Best Korean restaurants in the UK

Written by WILL MARTIN

1. BIBIGO1. IMG_6851Bibigo_low

London’s Bibigo is designed by Korean food giant CJ Group, who had targeted London as an advance post in their hansik franchise. However, unlike expecting the standard second-hand fare of most chain restaurants, Bibigo offers world class Korean food, with vision from Korean Masterchef winner Hee Young Noh and skill from head chef Kim Yong Hwan.

Bibigo aims to balance acute Korean flvours for the Western palate. Its menu revolves around bibimbap, a central Korean dish meaning literally ‘mixed rice’. This takes the form of a brilliant, colourful stew of warm, white rice topped with namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables), gochujang (chilli pepper paste), soy sauce, crowned with a raw or fried egg and served with finely sliced meat.

Everyone knows not to mess too much with tradition – so traditional bulgogi (chargrilled beef marinated in barbecue sauce, slathered in shitake mushrooms and cooked with courgettes and bean sprouts) and galbi jjim, a braised short rib in soy sauce with mooli and chestnuts, take centre stage. Other innovations include Korean black pudding, Korean salads and, for dessert, hoddeok – a sweet Korean pancake coated in maple syrup and served with ice cream.

58-59 Great Marlborough St, London  W1F 7JY | 020 7042 5225 | bibigouk.com | T: @BibigoUK | F: BibigoLondon


2. JUBO2. Jubo

Jubo is the place to go for anju. Large tables adorn the calm, wooden space where couples, connoisseurs and city boys jostle and ruminate over the best food this side of Seoul.

The ‘lunchbox’, if you drop in between noon and 2:30pm, offers wonderful food on-the-go and enables you to pick a base – either kimchi fried rice, Korean glass noodles or crispy lotus root salad – a main – between Korean crispy pancakes, beef bulgogi, Korean fried chicken, or yangnyeom tongdak – and a pickle and dressing of your choosing. It all goes into your portable box of Korea and off you trot, back to the office.

This methodical, segmented approach to ordering food is echoed in the main menu – compartmentalised into simple, easy to manage sections. The Ssam in particular echoes the restaurant’s, and indeed Korean cuisine’s, values of sharing and community eating. The slow-roasted, kilo portion of pork belly, covered in spring onion, sesame oil, ginger and soy, is a treat to share with friends and family (or over a saki-soaked work do). You should do all this whilst knocking back a sojutini – a cocktail made with soju and combined with Wyborowa, lime, agave nectar, pineapple and angostura bitters.

For noodles, this place is truly the best. The yaka mein is fantastic, containing sliced skirt beef broth, flt rice noodles, kochukaru, spring onions, sesame and boiled egg. It all fuses together marvellously in your bowl, creating a deep, creamy soup made thicker with the dissolving yoke.

Bedroom Bar, 68 Rivington St, London EC2A 3AY | 020 7033 0198 | jubolondon.com | T: @Jubolondon | F: JuboShoreditch


3. ON THE BABOn The Bab

Owner Linda Lee’s On the Bab has all the trappings of a stylish eatery. But despite the minimalist surroundings and a young, hip customer base, On The Bab – which means ‘on the rice’ – is a victory of substance over style.

After starting Korean restaurants Koba in the West End, and Nizuni near Goodge Street, Lee started her newest Shoreditch venture by concentrating more on Korean street food influences. Indeed, the interior is bare brick funky and interspersed with foliage. It is casual, and specialising in the food Koreans love the most: kimchi arancini, steamed buns and spicy seafood stew.

Everything is authentic, and the flvours are new and exciting. Try the kimchi pancake to start, perhaps with a side order of saeng dubu (fresh tofu with soy sauce and topped with spring onion and toasted seaweed). The mains are where the magic happens.  Bibimbap, a stew of rice, vegetables, fried egg, gochujang and the choice of bulgogi beef, spicy chicken and spicy pork, sits perfectly with the various liquors that accompany it. These include seoljoongmae, or plum soju, and, if you want a more zealous concoction, hit ‘Soju Breeze’, a light cocktail of piercing soju, tangy grapefruit, cranberry juice and lime.

There are more traditional dishes on offer if you are a purist: Kimchi bokeum bab (a Korean kimchi paella complete with fried egg) is a fan favourite back in Korea. But everything is worth a try, and On The Bab is certainly pasteurising the intense flavours of Korea for the Western palate.

305 Old Street, London EC1V 9LA | 020 7683 0361 | onthebab.com | T: @Onthebab | F: Onthebab


4. KIMCHEE4. Kimchee

Another elegant, traditional Korean restaurant in the heart of our bustling capital, Kimchee is in its third year. Owner Dong Hyun Kim’s began a new ‘legitimate’ food experience here, and now it has sky-rocketed into an established hangout for Korean natives and adventurous foodies alike.

