As I popped into the taxi with a handful of orders from On The Bab, the pungent yet delicious smell of the Korean bulgogi beef sitting comfortably in their spicy savoury marinade peeked out of my food haul. “What is it, is this Chinese food?” The lovely Turkish driver looked back through his thick rimmed glasses slightly steamed from the heat/cold contrast inside and outside of the taxi. No, I laughed and I told him that this was a tasty Korean place based here in East London. I asked him if he has ever tried Korean food before, he shook his head but he curiously wrote down the name in his phone and said will definitely check it out because it smelled so good.
Then, throughout the whole taxi ride back to my destination, he and I had an exchange of the best of ___(put your ethnic choice here) food in London. We both marvelled at the extend of the choices we have here in this city, mainly due to the international background of Londoners and the various neighbourhoods. I count myself lucky to be able to roll these names off my tongue and was surprised about the knowledge I carried around with me through living in London for the past 8 years.
My personal relationship with Korean culture went back to my freshmen year of college. As a wide-eyed first-year student, I was curious of the loud drumming noise coming out of our first floor student lounge in the dormitory I stayed at. As I peeked through the keyhole of the front door, I saw a group of students from all international backgrounds chanting Korean phrases as they drummed to the beat in all variations. Someone behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was interested to try it out myself. I reluctantly agreed and then the rest was history. 1 year later I found myself on stage at the Columbia University’s Korean Cultural Festival and performed a rock-out show!
After our regular drumming practice, the group and I would often pop down to NYC’s Korean town at 34th Street and order a late night feast. I have had Korean food as a 3am staple back in New York City many time and it would not be complete without a soju (Korean white wine) tasting after the food have filled our tummies. In a 24 hour city, Korean food joints that operate on the same schedule was perfect and in sync.
I was quite frustrated that I couldn’t find a decent Korean restaurant when I first arrived in London. The surge of Korean food popularity did not start until a few years later. Although, one thing that remained different even today, is the fact that kimchi (the pickled vegetables in spicy marinade) would be refillable and provided an appetiser in many restaurants in NYC, however, in London this is often ordered as an additional and often optional. Maybe it’s just a difference in taste, New Yorkers do love their large unlimited share of spicy food!
If you would like to try a few spots here in London, do allow me to suggest a few that is high on my list.
(Disclaimer: this is purely judged based on my taste buds, no casualty of spiciness is held responsible by NYML) 🙂
On The Bab
305 Old Street, EC1V 9LA
The bulgogi beef on rice here is a must have. It is a Korean take on marinated grilled beef, often cooked with onions. There is also a side serving of Korean slaw and picked vegetables. If you are feeling hungry for a starter, order the “On the Bun”, which is a variation of the marinated beef/pork served in a white soft steamed bun. If you have ever tried Flesh and Bun (my review was featured here), you’ll know what kind of heavenly creation I am talking about.
11 Rathbone Street, W1T 1NA
Another strong contestant in the Korean BBQ restaurant category. I usually order the BBQ platter here which consist of marinated beef, beef tail, squid etc. It is, however, all about self service. It will be cooked for you if you ask for it. Best to be eaten with lettuce leaves and that season spicy soybean sauce. However, portions will be small, so perhaps go for the macha ice-cream dessert after!
Markets across London
These guys were actually colleagues of a friend who worked on the Credit Suisse trading floor in Canary Wharf. They created the all so popular at the time “London Gangnam Style” YouTube video and then with their love of Korean rice beef burgers, created the delicious Galbi Bro at the Hoxton Market. Their rice burgers were fantastic, although, nowadays, you can definitely get the traditional bun burgers with a Korean twist!
68 Rivington Street EC2A 3AY
You like fried chicken I hear? How about trying Jubo’s Korean fried chicken. This Shoreditch trendy spot features crunchy wings or strips with savoury soy-garlic sauce or Korean hot sauce. Sriracha is provided on request! Good with some drinks in the nearby bar to curb your appetite.
71 High Holborn WC1V 6EA
If you ever stopped by Hatton Garden like myself and Mr.New Yorker on a Saturday lunch time to hunt out our wedding bands, then there really aren’t many choices of eateries in the area. Unless of course you only wanted a quick lunch at the Pret down the road. Kimchi, located conveniently between Holborn and Chancery Lane, was perfect! We both dived into our favourite bimbimbap at this place, which was served in a hot stone bowl with a raw egg in the middle to cook away as you quickly stir and steam your face at the same time. Recommend.
I do want to check out New Malden at some point this next few month and feedback with more eateries in this gem of little-Korean town of London as they call it. Any great recommendations please leave your comments below!