I’ve passed Assa on St Giles High Street many times and each time there’s usually a small queue out the door – that’s surely always a good sign of good food inside. On a Sunday night though, we found that it’s quite easy for the two of us to walk in and be seated around 6pm. Brilliant then, Korean food was ours for the eating – apart from seeing the queues firsthand, I’d also heard great things about the restaurant.
It’s certainly a cosy place! At the back of the ground floor is the tiniest and most crowded kitchen I’ve ever seen and every so often, flames would leap into the air. Slightly chaotic looking seating is available both on the ground floor and in the basement (I think we preferred the basement). Service is a bit iffy but when we had trouble with one waitress, we just grabbed the attention of another. The menu read like the greatest hits of Korean food and it was quite difficult to decide what we wanted.
One of Blai’s favourite Korean dishes is japchae, that lovely stir fry of clear and slightly squidgy sweet potato noodles with beef and vegetables. The version here wasn’t bad and definitely sorted out his craving.
My favourite of the night was the kimchi fried rice, full of lots of the aforementioned spicy pickled vegetable and topped with a glorious fried egg.
We wanted some grilled meat too and an order of galbi had us gnawing away at these tender short ribs. Chopsticks were not good enough – we used our fingers! (Apologies, I forgot to note the prices this time but I think the fried rice was about £8.)
Midway through our meal, it became apparent that we were missing out on something big the restaurant had to offer. Almost every other table in the restaurant sported a tabletop burner and on each burner was a wide, shallow pot bubbling away with something red and spicy. Korean hotpots! And they looked good!
We returned a few weeks later on a particularly cold day and this time with the express intention to have one of their hotpots to warm us up. Of their list of hotpots available, we chose their pork and kimchi stew (£24) – we were told this was sweeter and less spicy than their pork and kimchi broth and the only difference we could make out was that our pork had been marinated in a sweet mixture beforehand. This massive hotpot was brought to our table and set on top of a tabletop burner to cook together.
While we waited for the stew to cook, we also had a slightly stodgy vegetable pancake (£7.50) on the side to pick on. Stodgy it may have been but we still found it comforting in its own way.
After everything had bubbled together for a while and we’d ensured that all the meat was cooked through, it was eating time! In addition to the buttloads (there really was quite a bit) of marinated pork and kimchi in the stew, there was also tofu, courgette slices, mushroom bits, onion slices and daikon radish. Mmm, mmm, good. Each order is enough for two, I reckon.
Once we’d picked out most everything, we tossed in a side of ramyun (£2.50) to soak up all the liquid (they can top it up if it’s too thick). That almost did us in – we were stuffed!
The only downside? You will leave the restaurant stinking of Korean food. I kept smelling hotpot on my winter coat for days!
(there are two restaurants of the same name side-by-side – the Korean one is on the left, the Japanese one I’ve not tried is on the right)
53 St Giles High Street
London WC2H 8LH