As I’m sure all of you must know, I have left the land of the morning calm, and am now living in London. I have adored eating my way around the city and gorging on the foods that I have been deprived of for over a decade, so honestly haven’t given Korean food much of a second thought. However five weeks into my return I was invited to go and try my first Korean restaurant on behalf of Beast Magazine, an East London based mag who I am now working for.
Yanji is a Chinese/Korean style BBQ restaurant located on Bethnal Green road quite close to Shoreditch station. It is somewhat of a hybrid restaurant, as the BBQ skewers are Chinese (a style of restaurant that is very popular in Seoul) while the rest of the menu is made up of Korean main dishes and sides. I have to admit that I had my misgivings about this restaurant as I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a fusion-y type place that missed the mark on both aspects. I was also confused that the restaurant is classed as Korean BBQ but all the signs and menus are written in Chinese. However despite my reservations I headed to Shoreditch to give it a try anyway.
My fears were allayed when we arrived to find that all the tables had BBQ pits in the middle, there was also a call bell, something that my Chubby Hubby talks about missing every time he fails to flag down a member of staff in a restaurant. Once seated we were left to peruse the menu, which comes on a large piece of paper that you check off your selections on. Whilst we were ordering we also mused on what to drink. After having had far more soju hangovers than I care to remember, we decided to skip the Korean liquor at £14 a bottle and instead went for a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (£21). This was a very quaffable bottle and was very well priced. If wine doesn’t take your fancy they also have beer.
The star dish on the menu is undoubtedly the lamb skewers, oh how I have missed these. We decided to get the Mixed Lamb & Beef Skewers (£20 for 12). The skewers were brought out to the table along with our dipping condiments, there was BBQ gochujang sauce, a non spicy sesame seeded powder, and of course the spicy cumin mix that is always provided at this style of restaurant. Just like in Korea, there is a machine that rotates the skewers for you, which thankfully takes on all the hard work leaving your hands free for drinking. Once the skewers were cooked we soon dived in. One bite and I was transported back to Asia, of the two meats our favourite was probably the lamb as it pairs so perfectly with the spicy powder. We also loved the two additional sauces for dipping, the barbecue gochujang sauce was especially moreish and the perfect blend of tangy and spicy.
It’s not just beef and lamb skewers at this restaurant, there is also a selection of fish, chicken, vegetables and non traditional skewer items. We got the King Prawn (£2.20 for 2), Okra (£1.80 for 2), and Chinese Bun (£1.20 for 2). The shrimp were simple enough, and the okra was quite nice but we found buns a bit meaningless as we had already eaten all of our meat by the time we toasted them. We decided to ordered another couple of items that took our fancy, the Chicken Wings (£1.50 for 2), and Enochi Mushroom Pork belly (£3.50 for 2). The wings were small but tasty enough, but the pork belly wrapped mushroom were amazing. In fact they were possibly my favourite part of the meal, they were just so juicy and tasty.
After the skewers we moved on to the Korean side of the menu. We of course had to test the muster of their Kimchi (£4), which was surprisingly good. It is well documented on this site that I am no lover of the kimchi but this one was very well balanced. Hubby ate the whole plate and that is a rarity. We also had to get the Japchae (£7.50) after I spied it on the menu as it’s one of my absolute favourite Korean dishes. The sweet potato noodles are doused in a sweet soy and sesame dressing and mixed with vegetables. This dish was served warm, though it’s usually a cold dish. Whist I was really looking forward to it, I have to confess it was somewhat over shadowed by the amazing Aubergine (£5). I’m a sucker for Chinese BBQ aubergine, it is always so soft and squidgy and this version was served adorned with oodles of garlic which made it extra yummy.
If you are eating Korean or Chinese BBQ the traditional way, you have to finish with rice or noodles (they are not eaten with the meal) and I chose the latter. It being a rather warm day (for London at least) I chose my favourite summer time dish naengmyeon or Cold Noodles (£9.50) as they are called on the menu. The cold buckwheat noodles were served in a vinegar and mustardy broth with sliced radish, cucumber, and half an egg. I’m pretty picky about my naengmyeon so was very interested to see how it would turn out, and have to say it was a pretty good rendition. My only complaint is that I was not given the extra mustard and vinegar to add myself, though I’m sure not many people would be familiar enough with the dish to request this.
Overall Yanji exceeded my expectations, we love Chinese BBQ so are thrilled to know there are restaurants in London doing it. The Korean food was also of a good standard despite the restaurant being predominantly Chinese. Chubby Hubby is planning to back soon with his team from work. So if you are looking for a slice of Asia it’s well worth a trip over to Shoreditch.
Yanji is located at 153 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 7DG. The nearest train station is Shoreditch High Street. For more information you can call them on 020-3971-1244 or check out their website. They are open from 12pm – 10pm everyday.