Tohbang, Clerkenwell, London 13/20


IN A history of the World in seven Cheap Things, fast food chicken is offered as the quintessential embodiment of capitalism. I am not sure that the authors Raj Patel and Jason W Moore have eaten at Kimchee, but even if they have not, it stands as a bold example of their argument.

Chicken is lightly battered in a basket, it is succulent on the fingers , Kanpoongi is a fiery sauce with chicken. Chimeak is another word for wings, times four, eight or 16. Or you can have dumplings…with chicken… or bibimbap with chicken, udon noodles with chicken, Bulgogi – mild or spicy chicken?

On the surface this is the most New York in style of London’s restaurants rather oddly found in the otherwise sedate, lawyers-ville arena of Holborn. It looks like Wagamama but on steroids, not quite as loud as some of those New York barbecue lofts, but loud enough.

When you drill right down into it, this is the next generation for Macdonalds. Kimdonalds. The menu reads better than the performance The galbitang has not been cooked long enough so it is just boiled, under-spiced beef with roots. The fried chicken is soggy and the lettuce leaves look like an invitation to listeria. The kimchee has not been macerated long enough – all points that would be resolved with anyone Korean in the kitchen.

Not that this stopped it humming before Christmas.

But there is a story here, beyond the chicken. Kimchee is owned by Dong Hyun Kim who is also the entrepreneur behind the let’s-make-Japanese-food-cool-for-westerners take out Wasabi, which currently has 61 outlets and has been appearing in the corner of some M&S stores. Kim complained to Big Hospitality magazine that most of the best restaurant sites get grabbed by chains which is another element of a chicken nugget economy. Only a chain has enough provenance to take a prime London lease, these days. Another element of the chicken nugget economy is that it should be cheap, only this is not. Any Asian restaurant that charges extra for rice – £2.75 at Kimchee –  is just rapacious. It seats 275. Mr Kim is a clever businessman.

But you can eat better Korean for half the price a few blocks away at the modest, low ceilinged Tohbang at 164 Clerkenwell Road (no web site). The set lunch is £7.90 and comes with complimentary kimchee and saute potatoes.



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