With the probable exception of the Korean hotspot of New Malden (which I have yet to visit, and isn’t exactly a convenient central locale anyway), the quality of Korean restaurants in London leaves much to be desired (and I include in that the much raved about Koba, which for my money is just an over-priced, run-of-the-mill place with nice decor and really bad service). Kimchee on High Holborn was the latest name to throw its hat into the ring and try to address the issue.
The restaurant, set at the site previously occupied by the Japanese restaurant Matsuri, is a modern, sleek space with dark wooden communal tables and outward looking counter seating by the window ideal for a spot of people-watching for those so-inclined. It was very reminiscent of Ping Pong, a comparison which in this (and only this) instance, is actually meant as a compliment.
Beef Dolsot Bibimbap was tasty, reasonably portioned, with a fair amount of beef, and complete with requisite crispy golden brown outer layer of rice. Pa Jeon: Traditional Korean pancake with spring onions and mixed seafood served with a soy and chilli sauce was generously filled but lacked slightly in crispness. The most disappointing dish was the Jap Chae: Glass vermicelli noodles stir fried in sesame oil and soy sauce with beef and mixed vegetables, which was desperately short of flavour, and contained no more than a few slices of rather tough beef. Nara near Oxford Circus, hitherto my go-to Korean restaurant in central London, does both the latter two dishes much better. So far, so-so. But the best was still to come.
The barbeque here is done in the kitchen rather than at the table. As far as I'm concerned, they can do it anywhere they want if the end product that lands in front of me is as good as this. Bulgogi: Thinly sliced beef marinated in a delicious blend of fruits, soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, onions and garlic served with crisp lettuce leaves was tender, sweet, with a lovely charred taste to it. It was just delicious. Pork belly was a tad dry but well-seasoned and also very good.
For dessert, Chao Ssal Ddeok: Soft chocolate rice cake with a light dusting of cocoa powder was lovely – light, delicate, with a soft, chewy texture.
In a nutshell...
I must admit - I was sceptical about Kimchee’s credentials. It was, after all, opened by the owner of the Wasabi chain, hardly a background to inspire great confidence. But I was wrong. Not everything was perfect – the Jap Chae was desperately poor, but the quality of some of the other dishes, especially the excellent Bulgogi, easily made up for that. Add to that the practically bargain prices, and fast and friendly service, and we definitely have a winner.
71 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6EA
Average Price: £10-£20