Kimchee’s an ambitious opening, with two large kitchens and an army of chefs preparing classic Korean dishes and grills. The huge dining room has more covers than a band at a wedding.
The expansive space is partitioned by looming black wood screens; there’s counter seating along the floor to ceiling windows à la Busaba Eathai, the rest being benches and large shared tables in the style of Wagamama.
On our visit a queue snaked out the door, though there were plenty of empty tables available – we got the impression that the harried staff (the tills had stopped working, apparently) were trying to stagger sittings to get things under control.
The menu is a good one for fans of fiery Korean cooking, with a lot of the crowd-pleasing classics such as dolsot bibimbap (rice cooked in a hot stone bowl with various toppings) and meaty barbecues (all cooked in the kitchen with its open grill, not at the table).
We appreciatively clocked the less frequently seen items, such as jajangmeon, a fermented black bean and noodle dish that has its roots in northern China.
The best dish of the night was a big bowl of humble budae jjigae (also known as Johnson tang or army stew), an intriguing dish that reflects the enterprising spirit of the Koreans after the Korean war, when meat was scarce. The dish combines one of the classic jjigae bases (a savoury broth flavoured with kimchi and hot chilli paste) with the army rations left behind by the US soldiers.
Ours was a good reflection of this unusual marriage: spam, frankfurters and baked beans swam in a hot spicy stew, with some ramen thrown in for good measure.
Unfortunately, the other dishes disappointed. Barbecued pork belly came cold and dry, not sizzling; skewers of beef tongue (also cold) varied in thickness, and were overseasoned with cumin.
Mixed namul, consisting of pickled radish, seasoned beansprouts and spinach, were bland and watery.
We were deeply unimpressed by the soju-based sojito cocktail (a twist on the mojito), served in small tumblers two-thirds filled with ice and tasting only of sour lemon juice. We mentioned it to our waitress, who apologised profusely – but the drinks still remained on the bill.
By the time we left, quite late in the evening, there was still a queue out the door – and the staff were still looking stressed. We imagine Kimchee is the kind of place where you would have a vastly different experience when visiting off-peak.