There’s a presumption that when you go to an ethnic restaurant the staff are going to be from the country whose food is on offer. Of course, it’s not always the case. The first counter-example I came across in respect of London Korean restaurants is Young Bean Kwan, where I can often be found stuffing my face at the all-you-can-eat-for-£8.50 lunchtime buffet. That place is run by a Brazilian Japanese. More recently, at the place where I sometimes get my lunchtime bento box (Noto, at the bottom of Bow Lane) I was surprised that everyone behind the counter was talking Korean. I was told by people in the know that this is not unusual, and that in fact loads of Japanese restaurants in London are run by Koreans.
Two days ago, courtesy of the Piccadilly Line, I played my own impromptu version of Mornington Crescent, passing through Hammersmith (my normal stop — which was closed for some reason) and ending up at Ravenscourt Park via Acton Town. Given the delay I had cancelled my evening engagement and began the walk home from an unfamiliar tube stop. My stomach was telling me it needed filling, and I remembered my friend Hyeon-jeon telling me about a Yo! Sushi in King Street which was actually a Korean restaurant. The thought of a trendy sushi bar in Hammersmith’s slightly dreary main drag seemed implausible, as did the idea that a Korean mafia had somehow taken over the franchise. But within a few yards of the tube was a Japanese Restaurant called Yoshi Sushi (I’d obviously misheard Hyeon-jeon). It didn’t look very Korean, but I thought I’d chance it. Inside, a sushi bar with fresh looking raw fish, and waitresses in Japanese-looking silk robes (in retrospect, they were more generic-Asian garments); I persisted in my quest, and enquired whether my intelligence was correct. Sure enough, though 90% of the menu was Japanese, there was a Korean section of main course soups and I was assured that I could have a bibimbap even though it wasn’t on the menu. I settled for a spicy whiting soup (생태탕), which was very good. There was an oriental dining area at the back of the restaurant, filled with Korean customers (always a good sign) and all the staff were Korean and very pleasant. A soup, kimchi and two Asahi extra-drys set me back £20.90 including service. £10 for a soup: is that a bit steep? I seem to remember only paying around £8 for a yukgetang in Kaya recently, but maybe my memory fails me. In fact I feel a little project coming on: a Kimchi-Chigae index of London Korean restaurants. Anyone want to contribute the price of that particular spicy soup dish in their favourite Korean? Yoshi Sushi’s is a tenner. Anyway, Yoshi Sushi is worth a visit if you’re in that part of London. Despite its name, it’s the closest Korean restaurant to my front door.
Update 5 October 2007
Good Lord. I swear this is just a coincidence, but I discover that a Korean newspaper has been compiling an international Kimchi chigae index for the past few years: read about it at Hojupjimong