foreign uncle you never knew you had, leaves you in his will, but you feel too guilty to ditch. The menu is strongly Germanic- Käsespätzle, Esterhazy Schnitten, Passion Fruit Gugelhupf- dishes that will cover anybody sitting around you in phlegm as you try to pronounce. They wouldn’t be out of place coming out of one of Professor Slughorn’s classes. But this being Marleybone, where the majority of the clientele grew up during the war, these dishes are no doubt old world classics, which slip off their tongue and please those fading palettes.

Himmel und Erde (£7.25) is black pudding and apple, a safe combination, but one that is sure to please. It could have done with a kick of spicing, but then that would give too much of a jolt. This is food that plays second fiddle to atmosphere and chat. You come here not to marvel over it, but to have something familiar and comforting. After discreetly getting our iPhones out to Google Käsespätzle (Austrian Mac & Cheese), we ordered it, and with the added bacon (£7.25) it was a wholesome heart clogger. A dish that sticks both fingers up to any diet. It had been given a flash under the grill to crisp the top, and the cheese was gooey and strong. All these trendy diners that serve gloopy crap, should take note.

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Grilled spatchcock chicken (£16.50) was lathered in the herb dressing and far too greasy and the skin wasn’t crisp. Almost like chewing on one of the old biddy’s soon to be lifted jowls. The Wiener Schnitzel (£21.75)- the classic dish across the Corbin & King group- needs the the anchovy, capers and egg to stop it from being in Bernard Matthews land. But will hit the spot every time.

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For dessert, the Apple and Cinnamon strudel (£7.75) had a good flaky pastry and a strong hit of spicing. A sundae with pistachio, hazelnut and almond ice creams with butterscotch sauce is worthy an anaphylaxis fit.

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It was a pleasant enough meal, but far from exciting. A posh Cafe Rogue. But when you are in your fifties and visiting places like La Fromargerie is a real thing, then pleasant is exactly what you’re looking for. Your taste-buds are dead by then, your sight is fading, and all you want is some good crockery and a place to read the paper. Fischer’s couldn’t suit the area more. I would go back, but in forty years time.

6/10 (£££)

50 Marylebone High St, London W1U 5HN

Fischer's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Jinjuu

Jinjuu describes itself as a ‘premier modern Korean food restaurant’ with an upstairs bar where DJ’s ‘hit the decks…spinning a mix of smooth house,’ and downstairs offers ‘unmatched theatre’. Hate it already? Any restaurant that has a self-publicised ‘concept’ is already fighting a losing battle. But then the promise of Korean junk food with a hit of Mexican surely can’t be bad. Spicy, sloppy finger food is a combination that is hard to resist. But here lies the problem. Fusion food- it never really works. Unless you’re a drunk student foraging through your cupboards at 4am trying to concoct a meal, fusing different cuisines rarely tastes as good as it sounds.

On the face of it, the menu here is appealing. It’s a more padded out version of Flesh & Buns, with a few Mexican inspired treats thrown into the mix. But this menu doesn’t really fit the vibe of the restaurant. It just isn’t as fun as Flesh & Buns. For one, the toilets aren’t plastered in anime porn. And it doesn’t have that raucous boozy buzz that makes you want to wash down greasy finger food with pints of Asahi. Jinjuu instead seems to be angling for a less wealthy Hakkasan crowd, who’d rather sip dainty cocktails. They even have a clipboard-holding doorman, just to complete the look.

Away from the overcrowded bar, the basement is a bit dull and the open kitchen is little more than an open hatch. The menu follows in the footsteps of the concept described on the website, and has to be the most annoying in London. Anecdotes comment on the dishes trying their best to coax you in- ‘bespoke’ prawn crackers are supposedly ‘awesome with a beer’, but worst of all is Carnitas Fries which promise that ‘everytime you stick your fork in…something good comes out’. It’s like having an annoying waiter trying to upsell everything. Which is fine if the food is brilliant, but for soggy, greasy fries which managed to taste neither Korean or Mexican, it’s a little off the mark.

The Pork belly tacos needed more apple and could have done with a big squeeze of lime and hit of spice. Korean fried chicken came with the choice of thighs or wings- and had a great crispy batter, but again were let down by the limp spicing from the two sauces, and I wanted more than a couples of bites for £8.5 as well. Sae Woo Pops (prawn cakes) were the pick of the dishes thanks to the creamy gochujang mayo that had a good salty sour flavour. If only all of the dishes could have come with this sauce.

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The beef sliders could have done with more Korean spicing, and I didn’t really get how these had any influence from Korea or Mexico, bar the kimchee topping. After eating them, I realised that kimchee manages to spoil every dish. I used to pretend I liked it, mainly because I didn’t know what it was. But now I realise that it really just tastes and looks like regurgitated stomach lining, which has no place on any dish of mine. From the bigger plates the USDA Prime Ribeye (£25) was tender and tasty enough, but there wasn’t any point in the bushel of flaccid lettuce leaves served as a side. A dessert of doughnuts stuffed with a Snickers like concoction was far better than any of the other dishes, mainly because it wasn’t trying to be Korean or Mexican, and instead just focused on being tasty.

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Jinjuu is trying very hard to be on-trend, but for a menu and concept that promised so much, it lacked any spunk. At it’s best Korean and Mexican food blows your balls of. This didn’t even give them an itch. Instead it was nothing other than a fusion of annoying anecdotes and overpriced junk food. You’re better of adding kimchee to a burrito next time you cook at home. It’ll save you the eighty quid.

5/10 (£££)

15 Kingly St, London W1B 5PS

Jinjuu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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