The last few years have been an exciting time for Korean food in London, seeing a real expansion in the depth and choice of dining and shopping experiences available. Despite the lockdown, the opportunities to try traditional and experimental Korean flavours in London have never been better.
Lockdown has encouraged the main food retailers such as H Mart and Korea Foods to expand their home delivery offerings, and has brought nimble new operators to the market such as Superman London. Meanwhile Charing Cross Road has seen a consolidation of grocery outlets, particularly with the opening of the big Oseyo store (an H Mart brand) just north of Leicester Square.
These stores give you the opportunity to try your hand at preparing Korean food at home – particularly given the ease in finding recipes online and the ready availability of Korean cookery books in the shops. Those who don’t have the time to get their hands dirty with fish sauce, crushed garlic and gochugaru can buy excellent home-made kimchi from new suppliers such as Korean Pantry, Kimchimama and Miyoung Finch; outside of London operators such as Liverpool’s Love Kimchi support their local area.
Traditional Korean restaurants have continued to serve their loyal customer base, and have possibly seen a growth in footfall (other than during lockdowns), particularly in the centre of town, given the general increase in profile of Korean culture – though I haven’t done any market research to substantiate this. We all have our favourites, and we’re looking forward to spending more time with them as restrictions end. But more casual eateries have been joining them, to serve a slightly different market. The chimaek chain Wing Wing has been around for a few years now, but we only just recently noticed a new outlet in Charing Cross Road. And, cementing that area as something of a Korean hub in the centre of London, the street food outlet Bunsik opened a couple of months ago with an offering of Korean corndogs, just next door to the K-beauty store Nature Republic. Another street food restaurant, Judy Joo’s Seoul Bird, also recently opened in Canary Wharf complementing its outlet in the Westfield shopping centre. And let’s not forget the lovely relaxed tea shop in Exmouth Market, be-oom.
Meanwhile, serving yet another market segment, innovative chefs have been creating new dishes which blend the best of Korean flavours and techniques with those from Europe and elsewhere. During his seven-year tenure as head chef at Galvin at Windows, Joo Won pioneered signature dishes such as kimchi risotto and developed a fantastic fusion Korean tasting menu. More recently, husband and wife team Woongchul Park and Bomee Ki opened Sollip near the Shard (like be-oom, they opened just in time for lockdown, so do support them and indeed all the places mentioned here to help get them back on their feet). My experience there last year during a brief relaxation between lockdowns left me wanting to hurry back to try the dishes I didn’t have room for the first time around. Justina Jang’s Kimjang Project has been doing a great job in highlighting other innovative chefs and taste experiences, from Vegan Yes in Brick Lane (Korean Italian fusion brought to you by Florentine Chef Mauro and his Korean wife Dr Min, trained in traditional medicine), via Jay Morjaria at Jae in Dalston’s Untitled Bar, to Holland Park’s Flat Three, a collaboration between Korean-born Juliana Kim Moustakas and chef Pavel Kanja.
We now have the prospect of a new casual dining experience in North London in the shape of Cálong, the brainchild of Joo Won, who has moved on from Galvins to work on his new venture. He says he will be serving “comfort European and Korean dishes using the best of British seasonal ingredients from around the country, alongside natural wines and craft beer” in a “relaxed and cosy dining experience.” He will be joined in the new venture by Hokeon Kwak (formerly of the Orrery and Galvins at Windows, who recently announced his move). While Chef Joo Won looks for a suitable neighbourhood venue he will be hosting a two-month residency at Soho’s Bun House (just behind the Prince Charles cinema) where he will be offering a version of his signature dish from Galvins – the kimchi risotto – alongside other exciting creations. Do give it a try. And let us know what other outlets appeal to you in the comment section below!