Since I “discovered” Korean food roughly a year ago, it has swiftly made its way to the top of Ute’s random food cravings. I feel much more often like indulging in kimchi jjigae, bibimbap or bulgogi than I fancy Thai, Chinese or even Italian. There is something about Korean food that is so comforting, warm and invigorating – the ultimate cure for the blues and homesickness.
Fortunately my trusted dinner companion Uyen feels similarly inclined towards Korean cuisine and for our weekly dinner date we again resisted the urge to frequent one of the recently opened burger places in Soho, ignored the new Polpo and showed Duck and Waffle the cold shoulder and went instead to the most unhip place one could possibly imagine: Assa just behind Centre Point, a rather random location for a “Little Korea” to have formed (there are also a Korean supermarket and 3 more hole in the wall Korean eateries).
To our confusion we found ourselves confronted with 2 restaurants of the same name – a brighter looking Japanese Assa and just next to it, a really grotty looking place, the Korean Assa. Entering Assa, we felt we were stepping through a futuristic teleport just into the shabby heart of Seoul. It’s hard to explain why the atmosphere seemed so foreign, it certainly was only partly due to the fact that patrons were 90% South-East Asian. It was a combination of the basic furniture, the dim lighting, the smell of oil and spices and the open kitchen that felt so strangely not London. Every time the waitress (which by the way was incredibly friendly) addressed us in fluent English I was surprised as I felt I was being in another country altogether.The menu was also more directed towards the Korean speaker. For example, Beef Bulgogi was translated as ‘beef stir fry’ (we asked), so we ended up ordering things that we knew: Kimchi, Vegetable Udon, Kimchi Jjigae, Bulgogi and Pork Dumplings. I can’t even possibly imagine what treasures are hidden behind the rather basic translations (amazing looking hot pots and stir fries and rice dishes were carried past our longing eyes) and I think on my next visits I will be more audacious and order randomly.
We got some complimentary Korean sea weed salad and bean sprouts flavoured with sesame oil which went down very well with a bottle of Hite (Korean beer). So did the moreish Kimchi which tasted much fresher and substantially less garlicky than any Kimchi I have ever tasted in London.We loved the Vegetable Udon, not the most exciting dish one could say, but the sauce was so full of flavour and the vegetable slivers so tasty and fresh that I would definitely order it again. Beautiful also the Korean classis, Beef Bulgogi, with thin slices of tender beef, cooked perfectly, stir-fried in a slightly sweet bulgogi sauce melting in my mouth. The steaming bowl of Kimchi Jjiage was almost as good as my own recipe ( yes I am indeed proud of this one) and spicy enough for us to order a second bottle of Hite. The only thing I could have happily lived without were the Pork Dumplings. The dumpling skin was too thick and flaccid, and the filling did not taste of much. I can’t remember the exact prices, but we paid around 35-40 pounds for all the food and 2 beer and it was worth every penny. We left Assa with full happy bellies and a smile on our faces. I was reminded of Assaa bit longer than I would have wanted with the kitchen smell (the downside of an open fry kitchen) clinging stubbornly to my coat and particularly hair for all the next day. This is just a warning that you definitely should have time to wash your hair shortly after having visited Assa.
I have tried quite a few Korean restaurants in London, such as Bibimbap, Asadal, Kimchee, Koba,Thobang (even though I was a bit lazy writing them up so please follow the link reviews to other blogs if interested), most of them together with my Koreanophile friend Uyen and even though we liked most of the places we visited we both agreed that we enjoyed the food at Assa the most.
Doing some research for this post, I came across The Skinny Bib’s post on Assa and he has tried some more adventures dishes. For example, he recommends the potato glass noodle stir fry and the hot pots, I shall follow his advice and be back asap!
- Food: 7.5/10
- Ambiance: 6/10
- Service: 7/10
- Value for Money: 9/10
- Chances of Returning: 100%
- Verdict: some of the best Korean food I have had in London thus far
53 St Giles High Street
Tel: +44 (0)20 7240 8256