Wizzy, London SW6

London's latest Korean restaurant certainly works hard at impressing visiting critics with its tasty dishes. But it needs to remember its regular diners, too
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

My apologies to those who shared the long communal table with me at Wizzy, the new, modern Korean restaurant in Fulham Road. I don't know your names, but I was the one being fed, remember? You were the ones who weren't. I call it The Power of The Notebook. You can book under an assumed name all you like, but as soon as you start scribbling, the management goes on restaurant-critic alert. It is too late for them to improve their produce buying, chef's skills or staff training, but it's not too late for them to swan. That's when a decent restaurant critic will start focussing on how everyone else is faring.

My apologies to those who shared the long communal table with me at Wizzy, the new, modern Korean restaurant in Fulham Road. I don't know your names, but I was the one being fed, remember? You were the ones who weren't. I call it The Power of The Notebook. You can book under an assumed name all you like, but as soon as you start scribbling, the management goes on restaurant-critic alert. It is too late for them to improve their produce buying, chef's skills or staff training, but it's not too late for them to swan. That's when a decent restaurant critic will start focussing on how everyone else is faring.

I was mortified. Around me, people were getting hungrier and hungrier, waiting for food they had ordered aeons before. But no, my dinner came first. One couple at the next table tired of waiting, cancelled their last two orders and left. A fellow at my table called it quits half-way through, muttering something about fish and chips. But it was the couple down the end I felt sorriest for, as they politely waited an awfully long time for their ginseng chicken without a peep of complaint.

I had been looking forward to visiting Wizzy, started by former Hakkasan and Nobu staffer, Hwi (Wizzy) Shim, because she seemed genuine in her desire to update authentic Korean cooking. In Britain, Korean food is seen as a beefier variation on Japanese and Chinese, when in fact it is a cuisine apart, full of alien words, subtle soups, delicate hand-pulled noodles and seductive marinades. My best meal in Seoul was at Sanch'on, a vegetarian banquet of wild mountain vegetables and herbs that included acorn jelly and perilla-leaf tempura, with no beef in sight.

Wizzy's menu is short and sweet, with six starters, six mains and a few extra soups and salads. There is plenty to interest, from the marinated beef tartare with naju pears and caviar (yuk hwe), to king prawns wrapped in filo with yuza yoghurt sauce. With its fashionable grey walls; long, wood-grained tables; pale wooden floorboards; and rustic Korean platters on the walls, the small shop-front restaurant is as cute as a button - as are the young, cheerful staff.

Everyone starts off with a little appetiser of salted edamame, with which I match a bubbly Korean OB beer. Then it's straight into a smart-looking sandcastle of moulded rice with fermented baby crab meat (£6) rolled in nori flakes and sesame seeds. It's very mod, with its topping of crunchy tobiko (flying fish roe) and concentric circles of crab and soy reduction, and lime and yoghurt cream, but it is also delicate and balanced, with a real snap, crackle, pop of textures.

Grilled hand-made dumplings (£5.50) are served on a lovely artisanal platter of celadon grey-green in Noah's ark fashion, two by two. A beetroot-red dumpling filled with beef is nice and mincy, another of prawn is bland. As well as the regular six dumplings, I get a bonus of four eggy fritters of oyster and clam, a display of corruption that causes my non-critic neighbour to look askance.

At this point, I settle in to wait for my ginseng chicken (£12.50) and bulgogi grilled beef (£12.50), given that everyone else is still waiting for theirs. Yep, it takes all of 30 seconds for mine to arrive. Hungry eyes fix on my "samgyetang", a classic of the Korean repertoire in which a baby chicken is stuffed with glutinous rice, ginseng, Korean dates and garlic, simmered for hours in its own broth, then broken up to form a thin, soupy stew. It tastes vaguely medicinal due to the whole ginseng root, which is credited with all manner of strengthening and rejuvenating powers. Just as well, too, as I am weak with guilt and shame.

From a sympathetically priced, global-roaming wine list, I choose a spicy, intense Spy Valley 2003 Pinot Noir from New Zealand's Marlborough region to go with the bulgogi. Traditionally the latter is barbecued at the table, but here it is grilled and sauced in the kitchen, which takes the fun out of it as well as the sizzle and spontaneity. But where's the kimchi? In Korea, versions of the spicy pickled cabbage appear on the table at every meal, even at breakfast time. A tiny pot of Wizzy's kimchi comes with main courses. It is home-made, as it should be, but is much milder than I recall kimchi being, even at breakfast.

At last, those around us are either fed or fled and I can stop feeling embarrassed. Besides, nobody looks jealously at my organic granita-like dessert (£2.50) of crushed ice flavoured with pine needles. Perhaps they can tell it is crumbly and reminiscent of retsina. A red-bean tiramisu (£5.50) is best not talked about, being heavy and firmly set instead of light and moist.

There are apologies all round for being short-staffed, which would account for a lot of the amateurish nature of the night. Intentions are good, the charm factor is high, and once the kitchen gets up to speed, I imagine it will only become more charming and more professional. But at this stage, even the Wizzy website announces it is "under construction and coming soon", rather like (everyone else's) dinner.

13 Wizzy 616 Fulham Road, London SW6, tel: 020 7736 9171. Lunch and dinner served daily. Around £80 for dinner for two, including wine and service

Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

Second helpings: More Korea-orientated restaurants

Koreana 40A King Street West, Manchester, tel: 0161 832 4330 Opened in 1985, this family-run basement diner lays claim to being the first Korean restaurant in the UK outside London. In 20 years, it has built up a big following among Manchester's more adventurous eaters. Chef Chui-So, who trained at Seoul's famous Korean House, has put together a broad menu of Korean hits, including the ever-popular, grill-at-the-table galbi (spare ribs) and bulgogi (beef).

Asadal 180 New Malden High Street, New Malden, Surrey, tel: 020 8942 2334 They say two-thirds of Britain's Korean population live in New Malden, so small wonder the place is well endowed with Korean eateries. One of the oldest and best is Asadal, which opened in 1991. First-timers can order the Asadal special menu which includes kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage) soups, noodles, sushi, and, of course, bulgogi, which is cooked at the table by the obliging staff.

Kimchee 887 Finchley Road, London NW11, tel: 020 8455 1035 The newish addition to the Golders Green eat beat brings the full flourish of Korean fire and spice to London's north-west. Clean, modern lines and a built-in barbie at every table give the locals a night out with a difference. Naturally, the kimchi is recommended, as are the yuk whe (steak tartare with pear), pa jun seafood pancake, and dol bibimbap of rice, meat and vegetables cooked in a stone pot.

Email Terry Durack about where you've eaten lately at t.durack@independent.co.uk

Comments