Over the recent half a dozen years, there have been several opportunities to explore Western cuisine with Korean influences. A couple of them have been for guests of the KCC only. First, to celebrate the Korean programme of events around the London 2012 Olympics a star chef from the CJ Food stable presented a VIP banquet at the Victoria and Albert Museum (their London flagship restaurant Bibigo was to open soon thereafter); and next there was a splendid celebration of the KCC’s fifth birthday in January 2013, when a Korean assistant chef at the five-star Corinthia Hotel presented fantastic spread (reviewed by the Korean chef Kiejo Sarsfield here).
For the general public, Chef Joo Won at Galvin at Windows in the Park Lane Hilton has been introducing Korean dishes onto the menu, and a couple of years ago experimented with a Korean tasting menu over the summer. That was a superb one-off experience, and it looks like the menu is now a regular option there. Other regular fusion experiences can be had at Flat Three in Holland Park, or, at the humbler end of the price scale, The Petite Corée in West Hampstead.
Carousel is an interesting establishment off Baker Street, with an adventurous taste in wines and equally adventurous in terms of cuisine, with what seems to be a rolling programme of visiting chefs who present their special menus to guests for a period of two weeks. Current guest chefs are Suhyung Lee and Yujung Kim, who are behind Busan’s Boksoondoga F1963, which gets enthusiastic reviews, and who between them have passed through at least two Michelin-starred establishments, including Seoul’s Mingles. LKL decided to try them out last Friday. We were in good company: the recently arrived Korean ambassador also chose to visit that night.
Galvin at Windows’ Korean tasting menu comes in at £119 excluding service and drinks. Suhyung Lee and Yujung Kim’s pop-up at Carousel is more reasonable: with the basic proposition costing £40 for four courses, it doesn’t sound like it’s going to break the bank. But as soon as you get tempted into the extra dish, the wine pairings, maybe a cocktail, and some bottled water, you’re looking at something like £100 a head including service for the evening. But it’s worth it.
For the adventurous tippler, the wine pairings are essential, and well chosen. An ultra dry organic (and slightly cloudy, because unfiltered) sparkling Spanish white came with the starter; a dry “orange” wine, again Spanish, to go with the yukhoe, and a surprisingly rounded Beaujolais with the pork. In fact, for me, the least successful wine pairing was the craft makgeolli that came with the bibimbap side dish. Maybe it’s just my personal taste, but I prefer my makgeolli to be a creamy, comforting, stomach-lining, heart-warming drink; this one was mildly effervescent: a more challenging and tongue-tingling proposition. It worked better with the coriander flavoured bibimbap than would a creamy dongdongju-style makgeolli, but any sort of makgeolli alongside the pork belly and its Beaujolais coupling would struggle to work. However, everything was put to rights with the final wine choice: with the dessert, the Reisling vermouth was fabulous.
And the food? Well, although there were Korean influences in all of the dishes, probably the most recognisably Korean flavours came with the crispy seaweed crackers that accompanied the starter. They kicked the meal off nicely, some nicely varied sweet and savoury flavours on top of the salty base. The official starter, a savoury scone with a slightly sweet glaze and accompanied by a sesame butter, was mildly interesting but frankly was overshadowed by the sensational seaweed crackers.
The first singature dish that really had people enthusing was the variation on yukhoe – Korean beef tartare. The raw beef was flavoured with anchovy and accompanied by edamame beans, with a crispy garnish that meant you had a wonderful contrast of textures along with the punchy saltiness of the anchovy.
The pork belly that followed was advertised as having a gochujang glaze, but there was only a hint of that flavour, with the accompanying aubergine being more dominant. The extra bibimbap dish which came with the pork complemented and even surpassed the main event: the moist rice flavoured with coriander seed, topped with tender prawns and the trout roe which burst with flavour as it popped in your mouth.
Korean cuisine is not known for its desserts, but the nectarine together with a crisp dusted with black garlic worked superbly well, especially with the vermouth. In fact I was so taken with the latter (and trying to secure leftovers from less bibulous diners) that I forgot to take a snap of the petit fours which comprised a nice ice cream between wafers, a cinnamon-flavoured Haribo-like boiled sweet, and a small red bean-stuffed doughnut. All very delicious.
For the record here’s the set menu we had, including wine pairings and the optional cocktail to start with.
Busan Bad Boy Cocktail
Plum-infused Jinro, Bombay Sapphire, Lemon & Soda
Scone, Black Sesame Butter, Chive
Escoda-Sanahuja, Pet-Nat — Sumoll/Parellada — Catalunya (2017) — Bio
Aged-Beef Tartare, Edamame, Anchovy
Maestro Tejero, Lovamor — Albillo — Castilla y Leon, Spain (2017) *Orange
Korean Barbecue Pork Belly, Aubergine, Gochujang Glaze
M. Lapierre, Raisin Gaulois — Beaujolais, France (2016)
Drunken Prawn and Trout Roe Bibimbap
Boksoondoga Makgeolli Rice Wine — Busan, South Korea
Yuzu-compressed Nectarine, Yogurt, Black Garlic
Belsazar, Dr. Loosen Riesling Vermouth
Service was great, and the soundtrack throughout the evening was a mixtape of K-pop at a discrete volume. As we left the restaurant, Kara’s Mister sent us on our way. We all loved the place.
Suhyung Lee and Yujung Kim are at Carousel until 15 September. Don’t miss them.