It may surprise you, but not all Londoners are aware of an area of their city full of Korean people, businesses and customs: New Malden is London’s Korea Town. Once discovered, this vibrant area is enjoyed by Koreans and non-Koreans alike. With Seollal (설날; Lunar New Year) just around the corner, we simply had to check out what a celebratory night out there would look like.
If there’s one thing you’ve just got to do when visiting K-town, it’s tuck in to some authentic Korean cuisine. Restaurants in New Malden tend to be cheaper and less “Londonised” than those in central London, with little touches like table buzzers and free banchan that are missing from those further in. I’ve tried a few K-town eateries in the past, with Sorabol and Jee’s already firm favourites. Staying in the spirit of discovery, though, I wanted to try somewhere new. Cue Yami; a modest, atmospheric and inviting restaurant, with a full menu including stews, rice dishes and BBQ favourites.
Setting it apart from other London Korean eateries was the inclusion of dak galbi; something I’ve been searching for for years! This is a spicy chicken and rice cake dish that originates from Chuncheon, Gangwon-Do; the city I used to live in. Although I’m a veggie and have never eaten the stuff, its distinctive, hearty aroma felt like home.
Another nice surprise, and another first, was the presence of the green “v” symbol (used to label dishes “suitable for vegetarians”) on the menu itself. However when I looked a little closer, I noticed that this may be misleading for some, as a number of these included beef or fish. As with other London K-restaurants, though, the staff members were happy to meet my needs and leave the non-veggie ingredients out.
The meat-eaters in our group couldn’t resist, and ordered dak galbi to share, while I went for a classic dolsot bibimbap. We also decided on both Korean beer and soju to accompany the meal; it was a night out after all!
I was pleased to see that the dak galbi was cooked at the table right in front of us, in the traditional way. The yummy food tasted like it would in Korea, and the staff were friendly and genuine. All in all a successful meal and another K-town restaurant to be revisited!
With full bellies and feeling tipsy, we headed over to the slick Han Bar for some more drinks and the inevitable noraebang. The singing rooms here are actually slightly more expensive than in central London (£35 per hour as opposed to £25), but the rooms are clean, modern, spacious and cutely decorated (reminiscent of the “luxury noraebang” that you find in Seoul).
Singing our hearts out here was incredibly fun, and if it weren’t for having to get the last train home, we would’ve been happy to’ve stayed all night! Yet this ended our night out in Korea town, until we return for Seollal celebrations in just a few weeks’ time. If you’re in London, I highly recommend New Malden for your Seollal location.
I know that the weather is biting, though, so if you’d prefer a cosy night in to welcome the Year of the Snake, why not use this as an excuse to practice your Korean-style culinary skills? Tteokguk (떡국; rice cake soup) is customarily eaten on Seollal, and is said to promote both health and luck. There are a number of methods and recipes to follow, including from London Korean Times and London-based Korean Class Massive. All of the ingredients that you will need (including long white rice cakes, the same that are found in dak galbi) are available from London Korean supermarkets including Korea Foods Mart or Seoul Plaza in New Malden. So whatever you’re doing this Lunar New Year, discover Korea Town, enjoy the celebrations and “새해 복 많이 받으세요!”
Seollal will fall on 10th February 2013. We wish you a Happy Lunar New Year!