The weather has taken a severe nosedive lately. The Met Office reports are lousy with innocuous-sounding storm names (I mean, Clodagh? Sounds like an affable nanny with a proclivity for jelly-making, not torrential rain and 80mph gales). Basically, winter is upon us and while there's still a day to go until I fully embrace the mulled wine, Christmas movies and rampant carol-singing, I welcome any food capable of warming me up with the most open of arms. And it turns out Korean food does the job incredibly well.
Somewhat miraculously, I've managed to avoid Korean food for the past 23 years. Naturally, I was determined that my first experience of the food of Joseon should be excellent, and, convinced by London Eater's glowing review, settled on a trip to Jin Go Gae with Angela. So it was that I found myself making the hour-long trek down to New Malden on a rainy November evening...
To start, a host of various Ban-chan pickles (see top) arrived at our table - kimchi, kat-tu-gui (mooli), suk ju namul (beansprouts). I'd always been slightly wary of kimchi as I don't usually go for pickles, but I loved it all. I was also struck by the generosity of our hosts in bringing these, alongside a small bowl of rice, on the house - something Angela assures me is traditional. In the pickles' wake came 'yuk whe' - thin strips of beef sashimi accompanied by thinly sliced pear, pine nuts and, of course, a fresh egg yolk stirred in. This dish was quite simply the bomb. And this is coming from someone who's not a huge lover of steak tartare. The addition of the pear lent the beef an unexpected freshness and sweetness that had me digging in for seconds, thirds, fourths...
Next came par-jeon - delightfully crispy, flavourful seafood pancakes filled with spring onions, crabstick and squid. Simply delicious.
Kan poon-gi - deep-fried chicken with sweet and sour sauce. Turns out Korean Fried Chicken is my new favourite KFC. Chewy, crisp and packed with spicy flavour, these were unfairly addictive.
I was less sure about this 'Sundae' soup (a world away from the caramel-drizzled sundaes of your childhood, before you ask): a broth filled with steamed homemade sausages, spring onions and pork. It was definitely interesting to try the sausages - these ones were stuffed with glass noodles, sticky rice, vegetables and soybean paste, something I've never seen before! However, the broth itself was incredibly peppery but otherwise unseasoned; the diner is encouraged to eat the soup alongside tiny salty preserved prawns. An intriguing experience, but to be honest, outshone by the other dishes.
Such as this one. Definitely edging into the limelight of the yuk whe, Jin Go Gae's jap-chae was stunning. Glass noodles sprinkled with sesame seeds and pan-fried with vegetables and beef, these were so sticky and rich in umami flavours, I could have cried. Absolutely fantastic.
Jin Go Gae has something for everyone - the Korean food virgin, like me, or the seasoned eater, like Angela, who proclaimed the food better than the Korean joints in central London. Even though we over-ordered (with lucky me getting to take a couple of our leftovers home in a doggy bag), Angela and I barely scratched the surface of the menu - we didn't try bibimbap, barbecued kalbi or any of the hotpot soups. And yet I know that had we ordered any of these they would have been just as memorable as our dishes, because I can tell that Jin Go Gae has incredibly high, consistent standards. It's why the restaurant entertained an almost exclusively Korean clientele on our visit - the cognoscenti know that this place is at the top of its game. It's 100% worth the journey to K-Town, aka New Malden. I'll need to make another jaunt south of the river for a fix soon, because be warned - (yes, Korean food obsessives, you may roll your eyes at my naïvety now) - this stuff is addictive.