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September 9th, 2012

ASSA (Soho)

 ASSA (Soho)

Korean delicacies @ Assa

Category: Budget (£)  green traffic5 150x150 ASSA (Soho)

Since I “discovered” Korean food roughly a year ago, it has swiftly made its way to the top of Ute’s random food cravings.  I feel much more often like indulging in kimchi jjigae, bibimbap or bulgogi than I fancy Thai, Chinese or even Italian.  There is something about Korean food that is so comforting, warm and invigorating – the ultimate cure for the blues and homesickness.

Fortunately my trusted dinner companion Uyen feels similarly inclined towards Korean cuisine and for our weekly dinner date we again resisted the urge to frequent one of the recently opened burger places in Soho, ignored the new Polpo and showed Duck and Waffle the cold shoulder and went instead to the most unhip place one could possibly imagine: Assa just behind Centre Point, a rather random location for a “Little Korea” to have formed (there are also a Korean supermarket and 3 more hole in the wall Korean eateries).

To our confusion we found ourselves confronted with 2 restaurants of the same name – a brighter looking Japanese Assa and just next to it, a really grotty looking place, the Korean Assa.  Entering Assa, we felt we were stepping through a futuristic teleport just into the shabby heart of Seoul.  It’s hard to explain why the atmosphere seemed so foreign, it certainly was only partly due to the fact that patrons were 90% South-East Asian.  It was a combination of the basic furniture, the dim lighting, the smell of oil and spices and the open kitchen that felt so strangely not London. Every time the waitress (which by the way was incredibly friendly) addressed us in fluent English I was surprised as I felt I was being in another country altogether.

 ASSA (Soho)

Assa in London or Seoul after all

The menu was also more directed towards the Korean speaker.  For example, Beef Bulgogi was translated as ‘beef stir fry’ (we asked), so we ended up ordering things that we knew: Kimchi, Vegetable Udon, Kimchi Jjigae, Bulgogi and Pork Dumplings.  I can’t even possibly imagine what treasures are hidden behind the rather basic translations (amazing looking hot pots and stir fries and rice dishes were carried past our longing eyes) and I think on my next visits I will be more audacious and order randomly.

 ASSA (Soho)

complimentary pickles @ Assa

 ASSA (Soho)

Kimchi @ Assa

We got some complimentary Korean sea weed salad and bean sprouts flavoured with sesame oil which went down very well with a bottle of Hite (Korean beer).  So did the moreish Kimchi which tasted much fresher and substantially less garlicky than any Kimchi I have ever tasted in London.

 ASSA (Soho)

Vegetable Udon @ Assa

 ASSA (Soho)

Beef Bulgogi @ Assa

 ASSA (Soho)

Kimchi Jjigae @ Assa

 ASSA (Soho)

Fried Pork Dumplings @ Assa

We loved the Vegetable Udon, not the most exciting dish one could say, but the sauce was so full of flavour and the vegetable slivers so tasty and fresh that I would definitely order it again.  Beautiful also the Korean classis, Beef Bulgogi, with thin slices of tender beef, cooked perfectly, stir-fried in a slightly sweet bulgogi sauce melting in my mouth.  The steaming bowl of Kimchi Jjiage was almost as good as my own recipe ( yes I am indeed proud of this one) and spicy enough for us to order a second bottle of Hite.  The only thing I could have happily lived without were the Pork Dumplings. The dumpling skin was too thick and flaccid, and the filling did not taste of much.

I can’t remember the exact prices, but we paid around 35-40 pounds for all the food and 2 beer and it was worth every penny.  We left Assa with full happy bellies and a smile on our faces.  I was reminded of Assa a bit longer than I would have wanted with the kitchen smell (the downside of an open fry kitchen) clinging stubbornly to my coat and particularly hair for all the next day.  This is just a warning that you definitely should have time to wash your hair shortly after having visited Assa.

I have tried quite a few Korean restaurants in London, such as Bibimbap, Asadal, Kimchee, Koba, Thobang (even though I was a bit lazy writing them up so please follow the link reviews to other blogs if interested), most of them together with my Koreanophile friend Uyen and even though we liked most of the places we visited we both agreed that we enjoyed the food at Assa the most.

Doing some research for this post, I came across The Skinny Bib’s post on Assa and he has tried some more adventures dishes.  For example, he recommends the potato glass noodle stir fry and the hot pots, I shall follow his advice and be back asap!

  • Food: 7.5/10
  • Ambiance: 6/10
  • Service: 7/10
  • Value for Money: 9/10
  • Chances of Returning: 100%
  • Verdict: some of the best Korean food I have had in London thus far

biglink ASSA (Soho)

6 comments to ASSA (Soho)

  • Definitely try the hot pot! I love the food at ASSA as well.

  • Hey that sounds great! I have heard of it before and it sounds like there are enough veggie options for us. I wish we’d gone there rather than Koya when we were last around that way. I was left a little dissapointed by them. Not so cheap if you ordered a few dishes and portion sizes were lacking. Well, next time I will brave smelling like kimchi for a week and jump through the portal at centre point into the heart of a korean market..

  • Another place that I have always wanted to try is Koba! =)

  • Ute

    @Wendy – good to have another recommendations re hot pot, even keener now to try!

    @Keen on Food – I’m sorry you didn’t like Koya so much. I agree that it’s not that cheap, but it’s the only place in London where udon tastes like the ones you get in Japan. Do try Assa though, I hope you enjoy it more :)

    @Kay – I’ve been to Koba once, just for a quick lunch and have not been that impressed. We had some beef stir fry thing and the beef was tough, almost un-chewable! Still want to go back as heard so many good things.

  • I completely agree with your thoughts on Korean food. At the risk of sounding spiritual about cuisine, there’s something almost spiritual about Korean food in terms of how sincere and remarkably unpretentious it is. Maybe its the fact that unlike Thai or Malay food it has yet to become faddish or perhaps its the fact that when you eat it, you can imagine it to be some Korean mama’s home cooked food!

  • Ute

    @Guishan – you are right, I hope Korean food is not going to go the same way as other popular Asian cuisines! What is your favourite Korean restaurant in London?

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