Hold on to your bobsleighs, because Olympic fever is catching, and the winter strain is particularly virulent. Every four years, London becomes obsessed with skeletons, figure skating and aerial ski jumps as this pinnacle of sub-zero cool sporting events infects the national zeitgeist.
The 2018 Winter Olympics are in PyeongChang, South Korea. But London’s got Seoul, too, from karaoke bars and K-pop nights to kimchi burgers and Korean theatre. Here’s where to channel that special K.
At the National Theatre from March 10, The Great Wave, by Francis Turnly, is set in North Korea and Japan. Two teenage sisters are separated on a Japanese beach in a storm, with one lost to the sea. Their mother’s search takes on a geopolitical tilt as it draws in the reclusive dictator state. The play stars Kae Alexander and is directed by Indhu Rubasingham, artistic director at the Tricycle Theatre, with which this is a joint production.
If your heart longs for more than karaoke and KFC (Korean Fried Chicken), the Korean Cultural Centre presents a free screening of Kim Hong-joon’s Two or Three Things I know About Kim Ki-young on February 22. It focuses on the works of the late South Korean film director, Kim Ki-young, known for his Sixties psychological horror films.
Wing Wing promises a potent combination of the “coldest beer” and “hottest birds in town” in Bloomsbury. The Korean fast-food joint delivers in the form of fried chicken burgers, signature drumsticks and wings with your choice of sauce.
On Great Russell Street, tiny one-stop shop Seoul Bakery promises bibimbap, K-pop music and Korean memorabilia. Popping up in all corners of the city, On the Dak is the newest Covent Garden venture from the people behind the popular Korean eateries On the Bab and Koba. Dak means chicken in Korean, and it comes fried with a variety of spiced sauces. Korean fried chicken, chicken noodles, chicken soup and more, all to eat in or to go.
Founder Linda Lee is also behind Mee Market on Archer Street. It’s home to two floors of Korean- and Asian-inspired food to take away or dine in. Korean poke rice, salad bars, hearty hotpots and side dishes are for sitting down and stewing over, while you can also pick up fresh vegetables or white and brown rices for home cooking.
BBQ-ing in February, Korean restaurant Olle makes your wildest winter dreams come true, offering grill food from Wagyu beef and seafood to Iberico pork in Chinatown. On Shaftesbury Avenue, diners can cook together at Mookrata, a spin-off from Shuang Shuang. Drawing on Korean, Thai and Chinese traditions, you sit around a hot broth, adding flavours from pork belly to black pepper beef.
Sing with your supper
Karaoke is a crucial part of Korean culture. In Kennington, Jihwaja is a looking glass into Seoul’s singstar subculture. Descend into giant screens beaming muted K-pop while you eat small plates of noodles and chilli-fired cloudy broth, before stopping by karaoke rooms you can book until 3am. Channel K-pop stars CL and Ace of Angels (AOA) are Olympic Ambassadors so expect to see a lot more of them now.
At Superstar BBQ you can down shots of soju, the traditional Korean spirit, while releasing your inner Taeyang (brush up your K-pop facts if you’re lost). Choose from English, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or Filipino songs.
An Olympic session
If you can’t go to the Olympics, curling and Korean food will come to you. Social Fun & Games Club, the Stratford activities hub on Roof East, has brought in ice rinks for Britain’s most precious pastime. Lip-smacking Korean street food is served by Bo Ssam boy.
Hurwundeki, the Korean restaurant turned barber shop with three sites around London, keeps haircuts to 15 minutes, with Korean snacks and drinks too.
Additional reporting by Talia Levitt