Traditionally the place to head for great Korean food inside the M25 has been New Malden. But these days you don't have to head so far for your bibimbap or bulgogi (though places like Jin Go Gae, Sorabol and Su La still make it well worth the trip to Little Korea).
Now you can find Korean restaurants scattered across London, serving everything from modern fusion to traditional hotpots, and from ornate soju cocktails to sticky deep-fried chicken wings.
With a no-frills setting and open till 3am from Thursday to Saturday, this is ideal for a late-night fix of Korean fast food. Specialities are deep-fried mandoo dumplings, rice cakes covered in chilli sauce and piping hot pajeon (spring onion pancakes).
But this is far from just a place to soak up the night's excess: their Korean fried chicken comes in a range of sauces, sizes and spice levels, and brings people from across London at all times of day; when you've tried the gochu chicken you'll understand why. Just make sure you have a Hite beer on hand to tamp down the heat — three chilli symbols, says the menu, and it's not an idle threat…
CheeMc, 310, Walworth Road, SE17 2NA
Hurwundeki, Bethnal Green
The menu at Hurwundeki covers all the traditional bases, with the jjigae stews especially good — choose between the pickle-and-pork blend of the kimchi-jjigae, or deonjang-jjigae, a beef, seafood and soybean mix. The lunch menu's great value, with rice and noodle dishes around the £6 mark during the day. And if you've ever had the very specific desire for a haircut to go with your lunchtime bibimbap, then you've got yourself a caff that can do both; Hurwundeki's a restaurant-barber hybrid, and by all accounts nailing it on both sides.
Hurwundeki, 298-299, Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9HA
Dotori, Finsbury Park
NOTE: THIS RESTAURANT IS CURRENTLY WAITING TO REOPEN
It's a fierce optimist who turns up to Dotori without a booking. Still, the tiny, run-down entrance often has queues trailing outside. Prices are low and the food's staggeringly good — with two (very long) separate menus of Korean and Japanese food it seems unlikely they're doing both of those well, but we challenge you to find a miss from among all the hits. For maximum menu coverage and a very crowded table of food go for the Korean and Japanese Set Menu A. The Japchae beef noodles and steamed dumplings would be worth fighting over, but portion sizes are so generous that you don't have to.
Dotori 3, Stroud Green Road, N4 2DQ.
On the Bab, Shoreditch
For industrial décor and a cheerful, buzzing feel — more bar than restaurant — paired with relatively traditional food, On the Bab's first Old Street outpost has the market cornered. There's usually a queue outside but zero sense of hustle to the service once you're seated, and though the menu's good across the board, the stand-outs are the On the Bun dishes — the spicy pork or bulgogi beef, perfectly sticky, the buns they're wrapped in, perfectly soft.
On the Bab 305, Old Street, EC1V 9LA. See website for other locations.
The Petite Corée, Hampstead
With a warm, bistro setting and letting you BYO wine, this Hampstead Korean was always going to be popular in the evenings. But it's even better for brunch, serving a menu of European dishes with a Korean twist — think kimchi pancake with scamorza and rocket, steamed buns with pulled pork and pickled daikon, and the unbeatable kimchi croque monsieur.
The Petite Corée 98, West End Lane, NW6 2LU.
Bibimbap, Soho and other locations
They're all about the rapid turnover at this Soho restaurant, so it's not a place for a drawn-out dinner – but it's hard to beat for a lunch break hit of KFC (Korean Fried Chicken). Or for a fast, pre-theatre visit we recommend one of their namesake bibimbaps, served hot or cold, and heaped with rice, egg and enough beef, seafood or vegetables to make one plausibly enough for two medium-hungry people to share.
Bibimbap Soho, 11 Greek Street, W1D 4DJ. See website for other locations.
Jin Go Gae, New Malden
Of all the Korean restaurant-reasons to head to New Malden, Jin Go Gae might be the best. The hotpots to share and anju (halfway between a starter and a bar snack) on offer are legion, but Korean BBQ is their speciality. Order the Dae-ji Kalbi for slices of marinated pork rib cut, or the Ju Mulluck for thick-cut sirloin in sesame oil, cooked on a grill at your table.
Jin Go Gae, 272, Burlington Road, KT3 4NL
This Soho restaurant comes complete with celebrity chef (Judy Joo) and a menu of fusion bar snacks that’s not for purists. Head there for bulgogi tacos and kimchi arancini to go with their inventive soju cocktails.
Jinjuu, 15, Kingly Street, W1B 5PS
Cah Chi, Earlsfield and other locations
Barbecue dishes are the speciality of this long-standing, family-run restaurant 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. So — it’s similar to many Korean restaurants on paper, but the deep and complex spicing of the marinade and the quality of the meat set it apart. This is also a good place to try yukhoe, a Korean take on steak tartare, blended with soy and garlic.
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.
Gogi, 451, Edgware Road, W2 1TH.
Yijo, Regents Park Road
Barbecue dishes are the speciality at this cosy spot next to Finchley Central station — and bulgogi beef is the star of them — cooked yourself at grills in the centre of each table. Really reasonably priced.
Yijo, 1, Station Road, N3 2SB
Chick 'n' Sours for their Korean fried chicken thigh burger and gochujang sauce
Shackfuyu for their Korean fried chicken wings
Seoul Bakery for cheap and decent bibimbap and all your K-Pop merchandise needs
Bó Drake for the recurring kimchi theme – go for the pulled pork with ssamjang kimchi and the monkfish in kimchi butter
Hyun’s Bakery, (94, Burlington Road, KT3 4NT), for their Korean cakes and red-bean filled pastries
Han for bulgogi with a side of power ballads at this karaoke palace