Bo Drake

At it’s best you don’t notice service. It’s a seamless part of the dining experience, one you only remember in recollection. A good waiter will first of all know the menu and know what to recommend because they have tried it, not because they’ve been told to up-sell that dish. But most importantly, a good waiter knows when to leave you alone. It seems so simple, and yet so few restaurants get this part right. There’s fine dining restaurants that seem so eager to justify the service charge that they do everything except wipe your arse for you. Then there’s the restaurants with staff who pull up a chair and ask you so many overfamiliar questions that you end up checking your starter for their signs of their bodily fluids. And then you get the worst of them all. The waiters who are like incessant little flies, pestering you from the moment you enter, literally turning the table as you are still sitting there. Tonight, Bo Drake fell into this last rung in hell.

From the moment we sat down, we were given a menu and immediately asked if we were ready to order. No, we’d like to at least have a look at the menu first. Maybe some water. A minute later and he was back. We sent him away again, or rather he hovered three foot behind me waiting for the next moment I dared to open my mouth for conversation with my partner- a sure signal I had made my mind up. On the third attempt we gave in and ordered our dishes- which given how concise the menu is, was just about everything worth trying. Three minutes later the food came. Yes a whole 180 seconds from the waiter writing it down in his pad, to the order being passed to the kitchen, to the chefs cooking 7 different dishes, to it being put down on our table. This is no exaggeration. Needless to say not one of the dishes served was hot.

Having now ordered and been served, I could take the restaurant in. Bo Drake clearly took its design inspiration from what was hot last year- brown paper menus, matt-grey walls and exposed pipes. Minimal, cold, and drab- something between a prison cell and a pervert’s sex dungeon. With it’s menu and look, it is in the same vein as restaurants like Flesh & Buns and Pitt Cue Co, but it lacks their boozy basement buzz and the food doesn’t pack as much of a punch.

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First up KFC (Korea fried chicken) with soy garlic, grapes and rosemary (£8.50) which would have the Colonel turning in his grave over this poor pun on his classic. At their best Korean chicken wings blow your balls off. They’re red hot dirty finger food, something Flesh & Buns have nailed. Here the skin was soggy (maybe from standing pre-made on the pass for the last thirty minutes?) and they had no kick of spice. Bo Ssam was smoked pulled pork with kimchi (£14) that you forked into lettuce parcels, although it looked more like a can of cat food that had slurped onto the plate. The smoke was lacking and the meat was without that fatty goodness you associate with pulled pork. Smoked duck bao (£9) were tasty little bites, but not the best I’ve had.

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From the specials striploin beef served rare with truffled shiitake, tofu cream and shizou (£18) was a dish that you’d get in a restaurant like Zuma and happily pay twice the price. Cooked perfectly with good clean flavours, albeit served lukewarm, it showed that the kitchen can create moments of magic here. Only moments though, as a side of smoked aubergine with a miso and vine tomato water (£7) restored the order- it was like slurping down smokey slugs. Sweet potato fries with kimchi island dressing (£3.80) were better, but only because the pickled vomit flavour of the kimchi wasn’t coming through.

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It wouldn’t take an imaginative chef to pad out the dessert list. A choice of three was cut to two as the most appealing one- passion fruit brulee- was unavailable. At 7.30pm on a Friday? Maybe it had melted on the pass having been prepped three days before? That left a choice between sesame soft serve ice cream or apple tarte tatin (which really didn’t fit with the rest of the menu). It was a tarte tatin cooked by a Korean kitchen. Uninspired and out of place. A dribble of soft-serve vanilla ice cream did nothing to lift it.

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Having now eaten there, I can see that Bo Drake is an after work place where you go for a quick bite and a few drinks. Had I gone expecting this, I might have been more forgiving for being rushed through a meal in 45 minutes. I know London restaurants like to turn tables, but less than an hour is really pushing it. It was all bang on-trend with the decor and style of cooking, but food like this should be vibrant and punchy that makes you want to drink. The only thing making me want to drink more here was the shite service.

4/10 (££)

6 Greek St, London W1 4DE

Bó Drake Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Similar: Flesh & BunsPitt Cue Co

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Bi Bim Bap

Bibimbap is the ultimate comfort food. Everything good is crammed into one bowl, making it the Korean equivalent of stuffing a Yorkshire pudding with all the Sunday lunch leftovers. It really is that good. Bi Bim Bap (inventive name I know) on Greek Street serves this dish for only £6.95 (an extra £1 for the egg), so if you’re in Soho looking for a quick food fix, then go here.