Ancient Korean artefacts and paintings adorn the walls and walkthroughs, with little faux ponds and gold murals camped up alongside the modern glass interior. Kimchee is named after a popular side dish in Korea. The theme of the overall restaurant is BBQ – the smoky, aromatic flavours of a juicy rib, joint or steak is what gets people in Seoul ticking, and Kimchee has built a large charcoal barbecue in their kitchen for this very purpose.

For a starter, it would be rude not to sample a kimchee – a soft, layered morsel made of pickled Chinese cabbage, garlic and chilli. Or alternatively, attack the bap – sticky rice, ideal for soaking up leftover liquid from soups or stews – like the house dolsot bibimbap.

If you like noodles, sample mul naengmyeon, which is made of chilled buckwheat noodles in an authentic, fruity sauce, with pickles, tender marinated beef, pickled radish, Asian pear and a boiled egg.

For fish, try the fagrant gui – lemon sole, mackerel or salmon drizzled with Korean barbecue sauce, served with grated radish and wilted spinach in a sweet potato basket. Piecing together a meal is always fun, so throw in some chargrilled broccoli or scallops to transform your meal into the seas and sounds of Korea, and wash it all down with a Silk Hye – an ice cold rice beverage.

71 High Holborn London WC1V 6EA | 020 7430 0956 | kimchee.uk.com | T: @KIMCHEErest | F: Kimcheeholborn


5. SURAKHAN5. Surakhan

Nestled in the heart of Bristol’s dining and entertainment sector, Miyoung Kim’s Bristol Good Food Awards 2012 Best Asian category winner, Surakhan, has been attracting West Country foodies since she set up shop in 2012.

Sura is the word given to the 900-year tradition of fittinga king’s dining table with 12 special dishes, 12 times a day. ‘Khan’ is also the Mongol word for king; the two combining to attach a sense of regal purpose to Bristol’s first ever Korean restaurant.

Kim spent six years perfecting her Surakhan sauces at home, hoping they would melt the hearts of native Bristol locals. Her resulting menu is hard-earned and traditional, with the restaurant’s own breed of dolsot bibimbap served piping hot in an earthenware pot, and consisting of crispy baked rice, cooked vegetables and gochujang (red chilli paste).

Everything is prepared in a loving, motherly way, and the restaurant feels like a large familial home; each customer fed and celebrated through the deep traditions of Korean cuisine.

52 Park Row, Bristol, Avon BS1 5LH0117 929 0806 | surakhanrestaurant.com | T: @SurakhanMiyoung | F: Surakhan.miyoung


6. LITTLE SEOULKimchi

Set against the river Cam, the undulating hills of Cambridgeshire and the black, fur-fringed gowns of scholars, the little Little Seoul stands proud, with a red doorway about as wide as a post box. Inside the place unravels, and you spill into a pretty dining hall witholding all the intensity of an authentic Korean kitchen.

The menu is simple and delicious. As you track down through the dishes, the eye instinctively wanders to a familiar ally – the bulgogi. Here it stands, addressed only by three stark Korean symbols and a short description. But these tenderloin strips, marinated and made smoky with soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil, are delicious.  Again, the simplicity of the menu shines through as we spill onto the donkasu curry – a crispy pork cutlet, smothered in curry sauce and smothered in rice. The deep, shredded warmth of the pork is sweet and buttery. Moreish flavours flash over your tongue, with the inevitable result of you ordering more.

In the tiny softly-lit space, the ambience makes you even hungrier. Time for a grilled eel? When it arrives, you part the thick, dark flesh with our chopsticks and the whitest, crumbliest meat falls into a puddle of teriyaki sauce. As you sit, you sip: sampling all manner of liqueurs, spirits and beers from the large Korean drinks menu. This little Korean paradise is a true taste sensation.

108 Regent St, Cambridge CB2 1DP | 0122 330 8681 | littleseoul.co.uk | F: Little-Seoul


7. SHILLA7. Shilla 21146908 (c) iStock

Masks, glowing paper lamps and paintings of Korean life hang from the deep cove-like interior, sheltered from the bustle of Dundas Street by a big, heavy door. The eponymous Shilla was once one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, and the longest lasting in Asian history. It was founded by King Park Hyeokgeose, who was said to have been born from an egg laid by a brilliant white horse.

Eggs are on the menu in Shilla, but they don’t contain kings so much as lovely, yellow yolk, which flows through kimchi bokum bab, a fried rice dish, once you pierce it. The four-chambered interior, each with its own take on Korean heritage, reintroduces the theme that Korean culture is always being adapted and translated. Dishes like scallop gu yi – chargrilled scallop drizzled on by the chef’s special sauce – are deeply traditional, playing on South Korea’s history as a seafaring nation.

