Just by Centre Point near Tottenham Court Road tube station is a little row of Korean restaurants on St. Giles High Street. I’d not tried any of them but a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity when I met up with Sam of life outside the viewfinder in the centre of town; we’d decided on Seoul Bakery, a place I’d first heard about from Tommy at This is Naive. It’s probably the smallest of the restaurants along the row, with only three tables, and quite possibly the one with the most character.

The place was already packed with young Koreans by noon on that Easter Sunday and we had to share a table with two other groups of two – very cosy. The first thing to take my notice was that the walls were absolutely covered with graffiti. I have no idea whether they actually bake any of it on site but they do have baked goods for sale, along with stickers, stationery and socks. I fell for the place immediately and also for its basic menu full of simple Korean dishes: kimbap, bibimbap, tteokbokki, pajeon and simple soupy stews.

We started with a bulgogi beef bibimbap (no dolsot here – aka. hot stone pot) which came along with a giant bottle of all the gochujang-based sauce we could ever want or need. A good squeeze of the bottle and a thorough mixing of everything and we were soon tucking in to the spicy rice, beef and vegetables.

Bulgogi Beef Bibimbap

Tteokbokki could be ordered plain or with a variety of additions; we chose the one with dumplings – dumpling tteokbokki. The sauce wasn’t as spicy as I normally like it but it was a tasty rendition.

Tteokbokki

A seafood pajeon was absolutely fantastic, just as good as others I’ve had in other restaurants, and was all crisp and greaseless and filled with more seafood than I expected for the price.

Seafood Pajeon

And they’re not averse to the sharing of dishes too. These were the bowls we got from which to eat – the handle does come in handy when you have to carry your bowl for lack of space on the table!

Bowl

This isn’t a place to linger as there’s likely to be a small queue at the door: pay your bill and go (pausing to choose any extras – I left with little bear memo stickies to use as bookmarks). Ours came to less than £20 (I think about £17) for all this and two aloe drinks. Still, the place is great for a cheap and quick Korean meal.

Seoul Bakery
55 St. Giles High Street
London WC2H 8LH

Seoul Bakery on Urbanspoon

Did you know that this week is Spam Appreciation Week? I have no idea how these food weeks are allocated but this was one I could get behind. My love of Spam is well documented and I know I’m not the only one! The very kind people at Spam UK got in touch with me through Twitter earlier this week and sent me a few cans as well as an apron and spatula and I’m starting to put those tins into good use.

Kimchi and Spam Bokkeumbap

As I also had a big tub of kimchi gifted to me by Sabrina (thank you!), I decided to combine the two to make a bokkeumbap, a Korean fried rice. There was a very good Korean restaurant down the road from where I live but they closed for a new start (so said the sign on the door) and they used to serve the most delicious fried rice, all oily and surprisingly tasty despite the few ingredients in it. It was this I had in mind, as well as a kimchi fried rice we had in Pacific Plaza, when I cooked this. While that version of kimchi bokkeumbap had fatty belly pork in it, I chose to use Spam; the tinned luncheon meat is very popular in Korea and its meaty saltiness pairs well with that spicy cuisine. And with kimchi – yum!

Kimchi and Spam Bokkeumbap

This really hit the spot a few nights ago – it’s fast (so long as you have the ingredients in the fridge, including cold cooked rice) and gorgeous and overall, is some serious comfort food. It’s best with older, stronger kimchi but the you could fry younger kimchi for longer to get more flavour. Do you like it spicier? – Add some gochujang or Korean chilli powder. If you don’t like fried eggs with liquid yolks (really?), you could cook the eggs before hand into scrambly bits to stir into the bokkeumbap near the end. Tweak it all you like as it’s quite adaptable; all fried rice is.

Kimchi and Spam Bokkeumbap

Before I share the recipe for kimchi and spam bokkeumbap, I just wanted to share another fried rice variation I learned about recently from Austin Bush’s blog. Khao phat Amerikan is a Thai American fried rice and I wonder if it is available outside Thailand. It’s fried rice with ketchup and raisins (?!) and is served with fried hot dogs, fried chicken and ham on the side. Quite often there are also fried croutons and a fried egg involved. From what I gather, some innovative cook took the elements of an American breakfast (not unlike a British fry up) and turned them into something a little more Thai. I can imagine fried Spam on the side of this too but strangely, I’m not that keen on recreating this at home. Serve me a kimchi and spam bokkeumbap anytime!

Kimchi and Spam Bokkeumbap
serves 2 regular eaters or 3 on a diet. Hmm.

3 tbsps sunflower oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
200g of your favourite Spam, diced
1 cup chopped kimchi plus whatever kimchi juices you can salvage
cold, cooked rice for two (use Korean or Japanese rice…the slightly sticky short grain kind), about 700mL in volume
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1 tsp sesame oil
salt to taste
toasted sesame seeds
2 eggs
gim – Korean toasted seaweed (optional)

Prepare all your ingredients. Chop, dice, slice.

