My kitchen is out of action for most of this week as I'm having the whole room re-tiled, walls and floor. That seemed as good an excuse as any to eat out last night. As if I needed an excuse. I was transpennine for work, so thought I'd hang out in Manchester for a few hours.
Seoul Kimchi is one of (I think) three Korean restaurants in Manchester, the other two being Baekdu and Koreana. I've been to Baekdu a couple of times and enjoyed it, but haven't made it to Koreana yet. Seoul Kimchi is very much in the casual cafe style with a little counter seating area as well as tables, perfect for the lone diner.
The menu covers most of the Korean classics, as well as a few Japanese dishes. I opted for the beef bibimbap. It wasn't advertised as a dolsot bibimbap, but happily it turned out that it was. If I've lost you at this point, bibimbap is a dish of rice topped with assorted vegetables, meat and an egg. You throw in a large dollop of chilli sauce of some sort (often Gochujang) then mix everything up together before eating it. A dolsot bibimbap is one served in a searing hot clay pot, which results in a layer of crunchy, chewy rice bits forming at the bottom. This really lifts the whole thing, in the same way that the pan stickings from the bottom make a paella so wonderful.
This was a decent bibimbap, perhaps a little stingy with the meat but with a good selection of vegetables, perfectly cooked rice and a nice runny egg yolk. Certainly a superior fried rice. Not the most refined version, as the more upmarket ones tend to come with raw meat and a raw egg yolk that just gently cook in the heat of the bowl, but damn good for the price especially as that included the Banchan.
Banchan are the little side dishes, usually of vegetables, that accompany most Korean meals. I know that aficionados of Korean food will tell you that banchan should be provided free of charge with any main meal. This is apparently the norm in Korea, but often not the case in the UK.
As an aside, providing any little freebies seems to be anathema to a lot of British restaurateurs. To my mind, they're missing a trick here. Charging a few quid here and there for bread, olives and kimchi may add a bit to the bottom line at a pretty good margin, but people often find it irritating when there's an expectation it should have been provided at no extra charge. The goodwill generated by restaurants with the generosity of spirit to include a few little extras goes a long way, and surely feeds through to the bottom line eventually.
I can think of a Spanish restaurant whose generous hand with the shots left us staggering about after a long, boozy dinner, or the Turkish restaurant where a basket piled high with the most wonderful bread is replenished at regular intervals, or the tapas bars in Madrid where a big saucer of fat, meaty olives is shoved across the bar with every drink. These are the places that stick in my memory, the places I'm likely to return to, and those where I'll spend more of my money in the long run.
This is what I really liked about Seoul Kimchi, the inclusion of these little extras. At the more than reasonable prices charged I wouldn't really mind if they did cost extra, but they don't.
Three little platters, one of refreshing, lightly pickled cucumber. One of kimchi, quite mild but still addictive, and one of vegetables in mayo, a bit like Russian salad. Bit strange this last one, no idea whether this is a common Korean side. There was also a bowl of umami-rich miso soup.
An additional side dish (paid for this time) of prawn gyoza were good. Crisp, thin skins and a juicy filling. A very juicy filling in fact, so much so that it squirted all over my trousers. I'm not quite sure what was in there other than prawns, I think it was egg and vegetables in a very light stock. Tasty whatever it was.
Service was pleasant and efficient, and the bill came to £12.30 including a mug of green tea. Excellent value, and worth a visit despite the out of the way location. Unless you work at the University or Manchester Royal Infirmary, in which case it's across the road so why not pop in for lunch tomorrow.
275 Upper Brook Street