The Petite Corée: Locals shouting about Korean twist

I was an early sceptic. Korean French fusion? In West Hampstead? Really? It sounded pretty risky – the sort of thing that Kitchen Nightmares are made of. The reality, thank god, is astonishingly good. This is partly because The Petite Corée’s food isn’t really Korean-French fusion.

Jae, the deadpan chef, though Korean, has trained in European restaurants and his cooking is achingly classic Western European; but, and it’s a critical but, there’s a Korean twist to every dish that’s handled with both flair and subtlety. He even made me love kimchee (when I mentioned that I wasn’t normally a big fan of kimchee, he asked if I was being racist – see “deadpan” above). This is high class food presented in a pared-back casual restaurant (no jacket required) presided over by Yeon, who runs the front of house.

The restaurant launched very quietly at the start of the year, and took a few weeks to get going as word of mouth slowly spread. It may be the only restaurant in West Hampstead that hasn’t yet had a negative comment tweeted about it, which is impressive given the fickle nature of many local diners!

The menu is reassuringly short, and has already had one seasonal change, which is a promising start. The Petite Corée is not a cheap restaurant – it’s catapulted itself right up into the high price bracket for the area – but for food of this quality, that isn’t going to put too many people off (and it also does a more competitively priced lunch deal!). I loved the smoked swordfish starter and my guinea fowl main course – perhaps one of the least Korean dishes on the menu – was beautifully balanced. However, the slow-roast pork belly with “Korean BBQ” jus is already established as the restaurant’s signature dish and rightly survived the first menu change.

Now over to my fellow reviewers (apologies, our photos aren’t the best, we may have been enjoying the wine list too much – there are much better ones at this excellent review).

I’ve never raved so much about a radish. The humble root vegetable, garnished with a flavoursome black sesame and yoghurt dressing, was the unexpected star of the starters – although the smoked swordfish with wasabi and lime dressing deserves an honourable mention. For my main course I had the steak. This was served with galbi – a soy-based Korean sauce, expertly rendered, which distinguished the dish from the rest of the NW6 rib-eye pack. The dollop of mashed potato beside it was the evening’s biggest triumph, however. I just about had room for an ice cream at the end. This is a friendly little eaterie with idiosyncratic, well-prepared food at a fair price. I’ll be back, especially during radish season.

"I've never raved so much about a radish"

“I’ve never raved so much about a radish”

The Petite Corée had a lot to live up to, having built up a steady stream of glowing reviews on Twitter and the WHL Forum. And it didn’t disappoint. We shared six starters between us, which was probably a good idea as we each got to taste everything without anyone suffering food envy. Highlights included mandu – pork dumplings drizzled with a deliciously sweet and sticky balsamic sauce, and a radish salad that was as good to look at as it was to eat. Each dish was a nicely-balanced combination of classic European and Korean cuisine, but without ever straying into gimmicky “fusion” territory. Special mention has to go to the mashed potato (I was gluttonous enough to steal a forkful from Tom), which in true French style tasted like it had been whipped with about 80% butter. Believe the hype: The Petite Corée is a great new neighbourhood restaurant.

Arancini with kimchee flavoured rice and mozzarella

Arancini with kimchee flavoured rice and mozzarella

In refreshingly minimalist decor, Petite Corée was a delightful dinner. Every dish was an inventive combination of simple ingredients that was great fun to try. I liked the simple uncluttered menu and as there were six of us we were all able to check out most of it. As a big Korean food fanatic, I was particularly pleased with the kimchee, although it was prepared and served in a less-traditional way: kimchee sauce on ‘un-kimcheed’ cabbage. Still, the result was gorgeous and gave me the satisfying kimchee kick that I’m addicted to. My pork belly main was sold as a korean BBQ dish. Whether it was Korean or not, it was lovely. What a gorgeous little restaurant, I couldn’t fault it to be honest and I can’t wait to go back.

I was impressed on my first visit to Petite Corée a few months ago, but this was on another level. Every single plate chef served up featured a collage of fascinating, powerful, yet nicely-nuanced flavours, with well-considered combinations and really delightful vegetables. And that mashed potato – divine! The starters were addictive and varied; my favourite was (predictably!) potato and rice gnocchi with wild garlic leaves, Parmesan and Korean chilli sauce. Balance was offered via a rather stunning radish salad, with enticing colours and a splendid bitter twist. My gurnard with rainbow chard and a spicy fish jus was delicious; clever use of spices adding waves of flavour whilst not overpowering the fish. Also served were eringi mushrooms, which I now know are also known as king trumpet or French horn mushrooms (among other things) – how marvellous! Great service and a very special chef – not surprised this restaurant is making a few local headlines.

Guinea fowl with asparagus

Guinea fowl with asparagus

I had walked past Le Petit Corée and glanced at the intriguing menu several times, so I was looking forward to giving it a try though not entirely sure what to expect. Would a French-Korean mash up work? In short, yes. All of the starters were excellent, particularly the pork dumplings and the swordfish, both of which had an invisible touch of Korea, providing a kick without overwhelming the delicate flavours. My sea bass main was beautifully cooked and the miso butter dressing worked really well. The only negative was a few small bones left in the fillet, which caught me by surprise. The sesame cream caramel to end was delicious, I’ll be goin’ back for more of that! Great service and a friendly atmosphere ensured a good time was had by all. I expect we’ll all be returning for at least one more night.

The Petite Corée
98 West End Lane
T: 020 7624 9209