Dr G and I were recently invited by Catty of TheCattyLife to her favourite Korean restaurant “Koba” on trendy Rathbone Street in W1. Accompanying us on the evening was Mr Noodles of Eat Noodles Love Noodles.
Having just come back from a three-week holiday in Vietnam and Korea, I was keen to find out how Koba would stand up to all the marvellous meals I had eaten in Seoul. We arrived at Koba to find a small but uncluttered restaurant, with elegant decor. The restaurant was busy with a young and sophisticated crowd.
Catty took charge of the ordering, which she did expertly by choosing some excellent, unusual dishes as well as some Korean staples.
We started with a portion of “Pajeon” – spring onion pancake with seafood @ £7.90. This is one of the most traditional dishes in Korea, and the perfect snack to accompany chilled beers. Koba’s version was fluffy, well seasoned and with a good quantity of seafood and spring onions. I normally order a spicy version with added Kimchi called Kimchi Jeon (also sold at Koba @ £7.90, no.16 on the menu).
The “Japchae” – stir fried glass noodles with beef and seasonal vegetables in soy sauce @ £7.20 - was also delicious. The white sweet-potato noodles had been perfectly cooked maintaining their chewy texture, and were not overwhelmed by other ancillary ingredients. It was a well balanced and flavoursome dish although I felt that @ £7.20 the portion was a tad ungenerous.
I adore tofu and so we ordered “Kimchi Tofu” – steamed tofu with fried Kimchi and pork @ £7.50. The tofu is steamed only and served un-seasoned. If you do not enjoy the plain, clear flavour of tofu, you will not appreciate this dish. Tofu goes really well with kimchi as they have contrasting flavours and textures.
This is a staple dish in Korean restaurants and I always order it as a way of judging the freshness of the restaurant’s tofu and the quality of the kimchi, two areas in which Koba did not disappoint.
The star of the evening was, in my opinion, the “Yook Hwei” – seasoned raw beef with sliced pears and egg yolk @ £8.60. This is a dish I had never tried before and is now one of my favourites, a type of Korean steak tartare.
The combination of shredded beef, pears, raw egg and garlic was sensational. The meat had been semi-frozen before being shredded and tasted very fresh with the accompanying pears.
A selection of barbecue meats was also ordered including:
“Kalbi” – marinated beef spare ribs with sweet soy sauce @ £8.90 were good but again I felt that the portion was not as generous as I would expect at the price.
“Bulgogi” – marinated sliced beef @ £7.90 – very delicious.
“Daeji Bulgogi” – sweet and spicy pork belly slices @ £8.60 were also amazing - the meat was tender and had been seasoned perfectly.
“Zzukumi Gooi” – sweet and spicy baby octopus @ £8.40 were an interesting addition to the other meats and worked well as a seafood choice.
I was surprised to find that we had to order separate portions of “Pamoochim and Sangchoo” – sliced spring onion with chilli and vinegar, fresh lettuce, and seasoned soy bean paste @ £3.50 to accompany our barbequed meats. This is unusual for Korean restaurants as these are normally served as part of a barbeque course.
The meal would not have been complete without “Bibimbap - Yook Hwei Dolsot” – steamed rice and raw beef with vegetables in a hot stone pot @ £9.50. This was stunning and nearly as good as the raw beef & pears dish.
I was slightly disappointed that we were not offered a selection of namool (normally bean sprouts, spinach and white radish) or a small plate of kimchi as it is customary in most Korean restaurants. I found both items on the menu for £5.50 each. Assa Cafe will offer the namool and free barley tea as part of their £5 lunch set menu, also containing one main dish.
To finish off the meal, we ordered “Koba Special Ice Cream” (black sesame, red adzuki beans, and green tea) @ £5.20 while Dr G opted for “Green tea ice cream” @ £3.50. While matcha ice cream is my favourite flavour, on this occasion, I felt that the black sesame ice was the most interesting of the three.
Koba serves both “Hite” and “OB”, the two most popular Korean beers, @ £3.50. We opted for beer, while Catty went for “Green tea” @ £1.80. I would have ordered a bottle of soju or makgeolli (a traditional type of raw rice wine which I took a real liking to since participating at a makgeolli tasting with the guys from SeoulEats in Korea) but found that Koba prices were prohibitively high, especially considering these were all half-bottles (@ £15 for the makgeolli, £13 for the soju, and £15 for the Bek se Ju).
Service was efficient and polite but despite being attentive, it was also slightly rushed at times. A big thank you to Catty of thecattylife for taking us there and introducing us to her favourite Korean restaurant in London.
Cost: £139.40 including service charge and drinks or £35 per person.
Likes: the most sensational “Yook Hwei” – seasoned raw beef with sliced pears and egg yolk (well worth a return visit just for this), pleasant and trendy decor, excellent barbeque, tofu & kimchi. Excellent location.
Dislikes: expensive drinks list, having to pay extras for items like namool or kimchi, or for a portion of lettuce leaves and spring onions to accompany the barbeque meats when these are normally offered free of charge in most Korean restaurants in London.
Verdict: excellent Korean restaurant serving well executed dishes, and in more sophisticated surroundings than the usual New Malden/Centre Point area cafes. Recommended.