2 Pancras Square, King’s Cross, London, N1C 4AG
Korean zen in buzzing King’s Cross? Who’d have thought it. Annabelle Hood picks up her golden chopsticks and umms and aaahs over the menu.
Taking my old man to the launch of a trendy, open-kitchened, contemporary temple to Korean food, possibly wasn’t the best idea. Not least because he couldn’t find it, so was half an hour late (despite asking every cabbie at King's Cross for “Google’s head office” as it’s right opposite the restaurant).
But also because he couldn’t hear a word throughout the evening, thanks to high-ceiling acoustics that ricochet like a cathedral. Despite this, the dark wood décor designed by a Japanese architect oozes zen calm, and thankfully Kimchee’s calibre food, service and high-octane ambience amply made up for our comms problems.
This is Kimchee’s second London outpost (the first being its larger flagship in Holborn). While waiting for dad, I had ample time to contemplate the serene terraced waterfall babbling beyond the restaurant’s ‘Korean garden’. I can only hope this delightful area will not be hijacked by smokers come summer.
Mirroring a Wagamama-style seating ethos, we were ushered to our shared table – sitting with two of the burliest chaps I’d ever seen in the flesh, let alone shared a table with. Despite taking up two-thirds of the table space, they turned out to be the affable fruit and veg suppliers of Kimchee and an impressive list of other famous food emporiums. It’s always reassuring when you see suppliers tucking in to their own fare, which I can report that they did – with gusto.
After much “umming and aahing” over my first-ever Korean menu, our patient waiter rescued me from befuddlement by recommending the ‘Mackerel Jorim’ starter – a succulent melange of mackerel medallions tossed in a rich, reduced sweet and spicy soya sauce, with mooli (radish) and lozenges of ricecake as smooth as calamari. Exquisite.
Contrary to what the name suggests, dad enjoyed his ‘Yuk Hwae’ starter too: A simple tartare of beef and spiralised pear ‘noodles’ topped with raw egg. He’d never tasted fluffy steamed Chargrilled Beef Buns), so we ordered this side dish with a tasty ‘Modum Namul’ spiralised medley of beansprouts, radish and spinach.
Not to try the restaurant’s namesake ‘Kimchee’, would be like going to France and balking at garlic, so we ordered some: This parcel of pine-fermented napa cabbage is marinated in a punchy mix of Korean radish with spring onions and chilli pepper. Kimchee’s distinctive taste is not for the faint-hearted – it’s fair to say this native dish is heavy on pungent flavour, low on subtlety.
This could explain why our recommended main course of ‘Dolsot Bibimbap’ tasted bland, despite the crockery being visually impressive: A large oriental earthenware bowl nestled on a wooden stand. You choose between meat, fish or tofu: Dad ordered the Eel variety (a steep £13) and I chose (cooked) Beef since our waiter Aziz had bedazzled me with the promise of a raw egg on top that “cooks” as you stir it in.
It doesn’t, or rather, mine didn’t, since between each course our beautiful gold chopsticks were whisked away, presumably in a bid to stop diners stealing them?
I’m sure this was purely an opening-night oversight, but a lack of replacement chopsticks did mean that hot dishes erred on the cold side by the time we tucked in. A pity, since the open-plan kitchen was less than three metres away and an army of bowing waiters seemed to flank the counter’s length. I’m just saying.
I love enticing food presentation like the next diner, but our ‘Dolsot Bibimbap’ was a case of “all rice bowl no trousers”. “I’m still searching for the eel” dad said, mournfully poking into his vat of rice. “I think it was that little lump perched on top?” I replied helpfully. Eel search party called off, we lay down our chopsticks, battening down our rice-filled tums with a gulp of comfortingly mellow South African Cabernet Sauvignon.
I forewarned dad to be careful not to trip down the trendily sombre staircase on his way to the loos – Kimchee’s penchant for dark woods was designed for cool young Google-somethings, perhaps as an antidote to their bright screens; not for bespectacled septuagenarians.
“...Good lord, they’re cooking food on the tables down there”, he told me, eyes wide. He was referring to the private dining rooms' table top BBQ stations, where you can sizzle up your own feast under the watchful eye of a chef (menus from £55 for two for the Seoul Set, to £100 per four people with the Gangnam Menu, although up to eight can dine together).
Pudding was ‘Patbingsu’ , a refreshing coupe-style glass festooned with chopped exotic fruit and red beans piled on to a snowy slush, topped with a ball of rich Green Tea ice cream, which gave me crazy-dreamed insomnia that night (it was worth it). Dad had the spiced poached pear with a subtle chestnut icecream ‘Baesuk’ that I swear tasted of rosebuds, but which a menu-check revealed was actually honey, cinnamon and cloves.
The Wasabi Group have stepped up to the plate with this Korean cracker, adding a touch of zen to frenetic King’s Cross.