There are a few candidates for the best Korean restaurant in London, but I haven’t tried enough to really decide which it really is. A visit to my former favourite Myung Ga had been dissapointing, and so the search was on to rediscover Korean magic, and it has thus far led me to the doors of Koba, in the rambunctious company of fellow tweeters and new found friends.
A tweatup, is an eating meet up organised via the magic of Twitter. I had missed the initial tweatup organised by Euwen at Yum Cha, and whom I’ve wanted to meet for a while now. Luckily the stars aligned for this particular tweatup and six of us gathered in the house of crazily delicious food.
I had booked under name ‘John Woo’ and blindly promised the evening to be a slap bang melodrama as pumping (and with white doves flying off screen) as face/off. Dude, it’s suppose to fun, eh. Koba was high on my eating list, as both Helen and Catty swear by it, they couldn’t resist the temptation of joining in of course; Mark has been toying with the idea of resuscitating his gastro journals (we are all anticipating!) he’s positively mad for food (like the rest of us), and we had managed to find a suitable timeslot , for both the enigmatic superchargedz Charz and Euwen, the rather cool china man to join up. I turned up 10 to 7, thinking I was 10 minutes early, only to find that I was 10 minutes late, with five eager foodies already sat down.
What can I say? John Woo likes to be fashionable. Starters were an assorted range of acidic & spicy pickled vegetables (… kimchi!). We ate a lot of food.. how much? Alot. We left the ordering in the safe hands of Helen and Catty, who navigated the menu, like professional assassins – these girls knew what they were doing, and they knew what they wanted.
The selection of starters included the Goona Mandoo, Pan fried meat dumplings (£5.50).
Food was fast and furious, as the rest of the starters landed on the table one after the other. We all whipped out our very swish light capturing equipment and the dinner table turned into abit of a gastro-catwalk with plates of food in the place of half naked supermodels. The random clicks of shutters rattled away, and the repositioning elbows as food made their way to the spotlights. I wonder if the waiting staff had found it abit odd how our cameras were all pointing down rather than at each other. Of course we were all ‘pros’ at this – Everybody was flash-free, shooting with fast glass and high ISO.
This next dish was a cracker: Yook Hwei (£6.90) , seasoned raw beef with sliced pears – Korean style. Frozen strands of beef compacted with pear slices and finished with a syrupy sauce, nutty bits (I’m guessing macadamia nuts, but Im not sure) with raw egg as a sort of binder. This unorthodox combination produced an interestingly appetising start to the meal, and the cool sweetness of the dish was a refreshing change to the savoury.
Amidst all the gigling during the meal, I failed to notice the eye catching plates Koba uses. As for the venue itself, it was a small room, perhaps sitting no more than 50 souls. Each table had these low hanging lamps that gently swayed as you ate, the front of the room also had space for a bar table, with tall stools.
We were beginning to transition from the starters to the mains with the Pajun (£6.90) , korean pancake with spring onion & seafood. It was sizzling and crispy, with a doughy centre. I liked the eggyness and was delighted to find octopus in the mix. The general heartiness of the meal was mostly epitomised with this dish.
As there were six of us, we ordered two of everything, especially the Yook Hwei, which I couldn’t have enough of. We also managed two varieties of soup. The two varieties were immediately obvious from the colour, this one was a lighter shade of brown, it was milder in taste, still quite abit spicy as I could feel the tingles at the edge of my throat, but it was warm and hearty. The other one was a deep ruby red colour and my tastebuds were a little intimidated by the sight of it. Full of chilli heat, the spice was immediately evident, I could taste the richness of the stock and despite the heat, it was an aggressive attack on the senses. Plus, they made this soup with egg tofu, silkier and more flavoursome than normal tofu, and differentiated by the colour, with egg tofu being a golden yellow as opposed to being all white.
Of course, a Korean meal would be incomplete without a bibimbap. We opted for two Dolsots with beef, with the rice still crackling away inside the hot stone pot. The dish was rich and the amazingly open mixture of beef and vegetable flavours were gushing at me. Helen did the mixing and this dish tasted exactly as one would expect…. We ordered two.
Ah, highlight time, meat. We ordered nearly everything from the barbeque menu from the kalbi (spare ribs), bulgogi (marinated sirloin), So Hyeo (ox tongue with salt & pepper) , Squid Gooi (squid with seasoned sauce) , Modeum Yachae Gooi (vegetables, mushroom) , Dak Bulgogi (sweet & spicy chicken), Samgyupsal (thinly sliced pork belly) and …. I lost count after a while, as different types of meat were being slapped across the hot plate, everything so tastefully marinated that I was just relishing every single bite. My favourite was the pork belly, a candied sauce on top of fatty flavours, yummy.
We didn’t have any dessert because they ran out and they only had ice cream left. So, food was fantastic and the bill came to about £156 – split six ways it was £26 each. Judging by the amount of food we devoured, it was abit of a steal, and it’s definitely one of the best Korean meals I have had in London. About the only thing which my old favourite, Myung Ga did better were the glass noodles, the Koba version had a more subdued texture as opposed to a lively and springy chewiness, but overall, Koba wins hands down.
As for the company I was in – it was priceless. For me, its still surreal meeting virtual friends from around the internet, and its amazing how we turn into chatter boxes who just seem to ‘get’ each other’s obsession with food. It is magical how like minded food lovers automatically engage in conversation. The evening breezed by, and I felt like we all had so much to share about our gastro adventures, and we had little to share it all. I genuinely felt like I have met friends, like we’ve known each other for years, even though we’ve only really just met… surreal indeed.
And as for you, my very dear reader, I haven’t forgotten you. I guess what I’m alluding to is that Koba is a great place for big groups, as you would all be sharing the food, you can literally afford to order everything on the menu. Have a blast on the next visit with your mates, and don’t forget to tell me all about it.
The Gist of It
Koba Official Site
11 Rathbone Street W1T 1NA 020 7580 8825
Verdict: It’s a great place for gatherings, family, friends, laughs and bbq meat.