Address: 71 High Holborn, London WC1V 6EA
Bookings: Walked in
I have on many an occasion seen long lines of Koreans shivering in the cold outside Kimchee, on High Holborn. I have just as often been told that the best barometer for the quality of an Asian restaurant is its popularity with the relevant local Asian community. Putting these two elements together, I decided this weekend to pay the place a visit, accompanied, of course, by my partner in culinary crime (PICC).
Normally, a restaurant review focuses mainly on the food eaten, interspersed with a comment or two on the physical appearance of the premises, with perhaps a nod to the service received. But in Kimchee, the staff warrant more than simply an off-hand comment. They were most fascinating thing about the place.
First, let me dispense with the food. It was mediocre. Not offensive. Not memorable. I ate my way through some mildly pleasant beef bulgogi, marinated in a ginger and soy sauce, whilst my PICC ate a chopped-up rib-eye steak. Speaking slowly and clearly, she asked that the steak be medium-rare, but fifteen minutes later it arrived looking like it had been barbecued by Steve Irwin. Whatever morsel of flavour had ever resided in the poor beast had been thoroughly cooked out of it, leaving something chewy and flavourless.
Our vegetable dumplings were tasty, piping hot and retained some structure, unlike the gelatinous, watery dumplings I’ve had the misfortune to encounter at other Korean restaurants. All in all, the food was okay, perhaps worth crossing the road for if your stomach is already rumbling, but certainly not worth queuing for on a bleak winter’s evening, no matter how many Korean diners appear to think otherwise.
Unless, of course, you go there to marvel at the bizarre behaviour of waiters and waitresses. We were seated a yard or two away from a large bin at the mouth of the kitchen, and on at least three occasions staff members lobbed food and other waste cleared from the tables at the bin, as if they were playing a game of basketball, and on each occasion, they missed the target with at least some of what was thrown, and then walked away as if nothing had happened.
Over the course of the meal, a small mound of detritus accumulated at the foot of the bin. A pair of used chopsticks which missed their target so severely that they then bounced back onto the floor of the dining area itself, were kicked around by waiters as they loafed around taking orders. The poor little sticks must have been booted a dozen times. I was almost moved to pick the things up and bin them myself, but was worried the staff would accuse me of interrupting their game of football.
It wasn’t that the staff were rude when taking our orders. They smiled. They grinned. It was more that they simply had no notion of restaurant – or indeed human- etiquette. From where had these bizarre specimens been recruited? Perhaps in an attempt to push down staff costs the owners had raided a mental asylum. At least they looked to be enjoying themselves. More than we were, in any case.