Saturday, 4 February 2012

Kimchee for the masses!

Don't worry ... I know that "Kimchi" isn't normally spelt with "ee", I am in fact referring to the London based Korean restaurant which, for the whole of January, was serving Korean food to the masses at half price!! Amazing right?!  

Despite rather negative reviews in many papers, at the prospect of such an amazing offer, I couldn't resist the opportunity and drag my two flatmates,  Alice and Noshin, out to dinner. Alice, who has lived in Japan, and I had both eaten Korean food a lot before (our fridge is full of Kimchi!) but Noshin had never eaten it so we insisted on buying lots! 

Unfortunately, lots of other people had the same ideas as us so there was a really long queue... we queued for about an hour but while we were in the queue, they were serving hot tea to those of us waiting outside to help keep the chill at bay. 

One of the little things which did bug me about the place is that there is no Korean writing on the menu, nor are there any staff (as far as I am aware) that speak Korean. While this isn't a big issue, I like ordering in Korean when I'm in a Korean restaurant and it kind of sucks that you can't do that here... (also their romanization of the Korean dishes' names is a bit funny!)

When we got inside, it was incredibly busy. We were seated by the window which I'm sure, on a not busy day, has a great view. However, when the restaurant IS busy, it is slightly awkward to eat your dinner while being watched and stared at by all the very hungry people queuing outside in the cold, waiting to come in.  

Having queued for an hour...Noshin and I were really hungry....hungry face >< 
 The restaurant itself is really beautiful and many of my Korean friends have commented how much it looks like restaurants in Korea...while this is a sweeping generalisation..I have to admit that I do see what they mean! While the benches are a little close and there's a slight "sardine in a can" feeling at peak times, it's still a really good atmosphere! 

Kimchi -  £  2.50 
 To start with, we ordered a side of kimchi (김치) , a portion of battered chicken in a sweet/sour style sauce and  kimchi pancake (김치전). Now, as someone who has travelled quite a bit, I still can't quite get past the whole idea of paying for Kimchi (which is distributed freely with meals in Korea)... and paying a lot for it! Priced at £2.50, the tiny kimchi portion is practically extortionate...and it wasn't even that good - it obviously hadn't fermented very long and lacked the infamous "Kimchi-kick".     

YangYeum Chicken - £  4.90 
Moving on to the chicken, which was actually one of my favourite dishes of the evening. (We'll bypass the fact that I'm supposedly vegetarian..!) This proved popular with all of us and disappeared pretty quickly. Described on the menu as a "lightly battered chicken in a sweet chilli sauce", it was that except 'lightly' is perhaps not the word. The batter was rather soggy and not really what I was used to in Korea...that said, without comparing it, it's not a bad dish. 

Kimchi Pancake -  £  5.50  

The last dish to arrive was the kimchi pancake and I have to admit that I was slightly let down by this. At the price it's at, I was expecting the kimchi pancake of all kimchi pancakes...the truth is that I can cook better ... and I'm no master chef. The portion was pretty small too...not good having waited so long in the cold. 


Dduk Bok Gi -   £  5.20 

We also ordered one portion of Dduk Bok Gi (떡볶이 )  which wasn't bad but again, I did feel rather let down by not only the portion size but also the fact that rather than being mostly 떡, or rice cake, it was actually mostly fish cake...which didn't taste very good. While we all agreed the rice cake was good, we all left the fish cake. A bit of a waste of money :/ 

From there, it was on to the main course.....

Beef Dolsot Bibimbap -   £  8.20  

 On her first time at a Korean restaurant, Noshin played it safe and opted for the traditional beef dolsot bibimbap. 'Bibimbap' actually translates as 'mixed rice' and includes a base of rice, covered in an assortment of vegetables, a type of meat/fish or sometimes tofu and is normally served with an egg on top! When we ate, it came served in a traditional stone bowl and was pretty good to look at! I didn't have any (my rebellious vegetarian streak didn't stretch that far) but she seemed to really enjoy it. The only bad thing being they were a little stingy with the chilli paste (고추장). The tip to eating bibimbap well is to let the rice get really crispy, as it burns against the sides of the bowl, before you start mixing!

Alice is a pro at mixing her bibimbap! 
Alice ordered the raw beef dolsot bibimbap - as seen below- a very popular traditional Korean dish. Like the plain beef bibimbap above, the dish is served in a boiling hot stone bowl which as we've mentioned equals awesome crispy rice. After the bowl has cooled down a little, it's time to get mixing, making sure to properly mix in all the chilli sauce. My general view is that, within reason, the more you mix, the better it will taste! Of course, with the raw beef bibimbap, you have the option of cooking to your preference so start eating whenever you want! 

Raw Beef Dolsot Bibimbap -   £  8.20 

BibimNaengMyeon -   £  6.90 
Finally, I ordered the BibimNaengMyeon which is another traditional Korean dish of noodles served cold with a chilli sauce called 초고추장 - made from sugar, vinegar and gochujang, cucumbers, Korean pears and a boiled egg. This is probably my favourite Korean dish and is one that I regularly make at home. I really like the recipe that they use ( in fact, this is the second time I've eaten it in a week!) so I am a die-hard fan of the dish~!

And since we (somehow) had a little space left.... 
Golden sweet chestnut Ice Cream -   £  3.40 
We finished off the meal with a bowl of chestnut ice cream to share between the three of us. It was a rather strange concoction but was surprisingly nice and something I would definitely have again next time!! 

I guess, all in all, it was a really nice evening and I, for one, am really glad I went. When I asked Noshin what she thought she said "I really like Korean food so would definitely eat it again. Was it worth waiting for an hour for in the cold?...No, probably not, but I will eat it again when it's less busy". Since Alice and I are both Korean food fans, our views are slightly biased with both of us walking away very full and very happy! 

There is no questioning the fact that, not including the discount, it is a pretty expensive place to eat. I was satisfied with what I had, for the price that I paid, but would I return now the prices are back to normal...I can't be sure. The food was good...but not spectacular and the portion sizes are small and I can't help but feel that with some of the dishes, I could've made better in my kitchen at home. 

The service wasn't bad, especially considering how busy the restaurant was, but again, when compared alongside the prices, I could say I would have expected better. Also, it is worth noting the 10% gratuity that is automatically added to your bill. 

I mentioned earlier in the introduction that I had read many negative reviews in local papers and online - in my opinion, it's a pretty good restaurant but it has many potential areas to improve. It would make a really nice evening out with friends but expect to walk away with a substantially lighter wallet!  

My final scores: 
Food: 7/10 
Atmosphere: 6.5/10 
Service: 6/10 
Value for Money (with discount) : 9/10
Value for Money (without discount) : 5/10 

Kimchee Restaurant 
71 High Holborn 

020 7430 0956

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