For mains, the vegetarian options immediately jump out. Doen jang jji gae is a soya bean broth, but its intensity is guaranteed with the motley assortment of tofu, fresh clams, seasonal vegetables and rice, broiled and delicious. The ddouk bok yi, a Korean ‘youngsters’ favourite’, also sets your taste buds alight. With rice cakes, fish caes, vegetables, all marinated and cooked in a tangy, chilli sauce, this is a simple feast that always hits the spot.

13B Dundas St, Edinburgh EH3 6QG | 0131 556 4840 | shilla-edinburgh.com | F: Shilla Korean Restaurant


8. TOHBANGNoodle with Kimchi

Westerners read the name of this Clerkenwell Road restaurant and think of an extremely painful experience, but dining at Tohbang elicits only pleasure.In Korean, ‘Tohbang’ means ‘larder’, a trove of seafood, vegetables and sweet treats that were locked behind a heavy wooden door.

The aim of this room was simple: to keep food fresh and hidden from youngsters, who always had last rights. Only the housewife would hold the key, and it would only be opened for meal times. At Tohbang, the aim is also to unlock a treasure chest of Korean cuisine – just this time, everyone has a set of keys.

Tohbang features a simple set menu, with broth and barbecue sections accompanying soups, rice and main dishes. For an overall experience of the restaurant, and Korea in particular, head to the set menu section, where for £20 you can feast on three sets of food. The first set, Set A, is the most popular, not least because it appears first on the menu, and contains a generous allowance of bulgogi, ojing-o bokum, a stir-fry of fresh squid and vegetables in chilli sauce, and bokum bab. All sets are accompanied with kimchi, modum namal (three vegetables seasoned Korea-style), pa jeon – a spring onion pancake with mixed seafood and vegetables – and miyeok kuk, a clear soup served with seaweed and spring onions.

All the dishes are very well-priced and the low buzz of activity means the place is always lively, but never too busy, and a laid-back, delicious evening is on the cards.

164 Clerkenwell Rd, London EC1R 5DU | 020 7278 8674 | tohbang.com | F: TohbangLondon


9. KALBI9. Kalbi 16445154 (c) iStock

With bright neon K-a-l-b-i letters glowing outside, punters have no choice but to glide through this restaurant’s doors like doomed bluebottles. It’s fine, though – because you’ve just tractor-beamed straight into the heart of authentic Korean barbecuing.

Inside, sleek black lamps suspend from the ceiling and clean wooden compartments draw the feeling of a traditional Korean eating space. It is very elegant – waiters frit around like smart beetles, while modern paintings watch you from the walls. Take a look around as the menu arrives and note the variety on the tables – there is so much choice it’s good to aim for the appetizers while you make up your mind about the main. Order a selection of seafood, pork, beef and chicken, and they bring a grill to your table so you can watch your selection ‘cued before your very eyes.

The appetisers range from yukhwae (thinly-sliced raw beef and egg yolk with sesame oil) to spicy squid, stir-fried with vegetables and served with a spicy sauce. Jump to the barbecue, and try the L.A. kalbi – specially-marinated short ribs, or beef skirt, or dabble with sides like ssam – a bright, fresh salad tossed with garlic, green chilli, cucumber and carrot.

And if you don’t fancy a piece of cow, try the duck bulgogi, marinated and grilled to perfection. More traditional mains take the form of seafood dolsot, and eel dolsot, while haemul jeongol, a spicy seafood soup with radish and bean curd, is a crowd favourite.

36 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 5HP | 020 7278  0008 | kalbi.co.uk | F: Kalbi


10. GOGIbibimbap, korean food

In 2014, Gogi won OpenTable’s Diners Choice Award. Set in Little Venice’s network of canals, this authentic yet adventurous Korean dining spot is a modern take on Korean ‘gogi’ – which simply means ‘food’.

The combination of baked, exposed brick, crimson neon detailing and stark black furniture make this restaurant feel like a forge. The smell of an open grill on your table, the flash of the fat as it touches the flame – it all as up to an experience you won’t forget.

Start with miso soup, made with soybean paste, seaweed, tofu and crunchy spring onions. The other recommended route is to go traditional: the radish kimchi is refreshing, with a hot mixture of fiery chilli and garlic soaked into the soft flesh of a pickled cucumber.

Now it’s time for the barbecue, and the friendly waiters recommend going for a platter, with the chance to sample as much of the meat as possible. The BBQ seafood platter contains octopus, prawns, salmon, mussels and scallops, and all cooked elegantly and skilfully before you.

Alternatively, flirt with adenture: the Korean steak tartare. Delicious thinly shredded beef, seasoned with sesame sauce and served with sliced pear and egg yolk, is the perfect accompaniment to a bokbunja (Korean raspberry wine) or Korean beer Hite.

451 Edgware Road, Little Venice, London W2 1TH | 020 7724 3018 | gogi-restaurant.com | T: Gogi-London | F: Gogi-London


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