Kimchee is a cavernous, modern Korean restaurant in Holborn. It has 200 odd seats but only uses half of them, even when punters are queuing out the door. We arrived at around 7pm and stood in line for 20minutes before being allowed through the door by the door girl, the smallest bouncer you will ever see, her job was to heave the door shut after every use, to keep the warmth in and the customers out it seems.Once we were finally allowed in the door-heaver wrote our name on a piece of scrap paper. We were kept in the holding pen overlooking the chefs, endlessly flipping meat on the robata grill. There was no communication between the door-heaver and the other staff, groups left and tables sat unoccupied, but still we waited.
Looking slightly concerned at the mounting frustration in the holding pen one of the waitresses approached us. She apologised for the wait and made noises about only having counter seats available – bizarre considering only half the tables were occupied. I like eating at a counter so it was there that we perched on heavy and uncomfortable stools. It was from there that I waved for ten minutes before any of the waiting staff noticed we might want to order. I really did want to order.
When our order had been made the food arrived smartly, cold side dishes served first followed my a well paced succession of sharing plates. The Kimchee was surprisingly polite, just a gentle background hum and a tickle of heat at the finish. I have read so much about the offensiveness of kimchi (the smell, the taste, the look) that this dish surprised me with its delicate smell, taste and attractive presentation. Sukju Namal (beansprouts) tasted, like beansprouts often do, of nothing at all. Some Vegetable Mari were like Vietnamese summer rolls without the herbs. Rammed full of vegetables and served with a dipping sauce that didn’t quite manage to make this exciting.
A portion of Crab Tuigim (soft shell crab in breadcrumbs) was good. The crab was perfectly fried. The hoi-sin style dipping sauce on the side was overpowering but with a twist of a lemon slice the spindly legs were crispy, fresh and lively. From the grill Pork Belly with salt and pepper was acceptable. A good-sized portion was served warm with a wasabi-mustard dip, under seasoning on the meat meant that the belly didn’t deliver on flavour.Star of the show was a PaJeon, an excellent spring onion pancake that disappeared so fast from in front of the former blonde that I only managed two wonderful mouthfuls. In return she kindly let me dominate the Raw Beef Dolsot Bibimbap. Like every dish we recieved the Dolsot Bibimbap was dramatically and carefully presented, in a hot marble bowl resting in a wooden block, it was more exciting to look at than to eat. Under seasoned, bland, and dressed with batons of muk jelly which were, unlike the kimchee, totally offensive. The rest of it was OK – maybe I was au point de full and had lost that hungry excitement or maybe it was just a more boring offering than the perky sharing plates that preceded it.
We had two of the three deserts on offer. Chapssal Ddeok were fun little balls of rich chocalate mousse encased in a sticky layer of rice pastry. At £1.95 thy are a worthwhile treat and probably the best thing we ate. The green tea ice cream, Mr Whippy mixed with green tea powder,was rather heavy on the green tea and crossed the line between refreshing and stale to leave a rather bitter finish that returned on me well into the evening like a bad smoked mackerel pate.
The former blonde had a glass of wine although I am sure the smart money here is on the Korean and Japanese wines and Saki’s of which there is a decent selection at reasonable prices.
I have never eaten Korean food before and this meal was a pleasant introduction, and I think that might sum Kimchee up. Despite being rammed with Koreans, Chinese and Japanese I got the feeling (as did the much more knowledgeable SkinnyBib) that everything here is a little downplayed, a little westernised for the suits, a little too neat and inoffensive.
Although the service, like the food, was hit or miss, it is the bizarre queuing system that really needs attention. With a 50% off food deal running during a two-week soft opening the food on this visit was exceptional value for money. Order the good dishes avoid the bad ones and you will have a very good meal at Kimchee. Unfortunately, with a menu this long, you may have to visit a few too many times before you work out which dishes to hit and which ones to miss.
Distance from Croydon: It’s at least an hour away – useless line change at Green Park and lack of pin on Google Map doesn’t help. It’s not worth a special journey from the ‘burbs, but if you happen to be in Holborn and need a quick well priced lunch then Kimchee should be an option.
We paid £25 for a feast with a glass of wine and service. Without the soft opening deal this would have been up at a rather more lofty £42.