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Ko-ba, ko ko ko ko, Koba ...


It's a cold and dreary day and all I want to do is slump at my desk, mainlining cups of tea, but an old school-chum M wants to meet with hubby and me for lunch. M now lives abroad and only comes back for very brief stints, so we're lucky to get a slot in his busy diary.

Tottenham Court Road's the venue, so I rally the Twitterverse to ask where we should dine. Some suggestions are less than helpful (thanks Dan for “McDonald’s”) but Catty’s tip of Koba, a Korean joint, seems just the ticket - what could be more warming than a hearty jjigae?


I'm the first to get to the designated meeting spot, across the road from Big Freddy Mercury. Hubby turns up next and immediately warns me not to steamroller M into going somewhere I want to go. Poo.

Then M arrives and asks us where we should eat. I reel off a number of options and perhaps my psychic powers are stronger than I realise for he immediately replies "Ooh, I fancy Korean".

Koba is a little tucked away in Bloomsbury, so trying to wing it without a map is a bit foolhardy. However, I have a vague idea that it's somewhere near Computer Exchange and the bizarrely-named boutique Multipazz and thankfully find the place.

We sit down and M asks what the big overhead lamps were for. "Tabletop barbecue - they're extractor fans" I reply. Of course, M then wants to try it, but we convince him it'd take too long (as we have to get back to our desks) and steer him towards the one-dish options.

"I've been hearing a lot about this 'kimchi' thing", says M. "Since we're here in a Korean restaurant, I feel like we should eat some. Shall we order some? Can we order some?"

We're more than happy to indulge this whim, so we ask for the mixed kimchi to start.


A platter of Jenga-ed veg arrives - daikon, cucumber and the traditional Chinese leaf. We swoop with chopsticks - or at least hubby and I do, whereas M apologises and says "I'm going to be really embarrassing here and ask for a fork". The waiter swiftly obliges and brings cutlery for M ... and for hubby and me. We all get tarred with the gawky brush.

Anyway, this isn't as embarrassing as when M notices me taking a few snaps with my little point-and-shoot and asks far too loudly "Oh, are you going to review this place? You know, on your food blog?". In the distance, I swear I hear a plate smash.

The kimchi is good - crisp, tart and pungent, and I want more, but I know I'll regret it later. For our mains, we've opted for seafood noodles with soy or spice (M), dolsot bibimbap (hubby) and sundubu jjigae (me). This soft tofu and egg stew is my go-to Korean dish - I absolutely have to order it.

M asks for spicy but not too spicy - seafood's scarce in the sleepy little town where he lives, so he doesn't want this treat to be overwhelmed with chilli. The waiter reassures him that it will be exactly how he likes.


We chat for a while and then our steaming dishes arrive. Sure enough, they've judged the heat of M's noodles perfectly, and he is pleased, although this is shortlived. Visibly perturbed, M spears a chunk of protein with his fork and waves it at us. "This isn't seafood, is it?" he says, "this is chicken. Didn't I order seafood? I'm sure I ordered seafood". We shrug and say we think so, but we tuned out when they were discussing relative spiciness.

Indignant, M calls over the waiter and asks whether he did in fact order seafood noodles. The waiter looks perplexed, rechecks his notebook and then crumples with embarrassment when indeed it turns out the customer is right.

He apologises profusely and offers to replace the dish, but M seems satisfied and says "No, no, the other food will get cold. I just wanted to confirm that I wasn't going mad" and proceeds to tuck in. I want to stuff my napkin in my mouth to stop myself from laughing.


As for our dishes, hubby's
stone bowl of dolsot bibimbap sizzles enticingly on its wooden plinth. Another waiter (the original having dissolved into mortification) squeezes gochugang chilli sauce onto the rice and beef and then whip, whip, whips it into submission before letting my husband dig in.

Hubby loves it and says it's just what he needed, but, as with okonomiyaki, I find the taste of bibimbap only half as entertaining as the theatrics leading up to it.

I'm far more interested in the wee bubbling cauldron of fire in front of my nose. Generous chunks of tofu and clams bob around in volcanic red broth, but the prize is a luscious soft-yolked egg poached in the lava itself.

I fish it out and smush it onto my bowl of plain white rice, add a dollop of the crimson stew and scoop a spoonful in my mouth ...

Ohhhhhh - it's spicy, it's savoury, it's intense, it's like, it's like there's a party in my mouth and everyone's invited.


The rest of the meal is a bit of a blur. I expect M and the hubby continue to talk, but I'm too focused on shovelling stew and rice into my mouth to notice or care and, between chews, I'm tempted to burst into song (and a certain Kinks tune drifts into my mind).

Koba, dear Koba, has completely won me over with that one little dish and I cannot wait to go back for more.


Koba Restaurant
11 Rathbone Street
London W1T 1NA
020 7580 8825

Koba on Urbanspoon

Thanks to catty, supercharz and foodieguide and all the other fans of Koba ...


Greedy Diva said…
Have tried to get in to Koba 3 times now at night but it's always packed. Good idea to book ahead at peak dinner times. Sounds worth it!
Charmaine said…
Koba's soondooboo chigae is the best I've tried in London (including New Malden). I always crave it; thank god it's so close to my office and the lunch set always comes in at just under a tenner ;) Actually pretty much everything there is spot on. The bibimbap...oh the bibimbap. I might have to go there for lunch again this week...
Hollow Legs said…
I've never been to Koba, but I have heard so much about it - silly really as I work 10 minutes away. That jjigae sounds like just the ticket for these dreary grey days.
catty said…
I'm soooo pleased you like Koba too, but really, what's not to like? The assorted kimchi is always a winner for me, and so is the yook hwei. And really, in this weather there is nothing better than a big hot bowl of bibimbap. Now I want to go back again :)
franmouse39 said…
Oh me oh my - let me know if you're going back, meemalee - I want to come too!
M said…
Yes, I'm so glad my friend works close by so it's easy to persuade her to lunch there. Koba is some of the best Korean I've had in London - wish there was more!
meemalee said…
@Greedy Diva - I can imagine that Koba would be popular at night! Even lunchtime, it filled up quickly

@Charmaine - I feel like I really should visit Koreatown aka New Malden but if you say Koba beats em, I believe you :)

@Lizzie - It's quite easy to miss but oh the jjigae - soooo good.

@catty - Thank you catty - you're a genius :)

@fran39 - Will tweet you if I do x

@M - Sadly it's just a touch too far away for me to go regularly at lunchtime - I can't believe I never knew about it before.
gastrogeek said…
What a great write up - will be adding this to the list :)
meemalee said…
@gastrogeek - Go - it's dirt cheap and so lush!
scandilicious said…
Snap! I tried Koba recently after both Catty and Helen from World Foodie Guide recommended it. Great food and always busy - glad you liked it :)
meemalee said…
@Scandilicious - Twitter can be very, very useful sometimes.

And then there are people like Dan ;p
Su-Lin said…
Definitely one for the list! I haven't had Korean food in so long and I miss it!
chumbles said…
The results you get from a point and shoot are wonderful. The food looks brilliant and your review is excellent as ever. Damn, I'm sooo huuungry!
meemalee said…
@Su-Lin - I wish Koba was closer to my office! I had to take a long lunch and still barely made it there and back.

@chumbles - Ah, it's all in the wrist :)