ASADAL: A LITTLE SEOUL ON HIGH HOLBORN
For some socio-geographic reason that I know not, the New Malden area of Surrey has one of the largest ex pat communities of Koreans in Europe. Consequently, it also has a high density of Korean restaurants.
Recently, Asadal, one of the best known in the area, opened a sibling branch in central London on the corner of High Holborn and The Kingsway.
Though far from an expert on the food, I have enjoyed every Korean meal I have tried, so HP's suggestion that I try here tonight for a quick solo supper was not an unwelcome one.
As with Japanese food, a great deal is made of the necessary etiquette of eating Korean food ( usually, it has to be added, by non Koreans who probably see knowing the ins and outs of what to do with a Bibimbap as some badge of honour ) and it is easy to worry ones way through a meal fearing that every wave of the chopsticks is the same as telling the owner that you would like to pleasure his dead grandmother with some Dakion. Usually, however, the other people in the restaurant are too busy enjoying their own food to care what you are doing and, in the case of Asadal, if I was committing one huge faux pas after another, the staff were too charming to comment.
The restaurant is in a beautifully decorated basement with a low level of lighting, a welcome oasis of calm away from the traffic to Holborn tube. The service is very very friendly and efficient and I was shown to a table towards the rear of the restaurant and handed the extensive menu. I ordered a Korean beer. As gassy and vile as so many of the beers I have tried from there have been. It was called Hite. Just one letter out from the correct spelling then? I moved on to Green Tea which was full of Antioxidanty goodness
Being on my own, I could not explore the menu as I would have liked, so I stuck with some of the more recognisable dishes which is,I guess, the best way to judge any new place.
I heard a story once ( probably apochryphal ) that, after the Korean war, the US soldiers were asked to remove as many of the mines laid by the North Koreans as possible. However, they found that one in four of the metal objects was, in fact, a jar of Kimchi buried to ferment. Probably just as lethal though. I am not sure what I ordered had been buried anywhere but it was a very good example. Crunchy and fiery.
With it, I ordered a plate of Kim. Wafer thin strips of fried seaweed. I can easily see myself developing quite a taste for this. Fishy and salty with a nice snap.
Then to a Korean standard, Bul Go Gi, strips of topside beef, marinated in soy and grilled at the table. It was served with fish sauce to dip the meat in, lettuce leaves and a bean paste to spread on the lettuce before wrapping it around the meat. The first time I had this a number of years ago, I found it a bit odd with the sweet, sour, salty crunch. Now, it is one of my favourite dishes. This was very well done indeed and, while simple, it is a hard thing to get just right so the beef is tender and compliments the crunch of the lettuce.
Alongside this, I had a serious noodle urge so went for Bokum Udon, a selection of very fresh seafood tossed with Udon noodles. Simple and beautifully prepared. Again, hit the spot.
The bill, including a deserved 10% service charge was £28. Perfectly acceptable for what I think, is a very welcome addition to the West End and a very good representative of a country whose food I am beginning to appreciate more and more.