The original, dine-in restaurant over in Holborn has been proving pretty popular since it opened back in 2010, so extending the operation to offer similarly impressive Korean food ‘to go’ sounds like a good idea. And so it proves.
One of two new take-out spots from the Kimchee guys, this one on the Strand keeps things pretty simple. However, the moniker is something of a misnomer, as although there is plenty of space for queues to develop (and they do) there’s enough seating for you to park your bum should you wish, with rows of communal seating in the middle and more working their way around the perimeter. It’s got a pretty prime spot on The Strand and it looks a pretty enticing place, with that signature Kimchee green, lots of wood and a few bits of Korean paraphernalia giving things at least a semblance of Oriental calm, despite the lunchtime hordes.
It does indeed get very busy come lunchtime but seats become available relatively quickly as this is the kind of food that’s more or less wolfed down, with diners hotfooting it back to their desks pretty sharpish. Most grab and go, though, and whilst the sheer bustle of the place might put some off, things move quickly, with efficient, lovely staff already dab hands at ensuring queues don’t get sticky. Make no mistake though, this isn’t somewhere in which to dally, so don’t take a date.
The familiar rail against Kimchee as a whole seems to be regarding authenticity, and whilst there are concessions to the Western palate there seems to be a real effort to showcase as wide a selection of Korean food as possible, even here. There should, perhaps, be a little more fire in its belly (there’s a lack of real spice throughout) but the majority of we poor Londoners can’t handle (or simply don’t want) too much heat - especially at lunchtime - so it’s probably a good thing.
The bibimbap, one of Korea’s most popular exports, is done pretty well, with a tray of marinated chicken, beef or tofu alongside namul (various seasoned vegetables including daikon, carrot, cucumber, mushrooms and spinach) sitting above a lower tier of rice (mixed grain or plain). The idea is to mix everything together along with the red chilli paste (go for the hot version as it’s not hugely spicy), then tuck in. It’s good, rich and warming.
The kimbap (much like sushi rolls but with cooked vegetables and omelette) impress too, especially the spicy beef version (with fried kimchee) but it’s the noodle soups that look to be most popular. The chicken and kimchee soup has a little piquancy to its zesty but surprisingly rich broth (fresh chillies help, too), and the noodles themselves are good.
A small breakfast selection is also available (including, admirably, misugaru – a traditional, old Korean dish), as are Kimchee’s own brand mints, available at the counter and a sound choice if you want to be slightly less abrasive when you return to your desk.
The big boys are all in attendance, so if you want a Coke or something of that ilk you can. However, the cold plum tea (very sweet but very good) is a more than worthy alternative, and pretty good warm, too. You can also tuck into honey-based teas, decent coffee and yul mu cha – an authentic Korean tea made from almonds, walnuts, Job’s tears grain and sugar. It’s worth a try.
The Last Word
Accessible, affordable, tasty and quick, it's no surprise to see Kimchee To Go proving popular already.