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Seoul Kimchi review

Jennifer Choi falls deeply in love for a bargain of a quality Korean dining experience a mile out of town

Published on October 7th 2009.


Seoul Kimchi review

Gabriel's Kitchen has a five week old neighbour, serving very different food, but whose quality is on a par with GK and just as worthy of taking that small excursion out of town.

Seoul Kimchi, a well-stocked Korean food outlet of 5 years, has transformed itself from a treasure trove of exotic foods to an airy, chic café-cum-noodle-bar.

The hand-made beef gyoza (£3.50) was hands-down the best I've had. It ticked all the boxes. A delicate but fresh filling of minced beef, cabbage and grated carrot was swimming in hot stock, which burst onto your taste-buds as you bite into the wrapping.

With only 3 tables and makeshift counters taking the maximum seating to 17, the place nonetheless feels spacious. Gone are the dimly lit rooms with goods spilling out of ceiling-to-floor shelves. In its place, we have mirrors and windows, white beams (which I suspect double handily as a security measure) and a cobblestone flooring. The effect is a bit like a conservatory, but it all adds to make Seoul Kimchi feel larger than it should. And despite all this, they’ve still managed to retain the treasure trove feel. An assortment of Korean goods can be found tucked away in overhead and side shelves and against a back wall just as the dining area changes into the open kitchen.

The layout cleverly opens up the area, and offers a spectator element. Many restaurants allow you to dine at the ‘Chef's Table’ to be part of the action for a premium but here this is the default set-up.

Our introduction for a meal was what you’d hope for. The warm smiles that greeted us as we walked into a buzzing weeknight full of students ‘in the know’ was very welcome.

We ordered an array of hot and cold ‘small dishes’ to share. The seafood jeon (£3.75), a savoury pancake had bits of octopus, mussels and shrimp on a fragrant, omelette-like base coloured with green onions. It was both familiar and distinct, the familiarity stemming from ingredients common to Western cuisines, but cooked together they were something different.

The same can be said of the japchae (£4), a warm salad of cellophane noodles (translucent vermicelli) with mixed sliced onions, peppers and two kinds of mushrooms, all the earthy nutty tones brought together by a soy-sesame dressing. I know food snobs go on about 'umami', but proof that this extra-flavour dimension exists lay in this simple yet genius combination.

The hand-made beef gyoza (£3.50) was hands-down the best I've had. It ticked all the boxes. A delicate but fresh filling of minced beef, cabbage and grated carrot was swimming in hot stock, which burst onto your taste-buds as you bite into the wrapping. Oh, but we didn't stop there. This was accompanied by a pinch of home-made kimchi, a traditional Korean pickle of fermented cabbage, chilli, and seasonings. This delivered a sharp, tart kick to the already great dumplings. You'd think it was the stuff that inspired M&S food porn ads.

A starter came as a set menu (£13), which included two mini-platters of chef-selected sashimi and sushi. Slices of salmon, tuna and seabass sat proudly on a bed of grated turnip. The fish was fresh enough that each had its distinct, naturally sweet taste and texture. The garnish of pickled ginger and wasabi, which usually serves to cover up sub-par fish, this time took its intended supporting role. The sushi was a roll call of usual avocado maki, egg and crabmeat maki, prawn nigiri and inari. All good but it was the inari that surprised the first-timers, a beancurd wrap of sushi rice flavoured with a strangely complementary cream cheese. This familiar yet different trick was starting to become a welcomed theme.

For mains, we had dak bulgogi (£5.80), seafood stew (£6.50), tobiko bibimbap (part of the set menu), and the house special - 'tofu steak' (£5.90).

The bulgogi was thin tender slices of chicken marinated in a sweet soy-garlic-sesame mixture, served while still barbequing over a stone plate and topped with straw mushrooms and scallions. Moreish stuff – the accompanying steamed rice was not long on the table before being inhaled in its entirety.

The seafood stew looked great but turned out to be underwhelming. With cod, mussels and squid all present and accounted for, the dish didn’t want for seafood but the reddish chilli broth that it came in was sadly one-dimensional. The only bum note in the meal.

The bibimbap, literally translated as 'mixed meal' was a claypot of beautifully arranged seaweed, crabmeat, raw mushrooms and a dollop of brilliantly orange flying fish roe over rice. You mix it together and the heat from the rice and the pot cooks the mushrooms and warms the other ingredients. It all fell into place. The bonus was a crisped layer of toasted rice when you reached the bottom. The portion was deceptively filling.

