What with Korean being the latest Asian food fad and all that, more and more restaurants have started to spring up serving this long underrated cuisine.
Having been avid fans of Korean food for a number of years, we were keen to try this place after it was recommended by a Korean colleague. We were initially apprehensive about eating here because, prior to its recent takeover and makeover, it was just a stuffy looking, expensive K-BBQ restaurant. Have no fear though, our evening was by no means stuffy – or expensive.
Bibigo is an established chain in South Korea, south east Asia and L.A. but this is their first European venture. It was founded by a former contestant on Masterchef Korea and is owned by Korean food giant CJ.
We were unable to book on the night so we decided to take our chance and walk-in. When we arrived just before 7:30, we found the restaurant full. It turns out this place is very popular. We quickly realised why it’s so busy when we were given the menus.
There is a set menu available which offers three courses for just £13 (lunch is even cheaper)! Even better, this menu contained most of the dishes we were considering from the main menu. It just didn’t make sense to go a la carte when they have such a good set menu. The only real omission was the short-rib dishes but you can’t have everything.
It says on their online menu that you can choose between a salad or ice cream to make up the three courses but we didn’t get this choice so salad it was. It was fresh and fruity with apple, shredded lettuce, cabbage and a creamy dressing. There were also strips of crispy fried spring roll wrapper in there which added a nice crunch.
From small dishes, we went for the seafood pancake (pajeon). It was slightly different from what we’re used to. For a start, it actually contained seafood, which is quite a rarity. Usually this dish would have more batter mix and would’t be as thick as this one but Bibigo’s was nice and light and a bit different.
The glass noodles in Japchae are made from sweet potato. These are then stir-fried with sesame oil and various vegetables to make up this traditional dish. It’s usually a tasty, fresh option and this was no exception.
We added on the sweet and spicy rice cakes, just in case the set menu portions turned out to be small (they weren’t by the way). These were slightly crisp on the outside and soft and sticky inside. It’s maybe a strange texture for some, but this is one of the most popular Korean comfort foods. The only problem with it was that the sauce was savagely sweet.
For our mains, we had the flat bulgogi and bossam (pork belly). When the bulgogi came, we were surprised as it was described as ‘char-grilled marinaded beef’. What came was actually a beef patty (think burger minus bun) hidden under some rocket and mushrooms. This might sound like a disaster but it was really tender and we enjoyed the nice sweetness of the bulgogi marinade. I’d happily eat this again.
The bossam consisted of slices of pork belly, served with a spicy dip and some cucumber pickle and kimchi. The meat was soft without being dry. It was a really simple dish and was all about the meat.
There’s a decent selection of sides available for £1 with the set menu. We ordered two types of kimchi, white and regular and some rice. The regular kimchi wasn’t as punchy as we’d hoped and the white kimchi was barely pickled at all. Yet again though, you can’t argue with the value.
There were plenty of Koreans eating here, which says a lot for the food. We were happy with what we ate and feel that for what we paid, we couldn’t have done any better. We were also very full, the set menu portions were by no means dainty. Don’t come here expecting Korean barbecue as this isn’t the place for that, it has more of an upmarket cafe feel and is a cut above a lot of the other places I’ve been to in town.
If you’re new to Korean food, or looking for an alternative to Chinese or Japanese, then this is a good starting point. It’s probably a little watered down, anything described as ‘contemporary style’ usually is and they even admit that the food is ‘balanced for the western palate’. Don’t let this put you off though.
Meal for two with drinks and service: £44
Address: 58-59 Great Marlborough St, London W1F 7JY
Tel: 020 7042 522
Bibigo also have a Korean foods range and were keen for us to give it a try so they sent over a couple of jars. I found the pineapple bulgogi sauce to be rather too sweet but the original BBQ was much better – especially as a marinade for beef.
Bulgogi Cheese Steak
Take a sirloin or rib-eye steak and leave to marinade in the sauce for up to four hours.
Remove from the mixture and pat off any excess sauce. Cook in a heavy skillet or frying pan until medium rare and set aside to rest. Once this is done, slice the meat into strips.
Now take a sub or brioche roll and add American cheese (trust me on this one), kimchi and the beef. Finally, add a squirt of hot sauce – we found that Siracha worked well.
NB: The sauce was a freebie from their PR team but we were paying guests at the restaurant.