Heat a wok or large pot over medium heat and add the oil. Throw in the onion and carrot and saute under tender – about 5-10 minutes. Add the Spam and continue frying for another 2 minutes. Add the kimchi and continue frying. If you’re kimchi is quite fresh, fry for longer to deepen the flavours. If you’d like it a bit spicier, you can add a bit of gochujang at this stage. Pour in the kimchi juices. Break the rice up with your hands (get them wet to prevent it sticking too much) and then add it to the pan. Stir continuously, gently breaking up any lumps of rice. If needed, add a bit more oil… fried rice really does require more oil than you think! When it’s thoroughly combined and all hot, drizzle over the sesame oil, throw in the sliced spring onion and add salt to taste and continue frying and tossing for a couple more minutes to combine thoroughly. Take your fried rice, the bokkeumbap, off the heat.

Heat a frying pan, add a little oil and fry your eggs as you like them. Plate your bokkeumbap, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and top with an egg per serving and some gim. Serve.

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.

Banchan

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.

Seafood Pajeon

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.

Japchae

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.

Tteokboggi

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.

Meat Platter

Galbi

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.

Grilled Duck

Galbi

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.

Bibimbap Serving

At the end of our meal, a cut orange was brought out for dessert. I adore the way Korean restaurants present their fruit.

Cut Orange

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.

H Mart

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!

Su La
79-81 Kingston Road
New Malden, Surrey
KT3 3PB

Su la Korean on Urbanspoon

H-Mart
Unit 1, Leigh Close
New Malden, Surrey
KT3 3NW
(Take the road opposite the Carpet Right on Kingston Road)

The woman behind the counter at Duri, a new Korean shop and cafe in Ealing Common, was looking interested in what I was purchasing. In an attempt to explain, I said that I was making kimchi jjigae at home.

Kimchi Jjigae

“Wwoooaaaaahhhh! Kimchi jjigae?!” She looked again at what she was just about to place into a plastic bag. Kimchi. Gochujang. Choco Pies (ahem, not for the jjigae). “You also need tofu.”

I waved my other plastic bag at her, having purchased some at the nearby Japanese shop Natural Natural. She burst into a big smile, finished up with my order, and sent me off with further approval of kimchi jjigae. Apparently they served some the other day and it sold out quickly.

Yes, kimchi jjigae, or kimchi stew, is delicious and as it’s served piping hot, it’s perfect for a cold night (and surely you know those). I reckon it’s also a gentle introduction to kimchi if you’re a bit nervous of it. All that’s required on the side is some white rice. Slurp.

Kimchi Jjigae

Kimchi Jjigae
serves 2.

200g pork tenderloin (or belly), thinly sliced
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 medium sized onion, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 loose cupful of kimchi, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 cups water
1-2 tbsps gochujang
1 block of soft tofu (silken, if possible)
3 spring onions, chopped
salt to taste

Heat a pot over medium heat and pour in the sunflower oil when it is hot. Add the onion and fry until it has softened. Add the garlic and stir fry for another minute. Add the sliced pork and again fry until cooked. Toss in the kimchi, fry for another minute, and then add the water and bring it all to a boil.

Stir in the gochujang (add to taste) and reduce the temperature so it all simmers away happily. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes though longer wouldn’t hurt it at all. Cut the block of silken tofu into cubes and carefully drop them into the pot. Stir them in gently and leave to simmer for another 5 minutes. Add salt to taste (you may not need any – I found mine fine as is) and throw in the spring onions at the end. Serve piping hot with white rice on the side.

Oh, this year’s Korean Food Festival was a disappointment! Not only was it drizzling when I arrived at around noon but there were only three stands.

Two Stands

A Stand

Three?! What a let down after the two previous years! Could this be the effect of the credit crunch or as Jonny suggested here, a result of the dismal weather forecast? Oh well, my brother and I made the most of it and had some spicy fried chicken (quite good) and beef kalbi (mediocre) with rice.

Spicy Fried Chicken

Beef Kalbi

If you did make the journey out for the festival, I hope you did use the opportunity to explore the Korean restaurants and shops in the area. I found some lovely takeaway food for dinner that night: some little pajeon (Korean pancakes) and kimbap.

Luckily, one big thing made the trip worthwhile for me – I finally made it to Hyun’s Bakery while it was open! Whenever I’d visited New Malden in the past, I’d always try to visit and find it shut. Finally, the door was open!

As I’m a sucker for savoury Asian-style pastries, I had to have this fried sausage doughnut on a stick. This was similar to the hot dog bun you usually find but involved a proper pork sausage and a dusting of panko crumbs, all deep fried. Oh, and it was on a stick – a winner right there! (Notice that I forgot to take a photo until after I’d attacked it.)

Sausage Doughnut on a Stick!

My other selections were (clockwise from the top right) a fried vegetable doughnut, a mochi doughnut filled with red bean paste and a Castella cake.

An Assortment of Buns

The vegetable doughnut was alright, with a filling reminiscent of a vegetable korokke. The mochi doughnut was delicious and chewy and was generously filled with a chunky, and I suspect homemade, red bean paste. I loved the Castella cake – soft and plain sponge cake but still very moreish.

Mochi Doughnut

And all four items only came to £3.10! (There’s a little Japanese shop near me that stocks some buns from Hyun’s but they charge twice as much as the original bakery!)

Hyun’s Bakery
94 Burlington Road
New Malden KT3 4NT