If you’re planning to hit Covent Garden’s On The Bab the night before a bank holiday, prepare to queue. This eatery in the heart of the theatre district is all bustle on account of the fact that it, along with its three sister restaurants, pump out some of the finest Korean comfort food in town. From fried chicken and crispy shrimp dumplings to big bowls of bibimbap and jjigae, it’s a shot of authentic Asian soul food.
Kicking off with the drinks, our waiter recommends Somaek (£12.50 for 1000ml), a blend of beer and soju. The very mention of a spirit-beer gives my friend the disturbed expression of someone who has felt the burn of one too many Desperados. However, this is a mix of beer and spirit that won't taste like a two-day hangover. Served in a tall icy tower with a spout for you to self-administer at will, Somaek is mild in flavour with the soju adding a clean finish, rather than overpowering the lager, making it a refreshing accompaniment to the meal. There’s also a range of soju cocktails worth investigating. The Cherry Blossom (£7) I order is syrupy-sweet with a gentle kick of soju and plenty of crushed ice that makes for a cooling blast of cherry and coconut.
The food here serves you up some very big flavours in equally large portions. Our bulgogi beef and spicy pork buns (£8.50 for 2) are fit to bursting with melt-in-the-mouth pork and rich beef. A word to the wise: it will take some careful angling and an iron grip to get it from the plate to your mouth, and even then you will make a mess. The crispy fried Yangyum chicken (£12.50 for a medium serving), another staple of Korean street food, is a particular must-try. Coming in a variety of flavours and sizes, the indecisive are free to mix and match between soy ginger, sweet spicy, garlic mayo and seasoned spring onion - we opt for a combination of soy ginger and seasoned spring onion. With an intense outer crunch giving way to tender chicken it will make your eyes roll back into your skull, I guarantee it. Alongside all this we’ve also ordered a plate of kimchi rolls (£8.90) - sticky rice burritos wrapped in seaweed and packed with fresh vegetables and kimchi. Lighter than the other dishes, it’s a tasty little palate cleanser between the mouthfuls of spicy pork and chunks of mustard-dunked chicken.
Bringing together powerful flavours and tantalising textures, On The Bab is a bit of what you need. Hearty, warming and satisfying, it’s a busy spot to be sure, but if you’re craving a little comfort munching, you can be rest assured it’s worth the wait.
You can find On The Bab at 36 Wellington Street, London, WC2E 7BD, along with locations in Shoreditch, Marylebone and St Paul's.