Monday, April 27, 2009

Bi Won: or Be Warned and read the fine script

ndreas is a German volcanologist who has spent a lot of time in New Zealand walking into craters and analysing billion-year-old rocks. He also happens to be my neighbour in Brixton. Today we went to celebrate his imminent assignment in Singapore. As he knows the true meaning of hot", I thought I would take him to a Thai restaurant.

But as we walked around London from Southbank to Russell Square enjoying the sunny day, we stumbled upon a Korean place, Bi Won. Bibimbap - that is a magic word for me. Andreas did not mind. It was one hour before the dinner opening time but I betted with Andreas that Koreans would open the place a few minutes earlier. It is amazing how what Confucius said 2,500 years ago still matters to them.

I was right. Ten minutes to six the shop was open and ready to feed anyone with enough quid in their pocket.

We both went for a bibimbap set in a hot claypot (
£9.50). Served on a plate that would be 1 pound cheaper but what the heck, claypots are nice. I was a tad disappointed that the bibimbap served would be a plain one. The sunchae kind, archetypal for Korean cuisine, with toraji (bellflower root) and kosari (fiddleheads), that you always get in any Korean restaurant worth its kimchi was not to be had in Bi Won. Well, I should have read the menu more carefully.

"Well", I told Andreas, "at least we get to taste all little panchan, Korean pickles and salads that come in wee bowls to accompany the bibimbap." That way, what is essentially a bowl of rice topped with veggies and a few stripes of meat, becomes a satisfying meal. We happily dug into our bibimbap bowls, letting the raw egg get cooked by the heat of the clay pot and the crust form where the rice touches the pot. Well worth the extra quid. But my heart was crying out for the panchan that still was not arriving. I reminded the proprietress of it. Her steely look told me the truth even before she put it in words.

Eat your heart out. They only serve panchan at lunch. Phew! I felt I let Andreas down. Polite as ever, he kept dutifully explore his pot. The volcanologist in him did show as he carefully avoided the fiery gochujang.

Two grown men won't get full from two bowls of rice, no matter how great it may taste. I ordered a namul platter (£6.20): kongnamul (cold boiled bean sprouts with sesame oil), musaengchae (finely julienned white radish in a sweet vinegar sauce), young zucchini namul (usually, it would be cucumbers) and sigeumchi namul (sesame-flavoured blanched spinach). It all was very lovely, crispy fresh, lightly parboiled just to give a nice crunchy texture and gently flavoured with sesame oil, garlic and soya sauce.

Pro's: Fresh good quality ingredients.
Con's: Wee bit on the pricey side. Read the fine script too.
In a nutshell:
Good quality Korean food, if not the cheapest you can get.


  1. Considering how little I know about Korean food, this is my favourite eatery in London. Just dined there last night, on my own, adorable - quiet, delicious, yes modest portions which somehow make you feel particularly respectful to the cuisine and the place. I was the only white-y - funny the world is.

  2. Yes, they do have those airs of a fancy restaurant, hence, perhaps, the smallish portions. To their credit, the food is good but my all-time favourite Korean is Little Korea I'm there nearly monthly and it is always up to snuff.

  3. Soju is also VERY good but a bit pricey.