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Thursday 22 April 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Koba


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.

Koba on Urbanspoon


  1. Great review and appreciate your Likes and Dislikes bit at the end!

  2. I love the sound of that Yook Hwei, I would really like to try this place. Thanks for such a detailed review, I am not familiar at all with Korean food so I have an idea what I'm looking for now.

  3. I agree the 'yook hwei' was the star of the evening and I also liked the baby octopus. Great photos and I'm glad you gave our meal the full blog treatment it deserved.

  4. I love the idea of beef, pears and egg - such an unusual combo, but now you write about it, it all seems to make sense. The sign of innovative and great food. Shame about the small disappointments, but it sounds like the overall quality made up for that.

  5. They made you pay for the namul? I was almost sold on the place until you mentioned that.. as a veggie they're one of the reasons I love korean cuisine!

    Can you suggest anywhere more generous but equally as good?

  6. @ Kavey - thanks, glad you like that. I think it is a nice way to highlight the most important points.

    @ Maison Cupcake - hi Sarah, if you ever would like more info on Korean dishes or food (i am not an expert) but I would be delighted to help you.

    @ Mr Noodles - thanks, you haven't done a very bad job of it either!

    @ Grubworm - indeed, overall this is a lovely restaurant and the Yook Hwei is just fantastic.

    @ Shiruko99 - Thank you for your message! I think Assa is quite good and also Hamgipak in New Malden. There is another Korean place two door down from Assa Cafe, I don't remember its name but it used to have divider panels which they have now removed and a long bar. It is quite reasonably priced and the food is excellent.

  7. I love the cook it yourself nature of food in Korean restaurants - I find it hard to go past a bibimbap though!

  8. Luiz
    I enjoyed reading your review and learning a bit more about Korean cuisine of which I am a total ignorant!

  9. Thanks for the tips.

    On searching the map I realised I've already been to Koba! I preferred Arang or Ran, but next time I'll try your place down near Tott Crt Rd. Cheers Luiz!

  10. Arang and Rang both are quite good and reasonable price for BBQ.

  11. @ Gourmet Chick - yes I see what you mean, it can get quite sociable when everyone is cooking together like a steam boat or a Korean bbq. I am so addicted to Korean food right now.

    @ Taste of Beirut - Hi Joumana, Korean food is unfortunately not as well known as Thai or Japanese's but it is so distinctive and full of delicious flavours, I can't live without it.

    @ Shiruko99 - both Arang and Rang are good too, I should go back there sometime. I love your site, your Jarde post on Yauatcha was so funny.

    @ Koukla - thanks for the tips and for your comment, I have been to these restaurants a good while back before I started blogging, I should go back again. I love your blog too, you seem to go to all the best foodie places in London!

  12. Hey,I have been reading your blog for a while and I really enjoy it. Thank you for visiting my blog. I thought about writing in English but I was too lazy so I just write in Mandarin. I will try to post in English sometimes.

    I just went to Koba tonight. Although the owner is Korean, it's quite Japanese style to me. The service are really good and the owner is hard working as well. I think the quality is higher than those Home style korean restaurant near Centre Point. Usually, I go for the home style one when I want soup thing or just a quick meal. When I feel like BBQ then I will go to Arang. I like the BBQ in koba and they are quite good. Arang's bimbimbab is tastier. In general, I think Ran and arang are more reasonably priced.

  13. Hi Koukla, it is so funny that you say this, but I also thought that Koba had a Japanese feel to it, but didn't say anything about it. There is a lot of overlap between the two cultures but these are not normally talked about. I have no hang ups about it (why should I?) but I totally agree with you.

    Also think Koba is slightly more upmarket than the New Malden and Centre Point area eateries but then it is also more expensive.

    Any good suggestion of Chinese restaurants that you would like to recommend me? Maybe we should think of a joint review sometime.

    Thanks for reading my blog, and I look forward to some English (or at least some small translation for the most important bits) in your future posts.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie


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