This week, on my quest to find my favourite kimbap in Seoul, I tried 3 different kimbap from Lee’s Roll (리김밥 ri-kimbap) in Apgujeong, Gangnam. Like Kim Seon Saeng this shop sells ‘premium kimbap’ so the prices are more expensive than your regular kimbap. Prices start at a fairly modest 2,500 won for a classic roll and go up to a whopping 5,500 won for a red paprika with Gouda cheese roll.
When I arrived at the shop it was already 2pm and I wanted to sit in a restaurant and eat but all I could see was a takeout section – they have a small shop on the ground floor selling readymade kimbap. There is a small counter with stools against the window for customers wanting to eat inside, but it felt a bit too cramped for me. So I bought the kimbap and took it home on the train with my tummy rumbling. But now as I look at the photograph more closely, there appears to be a restaurant upstairs on the second floor which I completely missed. 😕
One good thing about buying the kimbap readymade is that you can look at the kimbap, which is displayed in the cabinet, before you buy it. I could see that the ‘veggie’ kimbap (야채김밥 ya-chae kimbap) is not completely veggie as it had crab sticks in it too – a problem for strict vegetarians.
I bought the gouda cheese and vegetable kimbap, tuna mayonnaise, and the rather excitingly named spicy nuts kimbap. The kimbap is sold in cardboard containers with a cellophane cover. They are all quite large and I think one would normally be enough for me for lunch. But in the interests of research I bought three. 😉
The gouda cheese and vegetable kimbap costs 3,800 won. It contains finely sliced carrot, cucumber, burdock, egg, crab stick, and a slice of gouda cheese – it seems to be the kind of sliced processed cheese that comes in large squares individually wrapped. Although I think of Gouda as having quite a mild flavour, together with the seaweed and rice and veg it tasted almost barnyardy in the kimbap which made the overall flavour rather unusual. And after the first bite I couldn’t work out if I liked it or not. It was certainly different. The novelty wore off and I started wishing I had bought the plain veg kimbap instead.
And the cheese gave the kimbap a soft texture that wasn’t very appealing and it took away from the crisp freshness of the vegetables. It has novelty value but that’s all. On the plus side the kimbap had nice natural looking radish – not the luminous yellow and overly sweet sort you find in cheap kimbap.
After visiting Lee’s Roll I came across an article in The Hankyoreh where a Korean food critic and a restaurant consultant give their feedback on some of the premium kimbap shops in Seoul. The gouda and edam cheese with vegetable kimbap from Lee’s Roll got the worst review! The reviewer said that cheese doesn’t go with the rice and seaweed. I have to agree.
There’s a trend these days to put cheese into all different kinds of Korean food. I’ve had cheese topping on fried rice and even seen cheese inside rice cakes. But one problem is that the cheese used is usually that processed plastic cheese which I don’t consider to be healthy and would very rarely buy for myself.
Anyway, Lee’s Roll have quite a varied menu. They have a basic line which includes the classic veggie roll and kimchi kimbap. Then there’s a cheese line, a tuna line, a spicy nut line, barbecued beef line, and finally a mushroom paprika line which is the most expensive. So having tried a roll from the cheese line I went on to try some tuna. (above)
The tuna mayonaise (4,000 won) had a soft, smooth texture. It’s not the prettiest kimbap I’ve ever seen. It was OK and great if you adore tuna and mayonnaise. But I wouldn’t be able to eat a whole roll in one sitting. I found it slightly on the bland side and wanted to taste other flavours too. I could have done with some fresh chilli to spice it up a bit or some crunchy, earthy burdock. I don’t know. Something.
My favourite (by far) of the three kimbap I bought was the spicy nut kimbap (4,000). This one is also not vegetarian (although it sounds like it) as it contains tiny anchovies mixed with the nuts.
What I liked most about it was that it had a variety of individual flavours and textures that all stood out on their own but also worked together. I enjoyed the sweet and salty chewy anchovies with the nuts, and I could also taste the earthy burdock, sightly sweet egg, aromatic sesame leaves, crunchy radish, and a kick of raw chilli now and again. (This kimbap got a pretty good review from the professional critics too.) The nuts made me feel like I was being very healthy indeed!
I think I need to give this shop another try. I would certainly get the spicy nut kimbap again but avoid anything cheesy. I’d like to try just the plain vegetable kimbap next time I happen to be in the Apgujeong area. Lee’s Roll is in the back street by Apgujeong Station (line 3 exit 2)