Tuesday, 29 October 2013
You Me House, New Malden
Compared to other SE Asian cuisines, Korean is strangely overlooked in this town, for some reason. Chinese is effortlessly well represented at the top (Hutong, Min Jiang) and the bottom (Silk Road, Chilli Cool) ends of the budget, you'll never want for a good Vietnamese meal if you're anywhere near Battersea or Hackney, and every high street in town has a Thai restaurant despite the fact none of them are much good. But while there are a couple of Korean restaurants lurking around Zone 1 (Kimchee, Asadal, Koba), they had, for presumably very understandable reasons of rent and overheads, been tame and rather overpriced, and with indifferent service borne of the kind of location that gets a healthy tourist footfall.
So it was during yet another interesting but ultimately disappointing meal at popup Jubo in Shoreditch last month that I and a friend finally vowed to pull our fingers out and make the trip to where we'd constantly been told is the home of authentic Korean cooking in London - New Malden. Actually, as we both live near Clapham Junction, the journey to New Malden station itself was fairly trivial; the problem is that unlike, say, Kingsland Road or Chinatown, the restaurants are spread out over a large, anonymous stretch of South London suburb that makes planning your destination in advance a neccessity. We'd settled on You Me House (either a bad translation or they really do want to sound like a Cbeebies TV show) after a tipoff from a New Malden regular, promising authentic food on a budget.
It started extremely well. The (You Me) house snacks consisted of some crunchy mung beans in a sticky dressing and bean sprouts in sesame oil, and both those and a boldly-spiced, gently fizzy house kimchi were devoured even before any decisions were made about which other food to order. House beer was something called 'Hite' that tasted of precisely nothing, which is probably the point.
Of the main dishes, there were two highlights. Chilli-salted chicken had that knobbly, bubbly coating that all the best Korean chicken does, and the flesh inside was nicely moist. I would have a liked a bit more chilli perhaps, and slightly more acidity in the coating, but it was still a good example of this kind of thing.
Steamed dumplings were huge, soft, doughy affairs, generously stuffed with a pork/herb mixture and full of flavour. The dough, in fact, was so good it was perfectly edible on its own, which is just as well, as after cack-handedly shredding the things apart with a spoon and chopsticks to create chunks small enough to swallow, you tended to end up with either pork, or dough, and only very rarely both.
Other dishes were, if not unsuccessful exactly, then at least slightly more everyday. Bibimbap was perfectly good but the fierce heat of the stone pot overcooked it almost before we'd had a chance to take a bite each. Thin strips of beef rib, too, stood little chance of being tender after 30 seconds on a white-hot iron griddle, but still managed to retain a faint memory of a gentle garlic marinade. Only a beef and noodle dish was a real disappointment, the house-made noodles suffering under the weight of a gloopy black sauce of no discernible flavour.
We had massively over-ordered, and had to take much of the leftovers home in plastic boxes (which they were happy to provide), and so our bill came to a not-insubstantial £56.70 for two. But at a very conservative guess I'd say even half this amount of food would have been enough, and with that in mind I'm pretty sure you could have a very nice meal (dumplings, chicken, kimchee, perhaps some rice) for no more than £15 a head. And for that reason, it's hard to criticise You Me House too much. Service was charming (it's family-run), the place was clean and bright, and with a menu this size it's not hard to imagine I could have ordered much better. So here's to next time.