I lost count how many times people asked me where they should go for Korean food in SOHO, London. I always recommend Arang and remind them not to go to Koba, which gets 10 times as much press, costs more but is not as good.
At Arang, the beef strips were served a little (just a little) frozen. This was intentional, not a mistake (as I have tried this dish many times here). They were of a similar size to the pear strips, which in my opinion contributed to its success. The sweetness of the pear complimented amazingly well with the beef. The raw egg yolk connected the 2 of them together and created a smooth sensation.
I know I am not supposed to say it but I don’t really like kimchi (preserved cabbage, top photo). I just don’t. My friends love the kimchi at Arang but my favourite vegetable starter is Shikumchinamul (seasoned spinach, photo below). It is so much lighter and the spinach is crunchy and fresh. It is fantastic to have it before the barbecue.
As someone who does not like kimchi, I am surprised how much I enjoyed Kimchichun (Kimchi fried Korean pizza with vegetables). It is nothing like a pizza, but more like pancake. The kimchi was not overpowering and it blended very well with the other vegetables. Nice!
Unlike the Chinese, Korean restaurants usually provide metal chopsticks. Apparently, after the Korean war, there was a shortage of wood. The president suggested to use metal to make chopsticks and bowls.
It just does not feel right to have Korean food without the barbecue. At Arang, and at most Korean restaurants in London, the waiters always volunteer to cook the meat for you on your barbecue. But as I grew up in Hong Kong, where we usually do the cooking ourselves, I always ask politely if I can barbeque myself. I prefer it that way as the waiters tend to empty one plate of meat quickly and then move on to another plate. It is too factory like and boring as I like mixing many different types and cuts of meat! Also, I like my meat slightly charred which is weird in the eyes of some waiters for some bizarre reason!
Beef is the most popular choice of meat for Korean barbecue, generally speaking. The Useolgui (sliced beef tongue with pepper) we ordered was tender and delicate whileas Bulggogi (sliced and marinated beef) was juicy and succulent.
My favourite meat for Korean barbecue is actually pork belly! It usually comes in a curious disc instead of stripes. On the night we went, one of my friends did not eat pork so we had duck instead. They looked very similar (see photo of the barbecue grill above) though! In fact, strangely enough, they have very similar texture. The dipping sauce is the key. It is a mixture of sesame oil and salt (see photo below). I am addicted to it!
I highly recommend ordering lettuce for wrapping your barbecued meat. It balances the ‘heat’ well. Usually the lettuce comes with a miso dip but it is too sweet for my liking. I like my sesame sauce too much!
To add a sense of luxury, we had Samgyetang (chicken in hot soup with ginseng, photo below, £18) A whole chicken was used along with ginseng. It had a cooking time of 40 minutes. The meat was served in bowls, together with the soup. I recommend having the soup together with the meat otherwise the meat would appear a little dry. But together, it formed a good pair. You could smell the ginseng as soon as it was served. The soup had a very delicate flavour. It felt nourishing to have it right after the barbecue.
Another classic Korean dish is Yukhae dolsot bibimbap (raw beef stone pot with rice). The stone pot was heated prior to it being brought to the table and it ‘cooked’ the meat as the waiter mixed all the ingredients in front of you. At Arang, you are asked how hot you would like it before the spicy sauce was added.
Some Korean restaurants do not have a good ventilation system and you end up smelling greasy after a meal of barbecue. Luckily, Arang has recently installed a new ventilation system. The restaurant is not flawless. On busy nights, they seem to have a policy of turning tables without telling the customers. They do this by serving all the food one after another (with no pause) and they hand you the bill (without you asking) right after they serve you free oranges. This is what stopped me from giving them a 4 star review. It is not that relaxing. A way to work around it is to order extra dishes during the meal, which prolongs the serving time. But really, they should not have done it that way in the first place. I suggest that they either indicate the table-turning policy at the time of booking or not to rush any customers at all. Finishing all the food above in 1 hour 45 minutes was quite a rush, considering some of the cooking was actually done on the table!
£90 for 3 incl. soft drinks and service
Address: 9 Golden Square, London, W1F 9HZ
Tel: 020 7434 2073