A few weeks ago, my friend Jane (who introduced herself to me by declaring: “Koreans are the fun Asians”) organized a big group outing to Koba for some Korean food. I wasn’t able to make it, but between Jane’s endorsement and then this positive review by Worldfoodieguide a few days later, I was sold on checking out Koba.
I have to admit that when I lived in New York, I craved Korean food usually after drinking heavily, and then when I lived in DC, I wasn’t able to get my Korean food fix very often because most of the good stuff was out in the ‘burbs of Annandale (and god forbid I ever need to drive a car somewhere). When I first moved to London, my friends Cathy and Bobby convinced me to visit New Malden, but you didn’t get to cook your own bulgogi at Asadal, the Korean bbq we visited, so I was disappointed enough that I haven’t been back to New Malden since.
My point is that it’s been years since I’ve had Korean food at a restaurant, so my ability to evaluate Korean food is pretty basic and limited. That said, I thought Koba served pretty good food in a sleek dining room at reasonable prices.
Worldfoodieguide was definitely right about the pajeon (photo at top). It was *delicious*. Sweet, savory scallions and chewy, juicy seafood held together with a hot, airy egg batter, pan fried to a golden crisp. One of the best types of pancake in the world. £6.90 for this bit of appetizer heaven.
The japchae also disappeared quickly. Served hot, Koba’s version was chock full of crunchy sweet pepper slices, scallions, shitake mushrooms and pork. Sesame seeds and oil added crunch and a rich, nutty aroma.
Where Koba fell down on the job for me was the bulgogi. We ordered the “regular” bulgogi (i.e., just marinated beef sirloin) and the osam bulgogi (spicy squid and pork belly). The server cooked both portions on the tabletop grill, but she put the raw meat on the grill *and then* turned on the heat, so you can imagine how nothing caramelized or got seared. Instead, there was so much marinade on the meat that at times, the meat was just kind of boiling or steaming.
That said, because the marinade is so delicious, the bulgogi was still a treat, overall. But it’s just not the same as getting the crispy, sweet caramelized crust that comes only from grilling and searing.
Last note is that it’s super annoying that Koba charges you for normally-free basics like kimchi.
Overall, though, servers were polite and helpful; the dining room is chic and simple; and prices are good, with most dishes costing no more than £8.
I’d definitely go back for the appetizers alone. £48 was our tab for two for the pajeon, japchae, two bulgogis and two beers.
Koba, 11 Rathbone St, W1T 1NA, 020 7580 8825; closest Tube station: Tottenham Court Road