When you want to eat both chicken wings and sushi, there really are only a few places that you can visit. The first place worth checking into is perhaps the local psychiatric hospital, because under normal circumstances, wanting to combine these two disparate food items into a single meal is a pretty clear-cut sign of irretrievable insanity. That said, this is exactly what happened to us last week, when Steak’s desire for some finger-licking American chicken pecked heads with my own craving for some clean, moreish Japanese sushi. Not wanting to be jointly sectioned, I set about trying to find a mutual compromise for the both of us, and soon enough, my search led me to Bo Drake.
Housed on Soho’s Greek Street, this unassuming eatery boldly fuses the delicate flavours of Korean cuisine to the brash cooking style of an American BBQ smokehouse, resulting in a fairly unique and varied menu. Satisfied that this would serve as neutral ground for our momentary clash of East vs. West, we headed over to alleviate our misaligned culinary desires.
Note: The chicken is certified halal and cooked / prepared separately. Alcohol and pork are served on the premises.
Having stubbornly avoided cheap fast-food for most of my adult life, I broke my streak with a portion of “KFC” – which according to Bo Drake, stands for “Korean fried chicken wings”. Whilst we’re pretty sure that a certain Colonel from Kentucky would have had something to say about that, we tucked in to the mixture of chicken, sliced grapes and soy garlic that sat before us. Although they weren’t quite as meaty as I would have liked, these crispy and tender wings carried a wonderful sweetness, and the combination of sticky textures and aromatic fumes hooked our senses.
“KFC” – Korean Fried Chicken Wings (£9) *Recommended*
However, it would be the plate of vegetable kimbap – a type of Korean sushi roll – that would take the textural aspect of the meal and send it hurtling towards a glorious crescendo. Here, the assortment of fresh spring onions, diced peppers and fried onions delivered a most phenomenal crunch, contrasting perfectly with the soft rice and seaweed. This was reinforced by a sharp and zesty kick of spicy sauce, which cut through each roll and delivered a most exquisite sting to the palate. I don’t always impersonate Nicholas Cage in public, but I’m proud to say that this entire plate was gone in sixty seconds.
Vegetable Kimbap (£7) *Recommended*
Unfortunately, the meal then took a momentary turn, as our plate of “spicy crispy squid” served only to disappoint. Much to our dismay, the small and thin cuts of battered squid weren’t crispy in the slightest, and instead, possessed a chewy, rubbery, and almost stale texture, which detracted greatly from the textural experience. The supposedly spicy dusting didn’t carry much presence either, and the only thing that rendered these rings edible was the smooth and creamy wasabi mayonnaise that accompanied it.
Spicy Crispy Squid (£6.80)
Thankfully, the Samjang smoked chicken regained our affections, as the tender and succulent chicken breast was enriched with a deep and smokey essence. This was elevated further by the subtle sweetness of the samjang sauce, and whilst the accompanying brown butter mash was a little bland for our liking, its soft texture paired perfectly with the delicate and crispy chicken skin. The dish was also served with a side of chicken liver, and whilst it carried a rich and musky tone, it was not to the liking of our palates.
Samjang Smoked Chicken with brown butter mash and chicken liver (£14.50) *Recommended*
Value For Money: 3.5/5
If, like myself, the word “sharing menu” tends to make you, your stomach, and your wallet break out into a cold sweat, you’ll be pleased to hear that Bo Drake is actually a rather affordable and satiating venture. Our total bill for instance, amounted to £41, and across the menu, you’ll find that small dishes cost around £5-£10, mains range from £10-£15, and desserts cost around £5 to £7. Whilst most tapas-style menus are comprised of small tasting bowls with relatively hefty price tags, Bo Drake’s dishes are rather generously sized, and when paired with the quality of the food and the interesting flavours to be found, it’s more likely than not that you’ll leave with a full and happy stomach.
Where Bo Drake truly stands out however, is in the level of attentiveness and hospitality provided by its staff. After taking our seats, our waitress took us through each of the dishes and specials on offer that day, and stopped by a number of times to ensure that all was well. The attention was almost as excessive as it was endearing – like a doting aunt who wants to make sure that you’re not still hungry after your sixth plate of force-fed food.
Unfortunately, the restaurant itself isn’t quite so homely, as its small and minimal interior is really rather cramped. Expect to fold your shins in two or amputate them altogether, and if you tend to carry a big bag around like I do, you’ll have to try your best to avoid knocking your fellow diners out as you leave. Bo Drake can be found a short walk away from Tottenham Court Road station, and public transport is certainly advised.
For Muslim diners, finding a halal Korean restaurant has always been a relatively elusive task. As such, it would be very easy to recommend Bo Drake on this basis alone, but this would be nothing short of a great injustice. The truth is that Bo Drake is a rather good restaurant in its own right, and the bold and vibrant flavours to be found in their food are every bit as alluring as their unique fusion menu. Granted, the menu at present is a little bit limited for Muslim diners, and there is still plenty of scope for improvement, but this doesn’t change the fact that they bring something decidedly different to the table. Indeed, as the tired old cultural-conflict of East vs. West rages on into the 21st century, Bo Drake provides a gentle reminder that no matter how ancient a dispute may be, it’s nothing that a good bit of grub can’t solve.
Address: 6 Greek Street, Soho, London W1D 4DE
Telephone: 020 7439 9989