Last Saturday, I joined Sabrina of Sabrina’s Passions, Sabrina’s mother, and Su-Lin Ong (yes, the other Su-Lin who is the Ong and who is not me!), all excellent company, for a lunch in New Malden. Su-Lin (the other one) had found an article by Tom Parker-Bowles on Su La, a restaurant I’d not come across before owing to its being a little away from the main high street. If you were to get to New Malden by train, it’s a bit of a walk from there; essentially, you’d walk down the high street to the roundabout, turn right (you would turn left for Hyun’s Bakery) and continue walking way past the residential area until you come to a small row of shops. That’s where you’ll find Su La. Of course, if you have a car (the other Su-Lin very kindly drove me there), it’s easy.
We were seated immediately (the table had been booked previously) and settled down to peruse their beautifully bound, and long, menus for a while before deciding on quite the selection of dishes. We were going to feast that lunchtime!
A Korean meal isn’t complete without banchan, the little dishes that accompany the main meal and so a few were ordered. Now, I gotta say – I don’t like the fact that one must order these separately here in London. I’ve not been to Korea but from what I understand, restaurants will usually provide some banchan as complimentary to the meal (it’s definitely the case in Vancouver’s Korean restaurants). I would think the price of these extras would put people off from ordering them and then they wouldn’t experience a full Korean meal. Anyway, enough blathering – here were the kimchi and namul that we ordered. Definitely a good start.
A seafood pajeon came out first. Light and crisp and incredibly moreish this pancake was, with a dip of soy, vinegar and sesame on the side.
A japchae, with its deliciously chewy sweet potato starch noodles, came out next. This was very good but seemed to be lacking in the beef that’s usually dotted throughout; perhaps we didn’t read the menu description properly.
Have you noticed that Korean food is a little more difficult to search for in English due to its lack of a constant transcription to the Roman alphabet (cf pinyin Chinese)? Tteokbokki is one of those words that I’ve also seen as duk bok ki. However it’s spelled, this was tubes of tteok (or deok or duk or…), sticky rice cakes, in a thick chilli based sauce with vegetables, hard boiled eggs and triangles of fried fish cake. I love the chewiness of tteok in savoury dishes like this but I’m still not used to the sweet versions, possibly because I think they should be sweeter.
After we were nearly finished with these dishes, the waitress came over to clear off the tabletop grill. The platter of grilled meats that had been so patiently waiting on the side were about to take centre stage.
And on that platter? Sirloin, pork belly, pork neck, duck. On a separate plate, so that the marinade wouldn’t contaminate the other meats, lay galbi (marinated beef short rib).
After removing the tabletop cover, the waitress swiftly and confidently carried a bucket of hot charcoal, set it into the recess and slapped a grill on top. She threw on a few pieces of meat at a time, starting with the duck and pork belly and finishing with the galbi, letting them grill till golden brown and cutting the pieces up with scissors halfway through cooking.
We snatched pieces off the grill with our chopsticks and lay the hot pieces of meat on cool leaves of lettuce (which had to be ordered separately), dabbing the tops with seasoned fermented bean paste or gochujang, chilli dressed shreds of spring onion, kimchi and possibly a slice of grilled garlic or a bit of fresh green chillli before wrapping the parcels up and shoving them into our mouths. Normally one would also wrap rice in there too but we opted for this “lighter” way of eating it and would have our rice separately in a bibimbap. Apart from the two sauces mentioned previously, there was also a soy, vinegar and sesame dip and a sesame oil, salt and pepper dip for the meats. All delicious. I’d never had duck in a Korean barbecue before but this was lovely with all the fat melting away during the grilling process. And while the pork belly (samgyeopsal in Korean) was also very very good, it’s the tender, juicy pork neck that may have won top spot on my list of favourite pork cuts.
After we had finished most of our meats, the waitress asked if she could bring out the bibimbap. The sizzling dolsot (stone pot) came out and its contents (rice, vegetables, raw beef, egg) were tossed with plenty of gochujang-based sauce. We scraped the pot to get at the best part – the crispy crusty rice.
At the end of our meal, a cut orange was brought out for dessert. I adore the way Korean restaurants present their fruit.
The bill, with service and barley tea for everyone, came to £86 between the four of us. Very reasonable considering all that meat! We were pretty stuffed too. If you’re going to head down here, I’d recommend that you ask about the private rooms with the traditional low Korean tables. We were actually first directed to a somewhat private, sectioned off room (with a regular table and chairs) but opted to sit in the main room to see what everyone else was eating!
But we weren’t finished yet. After lunch, we made our way further down the road to H Mart, following the instructions given to us by the waitress at the restaurant. The opening of this large American-Korean supermarket, the first in the UK, was obviously a big deal in the community as everyone knew about it and knew how to get there too and it had only been open for a week! From Su La, you continue down Kingston Road (away from that roundabout) and go past the railway bridge. Take the first right (opposite the Carpet Right on the left) and then turn right again. There are signs just past the railway bridge.
I am a fan of the H Marts in Vancouver and have always wanted one of these here. And it didn’t let me down – it’s big (though not as big as the one I visited in Vancouver) and is chock full of Korean groceries. The fish and meat counters looked very good and the vegetables are very fresh. There’s a large freezer section with lots of dumplings and vegetables and some Chinese and Japanese goods. There are even tables set up throughout the supermarket for us to sample various goods; I quite enjoyed the kimchi sample table. I bought as much as I could carry: rice, crispy seaweed, snacks, Korean chilli powder, tteok, two types of mushroom, radish kimchi, Korean pears. Sadly, there’s no food court (we had been hoping to stop there for tea) but that didn’t stop Su-Lin (not me) from buying coconut ice cream mochis for us all to eat in the car park, standing around our shopping trolley!
It is difficult to get to without a car though and because of this, I’ll still frequent the little shops near the train station. Still, it’s nice that H Mart’s made its way across the pond. Sabrina’s post on the afternoon has some photos of the inside of H Mart; I was too busy shopping!
79-81 Kingston Road
New Malden, Surrey
Unit 1, Leigh Close
New Malden, Surrey
(Take the road opposite the Carpet Right on Kingston Road)