And finally, we turned to the 'tofu steak', a new addition to the menu. Tasting nothing like the fish fingers they appeared as, the dish caused a minor commotion when I bit into them to reveal a creamy, sweet yet slightly tangy filling sandwiched between two baby-soft slices of beancurd. We were unable to identify the exact contents of this wondrous filling, and cheese was as much as I got from the owners before I decided it was best to keep the intrigue.

Not a single one of us needed dessert after all that.

Both Seoul Kimchi's interior design and food were practical yet chic, and what's more, a meal that comfortably fed four gave change from £50. The low-key café setting makes it a non-committal alternative to a full sit-down meal, and the less adventurous eater could just as happily enjoy the tamer, sans fish and chilli offerings such as chicken teriyaki. It effortlessly pulls off the authentic dining experience that a nation of Wagamamas attempts to recreate. It's humbling and delicious. Go.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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15 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AvoOctober 7th 2009.

EDITORIAL, you've been allowing me to talk complete and utter shite on here for years though. Why stop Walt?

oriental tasterOctober 7th 2009.

I THINK SAMSI HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE FOOD . THE CHEF I SAW AT THEIR SPINNINGFIELDS BRANCH AND THEY SEEM TO BE THE MAIN TRAINERS OF EXCELLENT PREMIER CHEFS GOOD FOOD.

daisytron@gmail.comOctober 7th 2009.

Yum yum yum. I didn't know about this place, I'll definitely be trying it out.

Paul M.October 7th 2009.

Visited Seoul Kimchi last week again, and as usual, the food was FIRST CLASS. Having travelled in and out of Korea for work since 1975, I can claim some knowledge of korean food. Mrs. Kum is a master of the kitchen, along with the other staff, who turn out some of the korean finest food you will find in the UK.My personal favourite, of course, is BiBimBap which is a very healthy meal. Beautifully presented and very tasty. Galbitang, or beef rib soup, is a really tasty dish also. So far, I have had the pleasure of trying many of the dishes on the menu, but not quite all of them. I will be returning there very shortly for yet another culinary delight. You may understand my enthusiasm for this food, when I tell you that I drive 50 miles to get it. I do not not live in the Manchester area. As the son of a chef, I do know good food when I eat it. This is the best. HANKOOK OMSHIK... HANNA.

lobster69October 7th 2009.

Used to work around the corner a couple of years ago when it was just a grocers but they did great take out Korean lunch boxes then. Sounds a bit like that Korean grocers/cafe in Ladybarn now. Great news the more of these places the better.

Walt KowalskiOctober 7th 2009.

EDITORIAL COMMENT: This rant was removed for being utterly incomprehensible

Pam BOctober 7th 2009.

Why don't I find Seoul Kimchi when I search for Korean restaurants in your list of Manchester eating place?

Paul MOctober 7th 2009.

Correction to my note above. The lady cooking up some of these delights is Mrs. Kwan.

Walt KowalskiOctober 7th 2009.

Just keep your hands off my dog

sproutOctober 7th 2009.

out of order, ed. next you'll be telling us you're gonna start charging us to view content.

Pam BOctober 7th 2009.

Seoul Kimchi is a great place to visit. I've been travelling from Derbyshire to buy the interesting groceries and takeaway food for several years. On my last visit the refurbishments were just completed and the transformation was absolutely amazing. Unfortunately I didn't have time to eat in but never the less received a really warm welcome and was able to sit at the bar counter and savour the beautiful clean lines of this typically simple modern Korean interior whilest I selected my takeaway and groceries. Go and try as soon as you can!

AvoOctober 7th 2009.

I think it was a line from Gran Torino which Walt was quoting on here.

chocokoniOctober 7th 2009.

Been going to the one in Ladybarn for years now, and I can't wait to try this little gem out!

LeeJune 19th 2010.

Make sure you check out Baekdu in Northern Quarter if you like Korean food. They depserately need some support as it always seems empty in there. Not sure why as the food is really good.

GregOctober 29th 2012.

Prices seem to have gone up, and food quality down.

I ordered a some sushi and a few other dishes, and not only was the raw fish warm, there was bones in it too! The following day was spent on the toilet.

I won't be going back.

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