We were wandering around Covent Garden when I recalled a restaurant that a friend had recommended to me – On the Bab. We trotted over there for a light dinner early that evening and found it absolutely rammed with Korean and Chinese students. They sure can sniff out a good place for a meal!

And good it was, selling the kind of Korean food that’s a little bit junky, a little bit trendy, and a whole lot of popular. Korean fried chicken has to be on that list of course. This was their Yangyum chicken – sweet spicy (small – £5.5). Larger orders on other tables seemed to include extra salads. The chicken was good though a little swamped by the sauce. I enjoyed it though.

Yangyum Chicken - Sweet Chilli

Bab Twigim – Korean style kimchi and cheese arancini (£3.8) were very moreish and contained that very trendy combination of kimchi and mild melty cheese. Cheese (this mild stuff at least) does seem quite popular in Korea, showing up on all manner of spicy dishes.

Kimchi Arancini

Kimchi and cheese egg muffin (£3.5) came highly recommended from my friend and whatever I was expecting, it sure wasn’t this! This had been made in some mould with the kimchi and again that mild melting cheese (similar to an American mozzarella) had been cooked within a soft pancake-like batter. Excellent.

Kimchi and Cheese Egg Muffin

On the Bibimbab (£7.5) didn’t come in a stone bowl but was still very tasty with its multitude of ingredients. Of course, a hot stone bowl would have made it all better…

On the Bibimbab

In all, a solid place for a Korean meal in an unlikely location – Covent Garden. The only downside is how cramped the restaurant is, with neighbouring tables really pushed up against each other. But still, I’d like to try more from the menu! There are two other branches in addition to the Covent Garden one.

On the Bab
36 Wellington Street
Covent Garden
London WC2E 7BD

We have Korean food on the brain and especially the Korean food in New Malden. I’m keen for us to try all the restaurants in the area but for our last two visits, we’ve stuck with one about which we’ve heard good things – Yami, located on the high street.

We first visited for lunch one Sunday and I was surprised to discover that their lunch menu was available all through the week. There’s no barbecue meats on it but there’s a very good range of dishes. We selected a few and to my delight, three banchan were brought to our table; there was kimchi, spicy pickled cucumber and stewed potatoes. It’s nice to get these traditional Korean little dishes; I take an immediate dislike to restaurants charging for a small dish of kimchi!

Banchan

A plate of Korean sweet and spicy fried chicken were little nuggets of fried goodness.

Korean Sweet and Spicy Fried Chicken

The seafood pajeon was excellent – not at all greasy like many pancakes I’ve come across.

Seafood Pajeon

Finally, we also split a proper stone bowl bibimbap, which came with a side of some kind of fermented bean soup. Lots of vegetables, a bit of marinated beef and a raw egg – good stuff!

Bibimbap and Soup

Bibimbap

The grand total for all of this (excluding service) was £15 – yes, only £5 each dish! But unfortunately, that was late last year and now the prices have gone up a little. And it’s still a bargain at only £5.90 each dish at lunchtime. Prices are a pound or two more at dinner time.

We knew we’d return but it was only earlier this month that we got around to it. This time, we were there for dinner and in particular for Korean barbecue. And again, banchan! The kimchi remained but we also got some soy marinated eggs and a salad with a sweet mayo dressing.

Banchan

Our first round of barbecue was unmarinated sliced ox tongue. Alongside, we ordered a basket of lettuce and there were slices of raw garlic, green chili, and bean paste too. Oh, and possibly my favourite surprisingly simple dip for the slightly chewy unmarinated thinly sliced tongue – sesame oil and salt.

Ox Tongue and Lettuce

Grilled Ox Tongue

We knew we’d need some rice with our meal and with Blai also wanting japchae, the Korean glass noodle stirfry, we were thrilled to be able to order both together at once! Japchae and rice – and I think it’s cheaper ordering them together than separately too.

Japchae and Rice

At this point, our waitress came along, scraped clean our grill and heated it again. Our marinated beef – galbi – came in a massive and intimidating Swiss roll. Not to worry: a waiter came along and proceeded to unroll the meat directly onto the grill, cutting it into bite sized pieces with scissors as he went along.

