How the times have changed… A few years ago, a moodily lit, artfully ambient dark wood and slate room serving authentically ethnic South East Asian cuisine would have had queues out of the door. And it's certainly not that Kimchee is any worse than original contender Busabi Eathai, on the contrary, but we're no longer surprised at being able to eat such exotica in the midst of the city.
Kimchee promises an ‘authentic, full Korean dining experience in the heart of London…’ Apparently their founder hand noticed a paucity of decent ones. Given the number clustered round the Tottenham Court Road end of Covent Garden, he hadn't looked that hard. That said, you can't quibble with the description he provides. It's certainly a full experience, the menu must have forty or more dishes on it, many of them not seldom seen outside Seoul.
The majority of dishes fall into the ‘small plates’ territory. An extended number of them are a riff on the battered and deep fried, though sadly the few we shared didn't deliver anything that soared above the ordinary. Overly thick fried dough smothered the life out of already fairly tough squid, the knockout blow delivered by an acrid sweet chilli sauce. A Prawn Tuigim delivered a measly two (albeit decent) crustacea locked in a ‘tempura’ batter overcoat that could have held Hannibal Lecter.
Things got slightly better with the main, a competent if pedestrian dolsot bibimbap. After a heavenly experience in Naru a few months ago, I was definitely in the mood for another go on the hot stone bowl filled with gradually crisping fragrant rice and veg. Here it just lurked rather than jumping out. There was no discernible sesame aroma, scarce veggies and little kick from a side bowl of chilli sauce. If I'm back, it'll be to take something from the evocatively fragranced grill at the front of the restaurant, the smell of which was one of the few real highlights of the place.
Despite uncomfortable bench seating, the dark woods and soft stone delivered a handsome enough dining experience and for a business lunch where you're more concerned by chat than chow it gets a nod for being unobtrusively acceptable. It's a missed opportunity but one that still just about manages acceptability in the hinterlands of Holborn.