One of my New Year Resolutions for 2015 is to research as many kimbap shops as I can in Seoul to find my favourite kimbap! (That resolution shouldn’t be hard to keep. It’s best to keep things simple and achievable, isn’t it? 😉 The place to beat so far is Teacher Kim with their fresh vegetable kimbaps. This week my quest led me to the chain School Food.
I’ve wanted to try this place for a while since one of my mature students told me that it was the best kimbap in town. And she recommended the squid ink kimbap (the rice becomes almost black from the squid ink). So with expectations high, and feeling fairly hungry despite having just polished off a bag of real cheese popcorn at the CGV cinema next door, we went to the IFC mall Yeouido branch of School Food. But unfortunately their food is not for me
The interior was clean. So far so good. We arrived at 11am and were the first customers. But the place soon filled up with a very young clientele. Maybe that’s why it’s called School Food?? The menu is pretty big – it’s a book – not just a poster on the wall. And it informs me that this is now an international chain with branches around the world including Japan, Hong Kong, and Indonesia. My expectations are getting higher. Glancing through the menu I have to say that this is more than a kimbap shop. They serve the usual kimbap shop items – like topokki rice cakes in spicy sauce and noodle soups, but they also branch out beyond the regular stuff to offer deep fried foods including fried chicken salad, tonkatsu breaded deep fried pork cutlets, and croquettes.
But I came to sample the kimbap and so ordered the special mari 1 three kimbaps with different fillings of anchovy, fried kimchi, and tuna (7,000 won), and the special mari 2 which include squid with squid ink, flying fish, and spam. (7,500 won). But when the soup arrived my concerns began because the soup arrived with a side dish of extremely yellow radish. One of my pet peeves with kimbap shops is the over-use of thickly cut luminous yellow radish pickle which is served in the kimbap and on the side. When the radish is too bright, alarm bells ring because the colour tells me one thing – this is not going to be good.
The kimbap arrived. And sure enough I was right. The yellow radish was everywhere. Thick chunks of it even though the kimbaps were mini size.
The Special Mari 1 (on the left) is 7,000 won. The special mari 2 (right) is 7,500 won.
The kimbap was bite-size – smaller than usual – which I don’t mind. That makes them easier to eat. And they look cute too. But in the first plate, the tuna was dry and definitely needs to be dunked in the sweet mayo dip that comes on the side. The kimchi in the kimchi kimbap tasted more like onion than kimchi to me. And not in a good way. So the anchovy kimbap was the best of the three – if you like whole tiny anchovies. But all three kimbap came with the yellow radish …
In the second plate the fish roe was the best of the three. It had a crunchy texture and a few stalks of cress gave it an added mustardy kick along with the aromatic sesame leaf for a flavourful bite. And there was no yellow radish. I’m not a spam fan (I didn’t notice it saying ‘spam’ on the menu) so I didn’t eat the spam one. (Mr Kim wasn’t keen on it though)
But I was really looking forward to trying the squid ink kimbap as this is the one that was recommended to me and the reason that I came to this shop in the first place! It is certainly unusual. I haven’t seen it on the menus of other kimbap shops. The rice takes on the black ink and the kimbap looks appetising. The squid had been marinated giving it a savoury/sweet soy sauce flavour, but it was too chewy and dry and the rice was a bit too hard as well. – as though it had been sitting around for a while. The rice in all the kimbaps was a bit on the hard side actually.
Overall Mr Kim was unimpressed (he says he gives the shop 4 out of 10!) He ordered some topokki which cost 5,000 won. Rather overpriced in our stingy opinions 😉 In the picture (below) I think it looks like we’ve already eaten half the topokki but we haven’t – this is how it looked when it arrived. Maybe they should use smaller plates to serve it on?
As I mentioned, the clientele seems to be very young, but the prices are not cheap. (perhaps this is because this is more of a restaurant than kimbap shop) Still the place seemed to be very popular and was quickly filling up with the lunchtime crowd as we were leaving. Unfortunately we were left unimpressed and will not be going back there again. So for me, the kimbap shop to beat is still Teacher Kim, Kim Seon Saeng.