Monday, 30 January 2012

Restaurant Review: Kimchee

How long would you queue for a restaurant? Kimchee in Holborn has boasted one of London's biggest waits for the duration of January. Here's my review for Scout London.

We know that London’s foodies are dedicated, but queuing round the block on a cold weekday evening in January for a relatively unheard of Korean restaurant named Kimchee is something out of the ordinary.

As we walked down High Holborn and saw the 7pm queue snake its way round the corner and right down Old Red Lion Street, our mind went into overdrive wondering just what could be going on. Has John Terry popped in for a bite and this is a very polite lynch mob? Is the Big Society in such a sorry state that this is the queue for a bar job? Are TfL rehearsing for what it will be like topping up your Oyster card during the Olympics.
Actually, it was none of these – just a simple 50% off food offer. But in a city full of start-of-year offers, such a following is still bewildering. The ever-intrepid Scout knew we had to check it out.

Positioning ourselves for a stakeout in the pub across the road, we’d built up quite an appetite by the time the queue had died down and finally we took our table. With not far off 100 dishes on the menu and an eagerness to try most of them, perhaps this was a good thing.

Just like the sleek beige and black decor, Pa Jeon, a traditional Korean dish that transcends pancake and omelette which kicks off our well earned feast isn’t the most dynamically exciting of appetisers, but generously filled with seafood, is nice all the same. Stir-fried squid in a chilli sauce (Squid Bokkeum) ups the ante and the spice level, whilst beadcrumbed crab pieces (Crab Tuigim) are another hit, reminding us in an ever-so-slightly perverse way of garlic mushrooms down the pub.

Barbecued beef tongue is less familiar, but an instant high point. Soft, tender meat boasts something of a liver taste and texture, whilst the combined effect of the smoky barbecue and a black bean style sauce is deliciously and addictively umami-rich. Now we’re getting onto the stuff worth queuing for…

To our taste, the best bit is Yuk Hwae. Far from being yukky at all, it’s Korea’s answer to beef tartare, featuring thinly sliced, slightly frozen raw beef served topped with a raw egg yolk and fine slivers of nashi pear. Mixing the varying components together creates a textural triumph, and doused in a little chilli sauce we dare say the dish becomes a poshed-up, exoticised and healthy version of a naughty doner kebab. That’s a good thing, in case you’re not sure.

Ordering two portions of beef and countless more punch-packing dishes before an onslaught of some less exciting green tea and black sesame flavoured ice creams, our gluttony is evidence that we can’t much fault Kimchee. As for the initially lovely looking Korean ladies on the next table who found it funny to refer to us as “fat and greedy”, you we can find fault in.

So, is it worth the queue? Well, maybe, but we’d suggest you take our approach and watch from the pub. It’s much warmer in there…

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