A Roll of Marinated Beef

Grilled Marinated Beef

That beef was fabulous and we were in raptures about it. Incredibly tender and flavoursome, I know we’ll be ordering it again next time! Our dinner total came to £30 for the two of us (bargain!) and we were absolutely stuffed. Keep in mind that if you do opt for barbecue you do need to have at least two orders of meat. Not a problem for us!

Yami
69 High St
New Malden KT3 4BT

Yami on Urbanspoon

There’s a bus that takes us directly from Croydon all the way to Elephant and Castle – it’s a ridiculously scenic route as the route rolls up and down a number of hills. This route has also introduced me to a number of neighbourhoods and, of course, new restaurants in those hoods. One that caught my eye on Walworth Road in between Camberwell and Elephant and Castle was the slightly absurdly named CheeMc. It turns out that Chi-Mc is the Korean compound word for Korean fried chicken and beer, an extremely popular combination there and in China, thanks to the export of Korean pop dramas. Well, that then explained their logo – a drunk looking cartoon chicken and a stein of frothing beer.

The restaurant is relatively new, opening late last year, and googling for any information brings you to forums in Korean. It sounds like Korean students love the place and there wasn’t anything for me to do but visit for a meal. I arranged to meet my friend at CheeMc one weeknight. I’m not sure what I expected but the restaurant was sparsely decorated, with a kitchen in the back and a glass case full of soju and beer in the front. Their menu is full of Korean dishes in addition to all that fried chicken.

The fried chicken list had prices for half or whole chickens and also a deal for two halves with different flavours. We went for this last half and half deal and after a recommendation from the waitress (and also her telling us what flavours weren’t available) we went with sweet chilli and sweet garlic.

Expect a bit of a wait as that chicken is fried fresh when you order it. What came out first was a sizzling hotplate topped with the fried chicken and lashings of a sweet garlic paste. And I really mean lashings. The half chicken had been cut into manageable sized pieces and fried with a batter. It was a bit different to the batterless kind I tried at Bonchon in Boston but still was welcome.

Half a Sweet Garlic Fried Chicken

Most tables were ordering the sweet chilli fried chicken. These were those glossy coated pieces, all sweet and spicy.

Half a Sweet Chilli Fried Chicken

Of the two, we preferred the garlic chicken (despite it causing poor Blai to suffer at night – garlic was seeping out of my pores!). The garlic was strongly flavoured and a bit sweet as well and went very well with the savoury chicken. The chilli chicken was a bit too sweet for our tastes but we saw later on that night a slight variant of this flavour that would solve that problem. This was a platter of the sweet chilli chicken covered in a pile of fresh spring onion slivers.

In addition to our fried chicken feast, we split a kimchi jjigae with rice. This was the usual bubbling stone bowl of red broth with sliced pork and kimchi. What wasn’t usual was the default level of heat in the broth – spicy!

Kimchi Jjigae

Overall, yeah, it’s worth a trip if you’re in the area. Between the two of us, the food and a takeaway box for the leftovers (they charged 50p for that) totaled £30.

CheeMc
310 Walworth Road
London SE17 2NA

Cheemc on Urbanspoon

Korean/Mexican fusion! That’s the basis behind Kimchinary, started by Hanna Soderlund as a street food stand, and which has currently popped up at the back in The Catch Bar in Shoreditch. If you’ve been following this trend for a while (as I have – I love both cuisines), you’ll know that it’s been around in the States for a while now and Kimchinary is not the only place here in London that’s explored Korean fusion like this. However, it’s possibly one of the most talked about in the city as its menu is quite novel and exciting.

Anyway, by invitation, a friend and I headed to The Catch Bar for the launch night of the Kimchinary popup.

Kimchinary

That night, we had the opportunity to try a number of the tacos on offer (the menu may change since we visited). Tacos are priced at £6 for two and all come on freshly made corn tortillas (excellent!).

Buttermilk fried squid – Pickled pineapple relish, kimchi guac, herb salad – was delicious. The squid was fried to perfection and the accompaniments were excellent with it. I would have liked a bit more heat though – maybe a bit more heat in the kimchi guac or some hot sauce on the side.

