Tuesday 11 May 2010

Po Jan MaCha - Good Korean food in Soho

Weeknight weary and defeated by what appeared to be an hour long queue outside the new Japanese udon bar in Soho (Oh, Koya I will get to you yet), The Peanut Gallery and I decided to cut our losses and satisfy our curiosity about an intriguing little Korean place we'd recently seen jammed to the rafters nearby.

Po Jan MaCha is tucked away on St Giles High Street, which is itself discreetly tucked away behind Tottenham Court Road station. The only reason to go to this part of the world at all, it seems, would be to settle down for a bite of Korean food at one of the smattering of restaurants lining the street, or to slink undetected into Argos to buy a cheap toaster.

Po Jan MaCha looks like the kind of place I want to eat at. There's a short wait for a table - but fortunately not out on the street (a la Koya), and the room is bumper to bumper with (mostly) young Koreans ordering up on their bibimbap, huge hot pots and barley water. There's an L shaped counter facing the kitchen/bar, and a small room of tables heaving with food in the dimly lit room. We're smiling. It feels like we're on holiday.

The seafood pancake with spring onions is plentiful and lovely - thick slices, firm in texture and with plenty of prawns, it's not overly greasy and we find ourselves fighting over the last piece.

The beef bibimbap is fantastic (pictured top). It comes with oodles of tender strips of steak and a mixture of sauteed vegetables on warm rice, with a fried egg on top, served in a hot stone bowl. The egg yolk is perfectly runny - ideal for breaking over the lot and mixing in for a bowl full of utter deliciousness.

We also try a small pot of the pork and kimchi stew, although the large pans bubbling away, being shared between groups look superb. This dish was a bit of a let down - quite watery, not enough pork and lacking in punchy flavour.

We drank Korean sake (which tasted like cheap vodka). Ask for water, and you'll receive a suspiciously pale yellow liquid plastic bottle - fortunately, it's barley water, which is supposed to have healthy, cleansing qualities (although I'm not sure that applies when it's mixed in from a powder). It tastes like pure water in any case, and I'm happy to imagine the rest as to the good it's doing me.

Dishes are as cheap as chips - around £5 - £8 mostly. We spent around £15 per head with drinks (add service).

Despite one fairly "meh" dish, we left with an overall very happy impression of the food (ours and that we saw emerging from the kitchen) as well as the bustling ambience. Definitely a cheap and cheerful spot to try some good, honest Korean food.

Po Jang MaCha, 56 St Giles High Street, London WC2H 8LH (Ph: 020 7379 7391)

Po Jan MaCha on Urbanspoon


  1. This place looks a good find and seafood pancake is always a winner. BTW - I've also yet to make it to Koya as they were closed on bank holiday Monday.

  2. I have been to this place a few times but can never remember its name - Po Jan MaCha, it isn't an easy name to remember is it? I always referred to it as the one three doors down from Assa, another favourite of mine.

    I love this place, and I think is the most authentic and reasonably priced of any other Korean restaurants in the area. Last time Dr G and I visited, we ordered the chilled soju with shredded cucumber, it was so delicious and refreshing.

    The stews are normally quite bland, and it is not because of the restaurant, it is just how they are unless you order the one with kimchi in the broth. It is just how they are.

    The barley tea is made from barley seeds which are stewed in the water, it is a bit of an acquired taste (i love it) and goes well with Korean food.

    Wow, I so want to go back there now....

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  3. Mr Noodles - Give it a try next time you can't get into Koya!

    Luiz - I also liked the look of Assa, but Po Jang is always so busy and atmospheric that it had the edge. I'll try Assa too. Our stew did have kimchi in it, so was a little disappointing but it certainly didn't put us off a plan to go back and experiment with more dishes. Will try the grilled soju with shredded cucumber next time - sounds great. Thanks for the tips and glad you like this one too! (They told us the barley water there was made from a powder and was tasteless - I can confirm the latter, but perhaps it shouldn't always be that way!).

  4. I must admit that I wouldn't know good Korean food from bad so the discourse between you and Luiz is fantastically interesting and educational - thank you! Another delicious review from a delicious lady - not sure I'd make the journey especially but if I'm ever passing I'll certainly give Po Jan Ma whatsit (Luiz is so right about the name) a try.

  5. This looked like one to add to the list. I found myself in Koba recently - it was shit, for want of a better word. Nope, that sums it up rather nicely actually.

  6. Hugh - It is the hardest name in the world to remember - I get the syllables around the wrong way every time.

    Helen - Oh dear. I wonder what happened at Koba.

  7. Come and try us - Bibimbap Soho! We would love to have you!


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