If you ever find yourself in New Malden in South West London, a little town in between Wimbledon and Kingston, there are two things you should do. One, go to one of the gigantic Korean supermarkets and stock up on Asian food supplies – they have frozen chopped Filipino pig intestines, fresh kaffir lime leaves, and more space devoted to ramen than most Tescos give to breakfast cereal. Two, have some Korean barbecue.
The area is as close to a ‘Koreatown’ as London gets, and lots of shops have bilingual store fronts. Because it’s out in the suburbs the prices are as low as you’re going to get for grilled steak cuts, and it’s always enjoyable eating in a restaurant where you feel like a bit of a tourist.
I don’t know if Butcher BBQ is the best in New Malden but it’s the one that people tell you to go to. From the outside it looks closed, and it’s easy to miss as you walk down the high street. Inside it’s a utilitarian space with only about half a dozen tables and benches to eat at.
The menu is pretty big, but we’re only there for barbecue. If you haven’t had it before, Korean barbecue is cooked at your table, by yourself if you like or, if you’re like me, by the restaurant owner who gets frustrated at your ineptitude.
You can order item-by-item but a combo with brisket, bavette steak and rib-eye (£50 for two) seemed fine to me. Bowls of side-dishes come out – home-made kimchi, onions in a sweet vinegar (surprisingly delicious), radish in chilli sauce, and shredded spring onions with chilli, which we ordered separately.
With Korean barbecue the trick, apparently, is to make yourself little lettuce wraps with meat, soy bean paste and whatever else you fancy.
You don’t get an enormous amount of meat. The photo above is a little misleading, because the folded up brisket at the front is sliced wafer-thin. But it’s good meat, well-marbled, and barbecues well once the grill’s been heated and oiled a bit with a piece of pork fat.
My wraps are mostly a success.
The soy bean paste, in particular, is extremely moreish. It’s umami with some sweetness and adds some extra flavour to what is otherwise just a bit of meat, and especially for the chewier, stronger-tasting bavette steak it gives a bit of balance to the tastes. It can be a little awkward trying to bite off a chunk of the meat with your teeth, but eating with your hands is fun overall.
You’re never going to want Korean barbecue more than once a year, I suspect. It tastes pretty good, but there just isn’t that much to it. That said, the fun and novelty of grilling your food at your table while drinking Korean beer is just very pleasant. For tourism value alone, Butcher BBQ and New Malden are worth your time.
Rating: One medal.