Buttermilk fried squid - Pickled pineapple relish, kimchi guac, herb salad

To my surprise, the Braised cavolo nero – Soy pickled enoki, kimchi puree, queso fresco – was one of my favourites that night. There was some great contrast between the ‘green’ cavolo nero, silky mushrooms, tangy cheese. It was very well balanced.

Braised cavolo nero - Soy pickled enoki, kimchi puree, queso fresco

Corn flake chicken thigh – Doenjang buttered corn, potato salad, crispy chicken skin – was promising but needed a bit of kimchi to give it all a kick up the backside. There was a bit too much salt and something sour like lime was required to balance out the oily and creamy.

Corn flake chicken thigh - Doenjang buttered corn, potato salad, crispy chicken skin

“Bulgogi” ox cheek & tongue – Radish kimchi, blackened spring onion, horseradish – the bulgogi beef was delicious and the horseradish did give it all a great kick. I only wished there was more kimchi. Well, to be honest, I absolutely adore kimchi so I’d like lots of it all the time!

"Bulgogi" ox cheek & tongue - Radish kimchi, blackened spring onion, horseradish

The only non-taco we tried that night was the Dukbokki – Rainbow chard, crispy shallots (£4) – and this was my favourite thing to eat that evening. The sticky rice cakes had been deep fried, with a great crust, and then coated with a spicy sweet sticky sauce. Silky strands of chard and crispy shallots and coriander and sesame seeds completed the delectable bowlful.

Dukbokki - Rainbow chard, crispy shallots

Overall, the little bites need a bit more heat and a squeeze of lime here and there but they’re fine little treats otherwise, especially with drinks; I’m sure everything will be ironed out with time. Service at The Catch Bar, however, needs improving. But then I realise that this is a bar, not a restaurant, so I guess that’s ok. Kind of.

Thanks again to Hanna for the invitation! Kimchinary will be at The Catch Bar for three months from January 17.

Kimchinary at The Catch Bar
22 Kingsland Road
Shoreditch
London E2 8DA

When the Korean healthy restaurant chain Bibigo opened in London last year, critics slated it but mainly for the very high prices they were charging. I had crossed it off my list a while ago but someone recently said that they had had a good meal there and it was enough to pique my curiosity again. I see now that they’ve addressed the price issue with a £9 lunch special (the “lunch club menu”) and a £12 early dinner set menu in addition to the usual expensive a la carte options. We tried the latter one recent Saturday afternoon (yes, also available on weekends!) and were pleasantly surprised.

For £9, you get a starter and a main course. Of the starters, there was a red chicken (I suspect crispy chicken pieces in a gochujang hot sauce) and a seafood pajeon; I chose the latter. To my disbelief, this appears to be a full sized order! I really enjoyed this pajeon; unlike many heavy greasy ones I’ve had in the past, this was light and crispy.

Seafood Pajeon

My friend chose the third available starter – the Tomatofu, a salad made up of soft tofu, tomatoes and rocket leaves. From the way she cleared her bowl, I’d say she liked it!

Tomatofu

For our main course, we both went with the Traditional bibimbap with beef bulgogi. The healthy outlook of the restaurant meant that it wasn’t topped with a fried egg (boo!) but it was still tasty with their accompanying ‘Kohot’ sauce (like the traditional gochujang based sauce). I liked that other sauces were also available – some were mild and would suit those fearful of heat.

Traditional Bibimbap

Other main courses available in the set menu were the bulgogi, bo-ssam, baby chicken, grilled scallops or the jjigae of the day (that day, it was a pork and kimchi jjigae). I notice online now that it was supposed to include a tea or coffee but we forgot to get ours!

Overall, the food at Bibigo was pretty good – sure it’s not perhaps the most authentic take on Korean food but I don’t then that matters so long as it’s delicious. The lunch set is a great deal with very generous portions and I’d certainly recommend that. The only catch is that you’ve got to sign up for their “VIP club” but this does get you a card that also gives you 20% off their a la carte menu.

Bibigo
58-59 Great Marlborough Street
London W1F 7JY

Bibigo on Urbanspoon