Monday, 29 November 2010
Assa (new branch) Korean Restaurant, 23 Romilly Street, Soho, London, W1D 5AQ
The first time we went to Assa was to the original branch located by Centre Point near Tottenham Court Road tube station. I absolutely loved it from the moment we went in (though the whole waiting to be called into the restaurant from the freezing cold bit wasn’t that fun). The interior of the restaurant looks like what I’d imagine a Korean dining room would look like. Shades of brown on the walls with wooden chairs and tables, not much decoration on the walls, and lots of hot pots bubbling merrily on camping stoves on each table. I was so glad I’d found something like this in the middle of London, and because I didn’t have my camera with me, I just HAD to make a return visit to the restaurant.
So, one cold Saturday evening, we decided to do that. We’d just finished watching the new Harry Potter film (bit of a cliffhanger) and decided to have an early dinner to avoid the queues. However, as we had gone to the cinema in Leicester Square (the big one), we were going to walk through Soho to get to Tottenham Court Road.
Whaddya know. We found another branch of Assa in the middle of Soho. Eh? With some hesitation, we thought it was just another Korean restaurant pretending to be the real thing, so we had a quick look at the menu, and asked the waiter if it was the same restaurant as the one we liked. He said yes. That meant … we didn’t have to be in the cold any longer!
Despite this place looking more modern than the first place, I much prefer the look of the original branch as this one just blends into the other modern, chic, slightly pub-looking restaurants dotted around Soho. Instead of feeling quite smug that I’d managed to fit into someone’s sitting room and been served dinner, I just kinda felt quite cramped in this one as the chairs from the tables were pretty much back to back, leaving not much room for coats and bags. Small point, anyway.
After we’d made our orders with the new waiter (that took a while, but it was the dude’s first day) we were served the usual free side dishes – this is why I really like Korean food. All those free side dishes.
I really like this seaweed pickle – slightly sweet, a little tangy, quite fruity. Really good for whetting the appetite, not that it needed any help. A little later, one of those camping stoves were brought to the table, followed shortly by a huge hot pot filled with kimchi broth and meat.
Marinated beef and kimchi stew hotpot £15
This was good stuff – I can still smell it on my hair. While we waited for the soup to boil, it took all the self control I had not to dive in and eat the beef raw (when dining with friends, this kind of behaviour is not acceptable).
As it was sitting right in front of me, I had to keep staring at it. While it boiled. And then it boiled some more. When we could wait no more, I gave it a quick stir and dished it out. If you’ve had kimchi before and like it, then this is the dish for you. A pot like this costs £15, and could definitely be shared between two to three people, if you had it with rice. Warming, spicy, sour soup flavoured by the meaty taste of the beef. Full of vegetables – courgette, mushrooms, mooli, tofu, and yam noodles.
We also ordered beef bulgogi, but when we placed the order with the new waiter, he looked quite confused. Almost as though I’d ordered a Big Mac or something. He then went away and had a chat with someone, came back, and pointed to a page on the menu which described a dish as something like stir fried beef or something. Not knowing what that was, or what bulgogi should be described as except BBQ beef, we agreed with him, and this dish was produced. It tasted like bulgogi but seemed a little more wet compared to the other bulgogis I’d had before. Maybe this is another variation? Does anyone know if this is how it’s meant to be?
This could be – BBQ beef (in which case it would be £8.50 and described on the menu as ‘marinated beef seasoned with sesame oil’), or it could be ‘stir fried marinated beef’ £8.50.
Whatever it was, it was really nice. I really like the taste of Korean food anyway, it manages to be fresh and tangy, yet very meaty at the same time. Not sure if I could have it on a daily basis but it sure is nice once in a while, especially when it’s minus something degrees outside.
Now, when we ordered this the last time at the original branch, the dish that was served was a hot version of a slightly spicy, slightly sweet, stir-fried squid with vegetable and red pepper sauce dish. This time, I pointed at what I thought was the same thing, but it wasn’t, and the dish that was served instead was a cold, salad-like version of the squid dish we had before. Taste-wise, it was pretty similar to the first one we had, but I preferred the hot version – maybe because I felt like eating something hot? The fiance and our friends enjoyed it lots though, really liking the tangy burst of flavour that used the vegetables and squid as base to hold the tastes together. This was the ‘squid and vegetable in spicy sauce’ £10.
My favourite dish of the meal – Chap Jae or ‘stir fried sweet potato noodles with pork and vegetables’ £8.50. There’s something really comforting about this dish. It’s chewy, very slurpable (literally, you gotta slurp it up because it doesn’t break easily when bitten) and the translucent strands of bouncy noodles absorb all the meaty, sweet flavours of the dish. I’m yet to find out if they use anything other than sugar to lend to the sweetness, maybe some fish sauce or something similar, but the recipes I’ve found online don’t mention anything other than sesame oil and sugar. The crunchy vegetables in the dish contrast nicely to the warm, soft, and chewy noodles.
With the smell of kimchi firmly stuck in my clothes and hair, and with the taste of red pepper sauce and onion still kinda lingering on the tastebuds, it’s time to ask the question of ‘Would I recommend this restaurant?’, and the answer would be a resounding yes. Come to think of it, I don’t remember the last time I didn’t like a restaurant enough to recommend it, but that’s probably because I don’t bother blogging about those that I don’t like.