Inside is decorated like a teenage Korean girl’s bedroom with a collection of odd posters and pictures covering a lime green wall.  There’s a queue every lunch and dinner but there are enough seats to ensure you won’t be waiting much longer than 10 minutes. The staff do their best to get you seated as quickly as they can, but they do tend to forget about you a little once you are seated. But with food costing less than a tenner, who really cares.

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The starters are more of an after thought, and the tempura prawns were nothing special. Better was the chilli squid salt and pepper squid. The batter was light and crisp, the squid was tender. They could have been braver with the chilli though.

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Then came the sizzling stone dish filled with rice, vegetables and spicy pork. My partner chose the beef equivalent. Definitely go for the raw egg yolk because it cooks with the heat of the dish and caking all the rice together. Some of the rice crisps up from the heat adding another texture. With miso and chilli sauce to give an extra hit of flavour, this is a really filling and tasty dish.

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You’re in and out quickly making it ideal for a quick bite, and with winter here it’s perfect when you just need to be filled and warmed up. And as you can easily eat for less than £10 a head, there’s no excuses not to give this a try.

Food: 7.5/10

Service: 5.5/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Value: 9/10

Overall: 7.5/10

Bibimbap Soho on Urbanspoon

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Seoul

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A text tonight asked if I fancied trying a Korean restaurant on Finchley Road. My response- how about a Chinese in Soho? This wasn’t because I don’t like Korean food, but instead because like so many other British people, I am far more accustomed to eating it’s Asian neighbours.

Walking up Finchley Road past dead restaurants and packed Chicken Cottages, I was hardly enthusiastic. And arriving outside of Seoul, and seeing that it was almost empty inside I was tempted to go into the bright and busy Italian cafe next door. But we stuck to the plan, and I’m glad we did.

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Inside the decor isn’t much more than tables and white walls, and there was only one other table in there, and without music the atmosphere isn’t the best. I imagine on a busier night (if there is one) that there would be a great vibe with everybody sharing food and cooking it on the small BBQ’s in the centre of each table.

Within a few minutes our attention was drawn to a three side dishes (on the house). These were beansprouts marinated in sesame oil, pickled radishes and small cubes of water chestnut jelly. Although nothing spectacular, they were refreshing.

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For the main I couldn’t pass up on the chance to order something for the BBQ. Even though it is essentially doing the job of the chef, there is something so satisfying about deciding the fate of your own food. And something so manly about cooking your beef just right. We had bulgogi (beef marinated in soy sauce), samgyupsal (pork belly with seasme oil) and ojinger gui (strips of squid). It was lucky that a numbered system runs alongside each dish on the menu, because I wouldn’t fancy trying my hand at pronouncing them.

The meat doesn’t look too appealing when it comes (the strips of pork belly were still frozen) but once they hit the BBQ and the smells rise and they crisp as the flesh catches, it has you salivating. No dish on the BBQ is more than £6.80 and you get a good starter size portion of each. All were surprisngly tender and had a nice kiss of flavour, but next time I go I’ll venture deeper into the other side of the menu with the more exotic noodle and soup dishes.

We did try one rich dish- bibimbap with beef, vegetables and a fresh egg that is mixed in and a a slow burning chilli sauce. It was delicious. The vegetables gave it a real crunch and the egg yolk mixed in was creamy and glued the rice together. At around £8 for the dish it is remarkably cheap given it is big enough for two to share.

The meal came to £34 for two of us, and although we probably could have eaten more and didn’t drink any alcohol, it was still a cheap meal. The staff were pleasant, although a little switched off at times, and each dish was tasty and fresh. It isn’t worth coming all the way to Finchley Road for, but if you are in the neighbourhood, perhaps if you are going to the 02 Centre for a Nandos or a curry night at Wetherspoons, then I’d suggest you venture a few minutes further up the road. You won’t be disappointed.

Food: 7/10

Atmosphere: 4/10

Service: 6/10

Value: 9/10

Overall: 7/10

Seoul 289 Finchley Rd, London NW3 6ND

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