In the midst of the hussle and bustle of a chaotic Soho on a Friday evening, it would be easy to miss Hongdae Pocha – after all, its small unassuming storefront does not suggest that one of London’s best portals to Retro Korea, and the eating and drinking and music culture that comes along with it, lies just on the other side.
‘Authentic ambiance’ is probably the best way to describe it. A ‘Pocha’ is the Korean equivalent to a pub, and owner Jae Choi has done a great job at encapsulating that. Squeezing past the narrow tables steaming with hotpots and sizzling plates, Mamamoo playing in the background, it feels like a full immersive experience, your table complete with a Sharpie to add your contribution onto the graffiti wall downstairs.
Let’s dig straight into the food. There is an extensive menu of hotpots, fried and barbecued chicken and meats, and ramyun – everything you could typically want from the cuisine.
But there’s so much more. One of the most popular dishes is the tteok bok ki, ‘the famous Korean street food’. It’s a wonderfully rich bowl of Korean rice cakes, fishcakes, and a sweet & spicy sauce, with the option to add in cheese and ramen. We recommend you do both. Do make sure the water is ready at the table though – it may offer a kick if you aren’t used to the spice!
Definitely worth a mention is the dongrae seafood pancake, fried to perfection, and the cheese bul dak (spicy mozzarella chicken). If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, chicken feet with special spicy Korean sauce are also on the menu.
From the extensive drinks list, aside from the beers and Korean wines, the soju cocktails are a must-try. The ‘so skuryu’ is soju with a strawberry ice cream bar placed directly into it, which you can eat or stir in – but there’s also soju and watermelon, and soju and bokbunja (Korean bulberry) to choose from. If you also possess my sweet tooth, the ‘so skuryu’ is the one for you.
Would we have liked a little more space at the table, especially in the current climate and events? Sure – the head flicking of the long-haired patron at the adjacent table that landed one or few extensions in my second cocktail is something I certainly could have lived without. Social distancing there is, unfortunately, a no-go. And while I can comment on the small size of the tables, this was self-inflicted from the sheer volume ordered. My bad. But when you see the menu, you may not be able to help yourself either.
The summary - if you’re looking for a calm, quaint evening to sample some of Korea’s subtle flavours and learn of the fine details of the culture, this is not the place for you. It’s bold and loud and crowded – and most of all fun. With the intense flavours and plentiful portions, it’s everything that was promised from Soho’s ‘soul comforting Pocha’.
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