New Malden is home to the largest Korean community in Europe. The first Korean restaurant in the area opened in 1991, and now there are numerous thriving restaurants and food shops. According to my research the best regarded of these is Jin Go Jae, which opened a decade ago. It is situated in a parade of shops, with the dining area split into two similarly sized rooms. Each table has a recess in which there is space for a bowl of hot coals on which to cook things over a steel plate. This had an unintentional benefit as the dining room was bitterly cold on this January evening, so when the coals were heated up they conveniently warmed the room up too.
Before this stage of the meal there are starters prepared in the kitchen. A dish of deep fried chicken with sweet and sour sauce was had quite clunky batter encasing small pieces of chicken, the sweet and sour sauce basic (10/20). I preferred what were essentially gyoza by another name – fried dumplings, which were capably made (12/20). Kimchi, the iconic Korean relish, in this case had rolls of fermented cabbage that had been mixed with gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder).
At this point the coals were brought and the gas burner switched on, which enabled us to cook prawns and also thinly cut strips of short rib beef, along with some onions and red peppers. This do it yourself charcoal grilling is quite fun, and you can of course cook the meat etc just as you like it provided that you pay attention. I have no idea how to score a dish where the customer is simply left with a cooker and a slab of meat, but although this could hardly be simpler the end result was enjoyable – the prawns were decent quality and the beef had reasonable flavour. We also had a dish of udon noodles cooked in the kitchen, which had pleasant texture and came with a few mussels and tiny prawns in their shell. The noodles could have been warmer, however, being tepid on arrival (11/20).
Service was functional rather than friendly; even on a Tuesday night in January the place was almost full, almost entirely populated by Korean customers. The bill came to £45 a head with beer to drink. This was a harmless enough meal, though I have eaten better Korean food in the USA and also in Japan. To me there are limits to what can be expected in assessing a restaurant if you just leave the customer with a cooker and some raw ingredients. This part of the meal is hardly “cooking” in the conventional sense, so I restrict my scoring to the dishes that were prepared by the kitchen. Overall Jin Go Gae was decent enough, but it is hard for me to get excited about.