Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Assa, Covent Garden


In a city as infuriatingly wallet-draining as London it is a pleasant surprise to find a sit down lunch worth eating for less than £20, never mind anything much under that. So Assa in St Giles, serving a set menu of various Korean staples and two sides for £5.50, seemed to be offering a deal too good to be true. You can spend £6 in Pret a Manger only to end up with a lifeless mess of soggy, unseasoned ingredients inside two slices of "bread" barely distinguishable in taste or texture from the cardboard it comes packaged in, and they have queues out the door of every branch every day. And yet somehow, these hideous places survive - indeed flourish, for some bloody reason - barely minutes away from homely little joints like Assa with their home made kimchi and hot tofu soups.


I'll be the first to admit I know next to nothing about Korean food, but it all seemed fresh and tasty enough for such a small amount of money. Sides of sesame-marinated beansprouts and nice salty seaweed came as part of the lunch deal but I couldn't resist paying another £1.50 for the house kimchi, crunchy and pleasantly pungent and a damn sight nicer than the stuff at flashy new restaurant Kimchee in High Holborn which cost £2.30. The restaurant Kimchee, by the way, was so dull I couldn't even be bothered to write it up, but go and read the ever-reliable Marina O'Loughlin's review to see what I mean.


I think I preferred my spicy beef main, the chunks of superbly tender marinated beef flavoured with sweet onions and chilli oil, than what I tried of my friend's tofu broth, but they both looked the part, the tofu served lively and sizzling in its superheated pot and the beef alongside a generous portion of rice in a large, shallow bowl. It wasn't dazzling by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a great deal better than you had any right to expect for £5.50 - just think of Pret - and came with complimentary green tea. When I asked for water, they brought tap, quickly, and with a smile. We couldn't really complain about anything.


Just a few words, then, on a hardly earth-shattering but nice and unassuming place to eat your lunch in central London. But I thought it worth the effort to emphasise that while it's easy to get into the habit of automatically assuming you have to pay through the nose for decent grub in this town, Assa is living proof that there are in fact ways of getting your belly full without noticing that much more of a hit on your wallet than if you'd brought in sandwiches from home. And given the choice between even the nicest cheese & ham sarnie kept squished at the bottom of your bag until midday, and a bowl of cooked-to-order spicy beef and rice, well, I know which I'd prefer.

7/10

Assa on Urbanspoon

14 comments:

Lizzie said...

Well that's good because I preferred my spicy tofu broth :) It's not as good as Koba's (and there it had a poached egg and some seafood) but it is almost half the price. I am sure I'll be returning for that big bubbling seafood hot pot.

Oliver said...

I've eaten here three times in the evening and it was really nice each time. There is a fried dish of mackerel which was pretty spectacular...and the fried turnip pancake things were wicked too.

Marcus said...

Assa, and the other Korean joints on that street are all great. You should also check out the Bibimbap from there if you get a chance as it's always in a winner. In Pret's defence - I don't know what you're getting from there that's costing you £6

gary robinson said...

Korean (genuine stuff too) at that price is a gem of a discovery. If they can do a decent Gejang and a Dolsotbap then I'm there already

krista said...

I love this little strip of Korea in London in general. Sweet service, nice food, unbelievably decent prices.

Melanie Seasons said...

I just walked by here the other day and wondered how it was. Seems it was fate - will definitely be trying it now. As Lizzie said though, Koba is where it's at :)

Melanie Seasons said...

I just walked by here the other day and wondered how it was. Seems it was fate - will definitely be trying it now. As Lizzie said though, Koba is where it's at :)

Melanie Seasons said...

I just walked by here the other day and wondered how it was. Seems it was fate - will definitely be trying it now. As Lizzie said though, Koba is where it's at :)

Abby said...

It looks delicious!

Jane said...

Lovely review and the food looks like home-cooked... which is what makes it more appealing. Easily affordable is another plus point. Thank you.

Su-Lin said...

Oooh, I recently tried Seoul Bakery next door! Gotta get me to Assa one day.

Eva Lai said...

Cool. I believe Korean food is worth you checking that out. I've been watching a trashy Korean soap opera over here, where a character in the soap seems to be using threats to mess up the company to try to coerce this female colleague into marrying him- .....?? That's breaching multiple terms on his contract of employment (not harming the company etc.) while doing sexual harassment at the same time??? Where is Korean law?? Anyway it is just TV. I have the theory that places outside London are actually more infuriatingly wallet-draning when it comes to restaurants compared to London, as the competition is fiercer in London and at least certain restaurants do offer certain good meals at healthy prices- which restaurants outside London don't.

Jo Romero said...

I know what you mean about the more hidden places that you can eat in rather than the big brands. I live near Reading and there's a little place that does made to order noodle soup right next to M&S and you see all the people filing into M&S at lunchtimes for their ham sandwiches! The food at Assa looks tasty and satisfying. Enjoyed reading your post.

catty said...

Another place I haven't been and SO need to go. In the evenings though they get so packed there's often a queue. But it's definitely on my list... (a long long list...)