56 St Giles High St, WC2H 8LH
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
Stuck for decent lunch options in Soho, my friend suggested we head to “K-Town” – a row of down at heel looking Korean restaurants behind Centre Point and a short walk from Oxford Street. I had never eaten Korean food before, and, conscious of quite a few new Korean restaurants springing up around London, I was keen to see what all the fuss was about. We chose Pho Cha because it appeared the busiest and most inviting of the restaurants in K-Town, it also seemed to have a predominately Asian clientele. The restaurant is split over two floors, with the downstairs dining area being a bit more dingy than the main area on the ground floor – we arrived pretty early and were able to get a seat at the bar in the main room. The space is dark and low ceilinged, and takes turns at becoming very dark as large buses stop directly outside. The tinny Korean pop being played on loop and non-English speaking waiters add to the authentic atmosphere.
They do a great value set lunch menu for £5.50 which involves a main dish and rice along with kimchi or miso soup. The main menu is quite long and I think some items are lost in translation; starters seem to be mostly pickled vegetables, supplemented by dumplings and “pan cake”; there is a small section of rice cake dishes followed by stews and then cold and hot noodle dishes. I was keen to try kimchi (fermented Napa cabbage) and so ordered the kimchi stew from the set lunch menu which was served in a hot stone dish and based on pork and tofu with a spicy stock and rice.
The food arrived very quickly, blocks of tofu and nuggets of pork sizzling menacingly in a stone throne – the rice was spooned straight from a rice cooker behind the bar and was wonderfully sticky yet still firm. Once the dish had cooled to a suitable eating temperature (which was about five minutes after serving) we tucked in – starting with the creamy, light tofu which was enhanced by the rich pork stock. The pork chunks were not plentiful, but they were soft and slightly fatty, so they melted in the mouth. And the kimchi was amazing – tart, slightly bitter and with a lovely crunch, it warmed the cockles of my heart. The non-smiling staff were efficient but generally aloof, although they did seem amused by my taking pictures of the menu. I will definitely be going back to try their a la carte offerings and discover what “pan cake” is.
Verdict: great value, healthy and seemingly authentic food 7.5/10