|Korean Beef-rib Soup|
I've only eaten Korean food once before - and that was BBQ Beef cooked by a middle-aged Korean couple on a makeshift grill in a random campsite in Moab, Utah. They were part of our Trek America group and it was obvious that they were struggling with the food being cooked by the group - there are only so many times you can eat chicken pasta and I don't think their palate was trained for the dairy-heavy American pasta sauces. They made a huge effort when their turn to cook came around but unfortunately I think the local Walmart was lacking one or two key ingredients to make the meal truly authentic.
Since then this cuisine has always been on my hit list but somehow has always been superseded by the latest street food sensation or hot restaurant opening. I know there are a few Korean places dotted around the West-End - including the well-regarded Asadal in Holborn, the recently well-reviewed Arang in Soho as well as the row of Korean places behind Centrepoint but I was determined to try out a place in London's Korea-town of New Malden. Although everyone knows where Chinatown is it seems very few people I have come across have clocked that approximately 20,000 Koreans live in this Zone 4 enclave - with the community centered on the Town Centre with its Korean restaurants and supermarkets.
I travel past New Malden every day on my commute - its about 6 minutes by train from Wimbledon or 22 minutes direct from Waterloo. New Malden high-street definitely has a 'flavour' in the same way that one inhales the smell of a thousand curries cooking upon stepping out of the tube at Tooting Broadway, or the distinctive smell of Chinatown when wandering along Gerrard Street.
After a bit of research on Chowhound I finally settled on a visit to The Palace (which has no website that I can find). The interior was quite pleasant but it was very quiet when we arrived at 6:30pm - it also has the dubious award of being the first restaurant I've ever been in to schedule in a full-volume screening of East-Enders during the meal.
|The Palace, New Malden|
Each table has a grill built-in but ingredients for this seemed to start at around £25 and to be honest we had no idea what to order or even what we were doing - most other people in the restaurant did seem to have some kind of sizzling platter cooking or bubbling away in the middle though - something to revisit another time I think.
First up for the evening was a selection of starters delivered gratis. I'm not completely sure what they were but we think we identified Kimchee, beansprouts, spicy beansprouts and what was identified by the waitress purely as 'potato' but was actually a rather delicious glazed, cold boiled potato in a sweet sauce. All was very interesting thus far and our night was being sufficiently lubricated by the rather bland Hite Korean beer.
|Free Korean starters|
We had no real idea of how much to order for two people so plumped for 2 pancakes next - one with Kimchee and one a tranditional Seafood pancake. Both were fantastic with the seafood pancake particularly good with a decent amount of fishy filling in what was quite a dense pancake. In fact it was so dense that I gave up trying to use the chopsticks and burned my fingers dipping it in the spicy sauce it was provided with.
As good as the pancakes were they were my epic fail #1 - I think you'd want 1 pancake between 3 or 4 people and unfortunately I was already quite stuffed before we moved on. My epic fail #2 was ordering something I really don't like because someone else has recommended it. One of my least favorite things in the world to eat are soup noodles - mainly because I have the chop-stick skills of a 2 year-old. I detest Wagamama and have only ever ordered Pho once (and never again) in a Vietnamese restaurant. With this in mind I don't know why I ordered Beef-rib soup - or why I was surprised that it was a bucket of beefy broth with glass noodles and half a dozen ribs floating around.
The dish itself was served bubbling-hot and the ribs, which due to my limited digital dexterity I had to fish out, were succulent but an exercise in texture rather than spice. The broth was nice but it was definitely a broth - and by this time I was getting too full on the rice and frustrated by the mass of glass noodles at the bottom. I get the feeling this is proper home-style Korean food and the soup is a full meal in itself - forgetting any starters or desserts or indeed other dishes. I'm sure there are people out there who would love this.
I had serious food envy for the Spicy Beef soup my dining companion ordered - by all accounts this was a nice spicy dish, with meat off the bone and kissed by a slick of spicy red sauce. I was too stuffed to even try it.
|Korean Spicy Beef Broth|
So I'm afraid I left (read: waddled out of) The Palace rather full but unsatisfied. I'm not convinced I ordered well or indeed went with enough people to sample the best of the menu. Do any readers have any recommendations on what to try or indeed any other restaurant to visit?
Our meal for 2 came to approximately £40 including drinks and service.