Welcome to a series of articles rounding-up the very best restaurants in London for specific cuisines. We’re not talking authenticity here, rather the kind of food we really love to eat. While we rate good value highly, on the flip-side some places are so good that they are worth saving up for.
Hidden in a basement behind a discreet door next to Holborn station, Asadal feels like it should be a secret. Actually, it’s one of London’s busiest Korean eateries and a haven for expats. As at many Korean restaurants, the tables come fitted with grills for at-table cooking, and here it’s a particular specialty. The bulgogi (barbecued beef) is a triumph, with a decent quality of meat really shining through and a slightly sticky marinade adding a pleasant sweetness. Slapdash and surly service has been known to let the side down slightly.
Asadal, 227 High Holborn, WC1V 7DA
Bi Bim Bap, various locations
There are no prizes for guessing the signature serve here. Bibimbap is one of Korea’s most famous dishes — a bowl of rice served in a hot stone bowl adorned with your toppings of choice — and it’s the lifeblood of this fun pair of restaurants in Soho and Fitzrovia. Toppings such as beef, spicy pork or tofu ensure plenty of variety, while each that we’ve tried has been well-seasoned and generous. We also like that you’re allowed to add your own sauces. It’s fast food all the way, but warmly welcoming with it. The scantily furnished spaces border on the sparse, but at each the walls are cutely decorated with polaroid photos of past customers; you might just be snapped somewhere in the middle of a bibimbap and added to the collection.
Bi Bim Bap Soho, 11 Greek Street, W1D 4DJ
Bi Bim Bap Fitzrovia, 10 Charlotte Street, W1T 2LT
Cah Chi, various locations
Barbecue dishes are the speciality of this longstanding family-run restaurant with branches in both Raynes Park and Earlsfield. An impressive array of different cuts of beef, plus chicken, pork, prawn and seafood is served, all marinated and ready to be flung onto the hot plates at the centre of each table; it’s similar to many Korean restaurants on paper, but the deep and complex spicing of the marinade, plus the quality of the meat sets it apart. This is also a good place to try yukhoe, a Korean take on steak tartare that’s blended with soy and garlic, served with refreshing Asian pear. Both restaurants are BYO for wine only, but serve beer and spirits. They’re also cash only, but the food is such good value that it’s hard to push much over £25 a head.
Cah Chi Raynes Park, 34 Durham Road, SW20 0TW
Cah Chi Earlsfield, 394 Garratt Lane, SW18 4HP
Dotori, Finsbury Park
This tiny restaurant has built up such a reputation for its Korean and Japanese cuisine that advance booking is almost always essential, but it’s worth persevering. Once inside we promise you’ll almost instantly forget the scruffy takeaway exterior amidst a row of betting shops, and get caught up in the buzzy atmosphere. The option of having some sushi and sashimi dishes alongside Korean ones is no bad thing here, but it’s the authentic and extremely reasonably priced Korean offerings that are the reason to come. Barbecue dishes aren’t cooked at the table (probably due to space), but are still a highlight, as are a number of richly flavoured, aromatic stews. The Korean set menu is a bargain at £25 for two.
Dotori, 3 Stroud Green Road, N4 2DQ
Korean gets the street food treatment at this long-term pop-up within Bedroom Bar. The focus is on what Koreans call Anjou, which directly translates as drinking food — and a selection of cocktails along with wines and Korean beers encourage you to do just that. The highlight of the menu is undoubtedly the Korean fried chicken, which is smothered in finger lickingly sticky sauces (either garlic and soy, hot or volcanic) and is utterly moreish. Steamed buns filled with slow-cooked pork belly, hoisin and hot sauce also hit the spot.
Jubo, 68 Rivington Street, EC2A 3AY
This popular West End Korean has a look that’s sleeker than most, but the substance doesn’t suffer for it. Fiery marinated meat and fish (try the meltingly soft pork belly), crisp and sharp homemade pickles and generously sized bibimbap are among the highlights, but there’s plenty of lesser-known dishes to explore on the menu and staff are more than willing to advise. A few cocktails made with sake-like Korean spirit Soju join beers and wines on the drinks list. You’ll pay a touch more here than at many neighbourhood spots, but it’s still resoundingly reasonable; for a central and smarter-than-average Korean, we reckon Koba is hard to beat.
Koba, 11 Rathbone Street, W1T 1NA
Korea Garden, New Malden
A particularly unappealing frontage (think generic Asian takeaway) leads into this much more attractive little restaurant that remains a place for those in the know. Barbecue dishes are at the heart of proceedings (grills are on every table) but meaty stews, noodle dishes and more delicate salads give them a fair run for their money. Authenticity comes above ambience and small prices belie large portions. But far from being rough and ready, Korea Garden gets its edge from subtle spicing, skillful preparation and considered cooking of the kind that feels very distinct to the Korean cuisine some establishments pedal.
Korea Garden, 73 Kingston Road, KT3 3PB
Su La, New Malden
This is a strong contender for the title of best Korean restaurant in New Malden. And given the area is known as ‘Little Korea’, that’s no mean feat. The food is endlessly authentic (its crowd of Korean customers is evidence) and the service charming. It’s the little details which set it apart from other places: the staff are experts of the barbecue, managing to really harness the charred, smoky flavour, and ingredients are carefully cooked so that meat and fish is tender and moist, and vegetables still crunchy. It’s not always as busy as it could be, which can dampen the atmosphere somewhat, but don’t be put off.
Su La, 79-81 Kingston Road, KT3 3PB
This smart Korean on the Maida Vale stretch of Edgware Road does the classics well, with slightly more polished service than many a more rustic spot. The bibimbap is well-made and generous, though prices are generally higher than other places on this list.
There are two reasons to visit this Cambridge Heath restaurant. One is the very decent, noodle-led Korean dishes. The other is because you can also get a haircut there. Really.
Jee Cee Neh
Homely is the best word to describe this family-run restaurant in New Malden. Expect slightly less refinement than at other more polished eateries (and indeed the service isn’t very polished at all), but hearty and boldly flavoured dishes more than make up for this.
This long-standing New Malden restaurant used to be known as Hankook, and if you knew it back then it hasn’t really changed. Its main highlight is an especially vast menu of traditional dishes that don’t make it on to more mainstream menus.
On The Bab
Steamed buns are the best thing about this Korean street-food bar on Old Street, with succulent beef or pork belly fillings leading the way. Dumplings, bibimbap, noodle soups and Korean fried chicken are also available.
Barbecue dishes, and in particular bulgogi beef, are high on the billing order at this cosy spot next to Finchley Central station, cooked yourself at grills in the centre of each table. Very reasonably priced.
Where gets you going Gagnam Style? Have we missed a local gem? Let us know in the comments below.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital’s top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.