The first thing that hits us in Asadal is the smell. We had barely been in this Korean restaurant a minute and the warm inviting aromas were already making our stomachs rumble. It felt so secluded downstairs, I could hardly believe that only moments earlier I was jostling my way through the peak hour moshpit around Holborn station. It’s dimly lit and simply furnished, I get the sense that they care more about practicality than style which suited us just fine.
If we were here with a few friends in tow, we probably would have tackled the a la carte menu. With more mouths to feed, you can get away with carefree over-ordering, but with just the two of us, we had to be a bit more selective. Instead of enduring my inevitable long-winded deliberation process, I saved our stomachs from further rumbling and decided on the Asadal Special Set. Sometimes when you’re ready to eat your arm, a short cut is a must.
A bowl of man du soup arrived first; two slippery little pork dumplings in piping hot chicken broth were a gentle way to ease those hunger pains. An intriguing octagonal box came next; it opened to reveal a selection of mo dum jeon which are what Korean’s might describe as savoury pancakes. Personally, I would lean towards the omelette description as our pieces of courgettes, mushrooms, fish fillets, and prawns were coated in egg as opposed to batter. Aside from the majestic presentation (the boxes were once only reserved for serving nobility) these pancakes were quite ordinary.
We much preferred the japchae, a classic dish of potato noodles, often stir fried with julienned carrots, cabbage and wood eared mushrooms. Asadal’s version also had beef, mung bean sprouts, and egg, which all came together in a satisfying mix of textures and flavours. We were less unanimous when it came to the kan pong gi. I loved the battered bite sized chicken coated in a sweet and spicy sauce as it reminded me of something my dad used to make for us when we were kids, but a certain someone felt the actual chicken was lost in the batter and sauce… more for me and my 10 year old self then.
When the ban chan, Korean side dishes, came to the table, I knew it was time to fire up the barbeque. Far less complicated than sorting out the coals or gas bottle, the silver lid in the middle of our table was lifted and with a flick of a switch, the grill was on. We have cooked our own indoor Korean barbeque before but this time, we just sat back and let our expert waiter do the honours. The beef galbi is made from thinly sliced beef rib which is marinaded overnight – this really infuses the rich, salty flavours and allows the nashi pear and kiwifruit to tenderise the meat.
The beef took hardly any time to cook; a few tosses and turns on the grill and we were dishing up. This is where things get really fun if you’re like me and love to mix and match with different sides. The first step is to take your lettuce leaf and spread a little gochujang on it (though even that is optional if you’re not a fan of the bean paste), the second is to layer on the fillings, then all that’s left to do is to roll it up. Just like a taco, a lettuce leaf taco… but you get the idea. Their kimchi was as good as any I’ve had, but my favourite of the ban chan were the chilli pickled baby cucumbers. The contrast between the refreshing, crisp coolness of the cucumber and the heat from the chill was not only perfect, but an ideal match for the soy-rich beef.
Just as we were savouring the last morsels of beef, truly believing it was the end of the meal, the bibimbap arrived. Of course it did, can any Korean feast be complete without it? The sizzling stone bowl was filled with fastidiously segmented vegetables and beef before our waitress attacked it with some gusto and mixed it into a beautiful mess. My parents might disown me for admitting this, so I’ll say it quietly… but I think I might prefer the bibimbap to our Malaysian nasi goreng, or fried rice for the uninitiated. There’s something quite satisfying about scraping the side of the bowl for the crunchy rice bits!
The real end to the meal was a warm cinnamon drink and a selection of fruit which is supposed to aid digestion. What I really needed was a lie down to nurse my food coma, but I appreciated their gesture all the same. The slices of melon and orange were refreshing, but the cinnamon drink I avoided… I don’t usually turn down the chance to try something new, but this was a big step up from the usual sprinkle of cinnamon which I tolerate. The drink aside, I would happily elbow my way through Holborn station again for another visit to Asadal. Now that I’ve had a taste of this and that, I’m ready to drag some friends along with us to taste more of what they have to offer!
Do you like Korean food? Where’s your favourite restaurant in London?
Thanks to Asadal for looking after us, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!