14 Aug 2013

review: bi bim bap soho restaurant - great food at great prices

On Monday, I had the pleasure of a lunch date with the lovely Jess (@quellajesska) in the depths of Soho in London. Because we both wanted a decent feed but without the massive dent in our purses, we opted for Bi Bim Bap Soho - a restaurant that is a recommended 'cheap eat' on the Time Out website.

This meant that at about 12:15pm, we rocked up to the eaterie on Greek Street in the hope that the food would live up to its positive reviews. When you enter the restaurant, on the walls are small instax photos of customers that have visited in the past and I thought this was a neat and friendly touch. 

The menu is a bit on the more naked side - but I like this! This means that there is less of that 'ohhh, what shall I order' indecisiveness and more time for eating and chatting. From looking at the drinks menu, I saw that a pot of oolong tea was only £1 - compared to £2.50 for a lemon ice tea - so that was my choice of drink. 

Oolong Tea - a pot of goodness!
Although it was a chillier summer day (with temperatures of low 20s (celcius) as opposed to the mid and high twenties), I found the tea quite refreshing. I am a sucker for green tea though so that probably explains why I grew so attached to the tea during this lunch. The pot and was so cute too - I just wanted to take them home with me, but seeing as stealing is a crime, I refrained from doing so!

Drinks chosen; now we're getting down to business - the food! As the restaurant is called Bi Bim Bap, there was no way that I wouldn't order a bibimbap dish. Being a sucker for beef bulgogi, this is the one I opted for after some deliberation as I flirted between this one and the seafood one (like an angel one on shoulder and a devil on the other... except I would classify both as angels). 

Beef bool-go-gi bibimbap - the best value bibimbap I've had in London by a country mile.
I was so eager to tuck into it, I forgot to take a 'before' picture. The above picture is after I mixed everything together.
Also, it may not look a lot in that bowl but you do get a considerable amount of rice, veg and meat!
For those of you that don't know, bibimbap is basically a rice dish with a load of veg and meat plonked on top of it. It is served in a hot bowl and sizzles and cooks as you thoroughly mix the veg and meat into the rice. I love the sound it makes when you stir the stuff around.

Anyway, I can safely say that out of all the bibimbap I've tried (and I do love me some Korean food), this one was by far the best. The flavours are amazing and the beef was marinated perfectly. For the price (£6.95), it is worth every. single. penny. I am quite picky when it comes to my food (low salt and low fat please) and I found this dish on the slightly saltier side - but not so salty that I'm left guzzling water down like crazy. I must say that I also added some chilli sauce to my bibimbap and that may have contributed to the saltiness. My own fault really, but the chilli sauce was so good!

All in all, the beef bool-go-gi bibimbap gets a HUGE thumbs up from me. I am determined to head back enough times to try each of the different bibimbap dishes now!

Onto the sides... First up, the jak chae. The portion size of this dish is very generous. I struggled to eat more than half after eating the majority of my bibimbap. However, I don't usually eat much anyway so for a normal person, they would probably finish both the main and the side and with room for more too.

I was actually surprised by how big the sides were - and this is something I'm not complaining about. For my next visit, I'm going to starve myself and then aim to do better.

What English speakers will (probably) think is the weirdly named jak chae (pronounced jak che according to the waiter) - a Marmite dish that some will like and others won't.
I'm a sucker for a glass noodle, or fifty, and so this dish jumped out to me instantly. Though, when I saw the word 'dumplings' a bit further up the page, I very almost didn't choose the jak chae. However, common sense prevailed (as I am making homemade dumplings later this week with my mum! Learning how to be a culinary goddess isn't easy, ya know) and the jak chae arrived at our table.

The texture of glass noodles is a bit weird - they feel a bit rubbery and may even be a bit too worm-like for some people. Having been brought up on these noodles though, I don't mind it so much. This dish is nice but at the same time, I felt that there was something missing. It's missing that 'X-factor' and I don't quite know what it is!

I personally liked the dish but Jess didn't seem too impressed by the gelatinous look of the noodles and refrained from trying some. 

Chilli squid - better than Wagamama's apparently!
The other side we ordered was the chilli squid. There was no way I could have fitted this in my belly so all I have to tell you is what Jess said! In fact, she enjoyed it so much, she ordered two of these in total. Her comment was that these are better than Wagamama's version as they've used the tentacles here whereas Wagamama's tend to use the 'body' of the squid. After polishing off the first plate, Jess asked for another - and if that doesn't tell you how good it was, I don't know what will!)

Service-wise, I found the wait staff friendly and helpful; and the food arrived very quickly. Kudos to the lad who took our order and didn't look too insulted by my (probably mis-)pronunciations of 'hello' and 'thank you' in Korean! As the restaurant filled up, you could tell that they were rushed off their feet and yet, they still took the time to smile at customers. I've encountered frosty service before and I am pleased to say that Bi Bim Bap Soho are the opposite of frosty.

In terms of value for money - the bill came to around £33 (before two of the sides were deducted, resulting in the bill actually being £23) which isn't bad value for London (two drinks, two mains and three sides). For food this good, it is practically a steal.

My rating? 4.5/5 stars (because, I wanted to try all the dishes and there was no option for that on the menu (or room in my belly... )!

NB: Although two of the sides were complimentary, I have still reviewed them just the same as if I had paid for them.

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