Ever since our Korean barbecue experience in Hong Kong we have been actively searching out the best Korean restaurants in our local area. One place on the radar based over in Beeston near Nottingham is Korea House. They specialise in Korean barbecue which you can grill in the centre of your table. This makes it a place we really want to experience very soon.
This time around we looked closer to home and sitting on Welford Road in the shadow of Leicester prison is ONGGI Korean restaurant. However it is also listed as a cafe. The reviews were promising but also came with a warning that this is a popular family-run place, not the biggest and also gets full very quickly. That alone ticked a load of boxes for us so we set off in search of lunch.
As we walked down Welford Road we came to realise that we had strolled past this place no end of times but barely given it a second glance. On matchdays at Leicester City we would use this route all the time to get from the stadium back to the city again. Welford Road, at the city end, is a real mix of takeaways and restaurants predominantly Indian which is nothing out of the ordinary in Leicester.
From the outside the place looks just like any other takeaway on the street with an ascending menu board with promising sounding Korean dishes. So without further ado we entered the restaurant a little after 12pm on a Saturday to find the inside massively different in appearance from the exterior. The restaurant is small yet clean with stylish wooden tables and benches evenly spaced. Three television screens are perched on the wall with pictures of the menu. Best of all though, it was so quiet.
We couldn’t see anyone around the floor area so approached the counter for the menu’s remembering of course that this was listed as a cafe. The service was friendly and just behind the counter you could see chef’s seemingly of Korean descent preparing the food. The restaurant was just nicely busy with many Asian customers. A good indication that the food here is good.
We ordered three dishes which seems to be the norm. Many people in groups had food sprawled out across the table, all of which looked tempting. After much deliberation we settled on the kimchi pancake, barbecued short ribs and a pot of rice with kimchi, minced pork and egg. It was time to do battle again with the dreaded metal Korean chopsticks…..
We liked straight away that they give you a small plate of kimchi to bridge the gap between the order being placed and the food arriving. This stuff was delicious and a lot more flavoursome than the kimchi we had at Kan Kan Kan in Hong Kong. If anything the cabbage was shredded a lot finer and seemed to have greater depth of flavour, perhaps this had been fermented for longer.
The kimchi pancake was first to arrive and it’s more of a set of six pancakes, each quite thin with a nice red colour from the filling. You definitely get your money’s worth at £7.50 ($9.69 US) for the portion. Crispy outside and soft slightly spicy kimchi flavour on the inside complete with a chilli oil for dipping.
The following dishes were brought sizzling to our table. The ribs complete with lettuce and ssamjang, a slightly spicy bean paste, along with the pot of sizzling rice, kimchi and minced pork topped with a fried egg which you are told to mix together to get the best of the flavours.
The ribs (£9.50/$12.28 US) reminded us of the barbecue experience back in Hong Kong although this time we were spared the effort. Thin shavings of short rib with great texture and flavour but wrapping these bad boys in the lettuce with a smearing of ssamjang is just the best. Addictive almost.
The rice pot (£9.50/$12.28 US) is actually where the restaurant gets its name. Onggi in Korean is the earthenware pot that this dish is served in. Once again the kimchi was the star of the show giving a sweet, spicy flavour to the rice with a hit of a smoky flavour from the pot and much like claypot rice the toasted grains on the base are the best. We were beginning to realise quite quickly just how underrated this cuisine is.
The final bill, including two soft drinks, came to £30 ($38 US) which is about what you would pay for your average Chinese takeaway. We were amazed by this, particularly as this is bang in the middle of our home city and neither us or anyone we know has ever visited this place or even talked about Korean food. The food here is brilliant,very good value and some of the best we have sampled in Leicester. Especially as Leicester has always been a city famed for its Indian cuisine, most restaurants it must be said we are yet to try. In the coming weeks we aim to fix that.
It does seem strange writing a review of a restaurant in our home city but this is straight into the category of hidden gem. ONGGI delivers near enough everything for a casual dining experience and appears to be a favoured hangout for local Asians seeking out a taste of home. So if you are curious about trying a new food or even happen to be visiting an inmate, stop by here and give Korean a go, you might just like it.
Nearest Train Station: Leicester
Opening hours: Monday-Friday 1600-2200