HAN KANG: KOREAN, THE FORGOTTEN FOOD
Korea seems to be a forgotten land, in dining terms at least.
While Chinese food, Indian food, Mexican food, Japanese food and even Moroccan food have undergone a re-evaluation in London in the last decade, Korean food seems to have been left alone to get on with what it does best.
While other cuisines have been driven to bring overpriced "authenticity" and shoehorn themselves into ill fitting western dining formats, Korean restaurants seem happy to bring a taste of home to the UK’s 50,000+ ex-pat community.
Given that the majority of them live way out in New Malden, Central London, itself only has a smattering of Korean restaurants, but they have been around forever, testifying to their value, quality and loyal customer base.
One of my particular favourites has always been Han Kang on Hanway St and on Thursday, when wandering through town, I noticed that it had been refurbished while I had been away on my travels. A once gloomy room was now light and airy and looked a welcome spot for a post workout weekend lunch.
The menu is extensive with a particularly enticing selection of Korean BBQ dishes, but I turned my attention to lunchtime specials costing around £8 including soup and kimchi.
A plate of greaseless Goon Man Doo filled with beef and spring onions were some of the best dumplings I have eaten in a long time. A lightly spiced filling showing itself after you broke through the al dente casing and the crunchy, fried underside giving a perfect counterpoint in texture.
The bibimbap was colour supplement pretty, particularly when presented with an array of pickles, kimchi, soup and chilli sauce and with strips of vegetables, noodles, beef and the rice base, it looked as nourishing as it did attractive. Minus points for overcooking the egg so that the yolk could not break free and coat the rest of the ingredients and also for not serving in a pre-heated bowl so that the bottom layer of rice caught to provide a crunch. But, these are minor failings in an otherwise good example.
As I drained the last of the soup, I was presented with some sliced oranges to cleanse the palate and a bill for £20 including service, which was friendly if not stretched in a room where I had only the staff, my Boxing News and piped korean Hip-Hop (I wonder if they call it K-Rap) for company.
Decent value for decent cooking.
Perhaps it is time that someone turned their attention to this underrated cuisine as long as places like Han Kang are left well alone to keep doing what they do so well.