I’m getting into this Korean dining thing. Yes, I am adventurous when it comes to food but I can be a creature of habit when it comes to eating Asian cuisine. Having said that, I think bibimbap is my new flavour of the month. Especially after a visit to the namesake restaurant in Fitzrovia.
You may have come across this restaurant in Soho – a drop-in style eaterie that attracts those looking for a quick bite to eat on Greek Street. Now with a second opening a short distance away on Charlotte Street, the love for this sizzling signature Korean dish is growing. And I can see why.
The style is casual dining. There are no frills here. So it’s perfect for a pre-theatre dinner or informal get together. It’s easy. It’s not stuffy. It’s a basic layout of wooden tables with squeeze bottles of miso and chilli sauce on the tables. There’s no booking required. It’s the kind of place you could even drop into ‘sans amis’. And people don’t dine here for the name or the luxury setting. They come here for the damn tasty food.
What is Bibimbap?
If you’re not familiar with Bibimbap, the name literally means ‘mixed rice’. The ingredients that flavour the rice are served raw. Then once the heavy stone pot arrives at your table, it’s so ridiculously hot, a simple stir causes everything to cook rather nicely within seconds.
You’ll get various forms of the dish, but the main ones you’ll find at Bibimbap in Charlotte Street are:
Dol Sot – This one’s meat-free and contains the fiery radish-like daikon and mooli, plus plenty of chopped carrot, bean sprouts and cucumber. Plus there’s a fried egg on top.
Bulgogi – This is basically strips of beef marinated in soy sauce, garlic, ginger and spices. You might have read about Bulgalbi in my review of Kimchee in Holborn, which is a kind of deconstructed bibimbap (the strips of beef, rice and chilli paste are served separately and you wrap them up in lettuce leaves). But here, Beef Bool-Go-Gi is served as one big hearty pot.
They also do chicken bulgogi rice, chilli chicken rice, mixed seafood, mixed mushroom or tofu for the vegetarians and various other bibimbap salads, noodle dishes and ramen too.
If you’re feeling super healthy, you might also like to try the ‘Nutritious’ which combines brown rice with vegetables and some health-boosting ingredients including ginseng and ginko.
But before I go on any more about the menu, I’ll tell you about the tasty delights that we chose:
Fillet beef – This is very similar to Beef Bool-Go-Gi. The marinated beef strips are 100% raw before you do the mixing and the flavour is fairly mellow. You can add to the flavour with the squeezy chilli and miso sauces though, to suit your taste.
Spicy pork – it does what it says on the tin and packs a punch when it comes to flavour so I was very happy with my choice. The meat was juicy, the flavour had some serious depth and it was better than any dose of lemsip if like me, you could do with clearing the sinuses.
Although we asked for our mains to come after we’d finished our ‘starters’, they arrived mid-bite into my deep fried calamari. I don’t think Koreans really do ‘starters’. It’s all about ordering mains and a load of sides and eating it as it comes. I was about to say ‘but it might go cold’. Then I realised how silly that sounded. As they sizzled and fizzed I realised these dishes are insanely hot.
I don’t think there’s any right way to mix your bibimbap. I’ve since read suggestions that you should leave it for a minute or two so the rice at the bottom and sides goes nice and crispy. We dived straight into the stirring and then left it a minute or two which may have lessened the ‘crispy’ effect. You do find however that the rice generally has an al dente bite to it, which is a nice change from the sticky Thai rice I so often eat.
The second predicament you might encounter is whether you go for the raw or fried egg on top. Many bibimbaps come with an egg on top and we were given the option here. Personally, it without a doubt, has to be raw. I’m not a huge fan of fried eggs and the raw egg acts as a way of bringing everything together. It was pure comfort-food heaven.
A bit more about the starters. As I said, we had deep fried calamari, plus some pork and vegetable mandoo (fried dumplings).
The calamari was presented deliciously in both taste and presentation. I think I’d have liked the calamari to have had a bit more presence (it was rather overshadowed by the thick batter). Plus, I would have welcomed more of a kick from the chilli dip. The crisp of the batter however was spot on and really quite more-ish. The presentation and addition of lime was a bit hit too.
The dumplings came out tops for us. Soft, spicy, warm, gooey and with a bit of heat and a slightly crisp exterior. I think they should be renamed parcels of addictive pleasure. Yes, they were that good.
Cold beverages here are basically a couple of white and red wines plus a small selection of beers. OK, so I chickened out on the rice wine which I’m kind of regretting now, but the Chilean sauvignon blanc was not bad at all and reasonably priced at less than £4 a glass.
The boy ordered a bottle of Hite – a light and pale South Korean lager which proved a pretty refreshing contrast to a bold meal.
As we looked through the window at a dreary, drizzly Charlotte Street outside, people were swarming through the doors at a steady pace for their hit of comfort food and what is ultimately central heating in a bowl.
I haven’t found out yet how we get join Bibimbap’s mini polaroid wall of fame. But if it’s some kind of official fan club, I think we’re in.
Nearest tube stations: Goodge Street & Tottenham Court Road
Oh So London was a guest of Bibimbap Charlotte Street. Have you been to Bibimbap and if so what are your thoughts? Leave a comment and let us know.
Until next time x