Over the last 12 months, the capital has seen a great influx of Korean food. A swathe of new Korean operators have popped up all over the city, snapping up much restaurant property. Simultaneously, established restaurants have increasingly been opening up to Korean cuisine trends and ideas.
Sylvia Park, Chairman of the British Korean Women’s Society, estimates that there are now around 100 Korean restaurants in London. Shoreditch’s Jubo has been part of that number since 2013 and has recently opened a second location in Farringdon.
Part of the success of Jubo, and Korean food in the UK in general, is that what it offers is at once familiar and exotic. Their steamed, pork-filled buns will strike a chord with Dim Sum lovers, while Jubo’s mainstay of Korean Fried Chicken is an exciting twist on a classic that London is already obsessed with.
Though very successful in this area, Korean food is by no means limited to fast casual dining.
Celebrity Chef Judy Joo has recently championed Korean cuisine’s suitability for fast food. She argues that “Korean cuisine is healthy and fast. It always has a plethora of vegetables in it which are obviously good for you and has a lot of fermented ingredients which are good for the gut.”
Last year, the UK’s fast food industry was worth £29.4bn, with Chinese and Thai food among the most popular choices. We now expect Korean food to become more and more influential as the UK’s awareness of Korean culture grows.
As well as growing into the fast food market, Korean food is also perfectly positioned for more formal service environments. Joo’s new restaurant, Jinjuu, opened on Kingly Street, Soho.
Her girls-school motto was with wisdom she lights the way, and as Jinjuu means ‘pearl’ in Korean – a traditional symbol of wisdom – this is exactly what Joo is doing at Jinjuu. Since opening in January, it has quickly become London’s premier Korean restaurant.
Although here too small plates of Anju, the food designed to be eaten while drinking, are available and popular, Jinjuu also offers traditional food dishes such as Mandoo meat dumplings and Yook-Hwe, a Korean steak tartare with peach and pine nuts, and Ssam platters of meat and fish cooked with traditional Korean flavours.
New Malden in Kingston upon Thames has had a large South Korean presence since the ‘70s and now has a 20,000 strong Korean population. But it is not just in this ‘Little Seoul’ that new Korean restaurant operations are opening.
As with all new restaurant trends, Soho is a popular area for new openings. In addition to Jinjuu, Korean chain Bibimbap already has two locations there, with branches on Charlotte Street and Greek Street, right in the heart of Soho. Also nearby is Bao, named after the milk-steamed buns it serves with braised pork fillings.
The East End is also popular. From London Bridge to Dalston is a rash of new Korean openings. Bibimbap’s newest opening in Leadenhall joins Jubo and On the Bap in the East, as well as Bao’s new Saturday stall at Netil Market, near Broadway Market.