Assa is one of those rather run-down-looking Korean restaurants on St Giles High Street that survived the cross-rail demolition for London’s better quality of living. It doesn’t seem to attract punters as much as the quirky looking “Post It” Seoul Bakery next door (where in fairness the food doesn’t taste half as good!) BUT.. Assa has trains of regulars – me included – and queues!!
This is the place that focuses on just food. Korean food. Fairly extensive menu – stir fry, deep fried, BBQ, soup and hot pot! Price per dish hardly soars above £10 and if so it’s usually no more than £15. Big, hearty portion. Comforting heat. Not the most refined but more with a homely soul. All dishes cooked live in front of you as the kitchen is indeed a counter annexed to the dining room! One dish there is pretty much a meal in itself. Kinda place you’d get people together to share the joy of eating. No fuss.
Best dishes at Assa aren’t indeed Korean BBQ. By no mean to say it’s bad. Well marinated meat. Decent quality. But just that the low price tag means they can’t compete with, say, slightly more upmarket SSAM (formerly Ran on Great Marlborough Street) or Asadal. Also Assa don’t do BBQ at tables and I really have a thing with not having my meat too cooked. Control freak, I know.
So, what’s good? Tobokki – rice sticks and Korean fish cakes stir-fried with onions in sweet chilli sauce. Came in a metallic pan!! My favourite dish that I didn’t have a picture. Chap Jae – potato glass noodle stir-fried in sweet soy with pork and some crunchy veg (1). Slurpy texture. Sweet Raw Beef – chilled noodle-like beef tossed with pine nuts and sesame seeds in light sesame oil (2). Served with juicy Korean pear and raw egg yolk. Much like a steak tartar but inclined toward being light and refreshing. You’ll also get nice freebies. Namul – lightly cooked vegetables in sesame dressing (3).
The fiery highlights.. a range of hot pot to choose from at Assa. Went for the Pork and Kimchee. Ace. Spicy marinated pork shoulder thinly sliced toppling this medley of fresh and pickled vegetables – cabbage, tofu, mooli, mushrooms, spring onions, onions, courgette, chilli, etc. – in a spicy broth. Heat on! And the trick is not to collapse the pork too quickly but leave the veggies to cook and turn flavoursome stock first. Then, pork in and simmer for minutes to turn a devilishly red cauldron. Perfectly tender pork. The marinate added depth to the kinchee-d stock. The Assa broth isn’t the most pickle-y powerful, for their kimchi isn’t foully vinegar-y. It tastes more like a less aromatic take on Thai sour “orange” curry. Delectable and not aggressive, making it easy to be had on its own.
That’s some proper chilli fix. Never quite got to desserts. Never know if they do any…
Last year saw Assa’s expansion into Soho’s Romilly Street (yet to pay a visit) so if you happen to swing by that one please let me know how it goes
My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.
53 St Giles High Street
Tel. 020 7240 8256