You can’t get much in London for £3.50. You can make a single peak time tube journey in zones 1-3. You can almost buy some toast at Harrods. Or you can get one eighth of a ticket to Madame Tussauds.
Recently, London won the dubious award of being the Most Expensive City to live in 2014. Yep, in The World. Combine average monthly transport costs of £131 and soaring housing costs – and Expatistan has calculated that it’s 17% more expensive living in London than New York….and a gut-wrenching 62% more expensive living in London over Bristol.
Still, calculating a coverall cost of living is a difficult thing to do. Being canny can keep costs right down: cycling, resoling shoes, packed lunches. Recently I came across a particularly canny discovery and an excellent way to spend £3.50.
On St Giles Street, just tucked behind Tottenham Court Station is a tiny Korean joint: Seoul Bakery. The photo laminated dishes in the window tell you that they do a £3.50 bi bim bap – a traditional and nourishing Korean dish consisting of rice, vegetables and egg.
Seoul Bakery’s bi bim bap isn’t served in a piping hot granite dolsot bowl as lots of Londoners have become accustomed to, largely thanks to the cult Greek Street Bibimbap restaurant round the corner. A granite dolsot bowl keeps the rice hot for a long, conversational supper. But Seoul Bakery’s cold metal bowls have their own advantages. A utilitarian, metal canteen bowl means that you can happily wolf down your bi bim bap without blistering the skin on the roof of your mouth. Perfect for a brief and blissful lunch for one.
The rice was nice and sticky, the vegetables still had a bite to them, the egg yolk was runny, and the meal was served with gochujang-based sauce and a big bottle of tap water which both came without me asking. I remember being quite excited when Boots started doing its Meal Deal. But now I’m going to feel sad when I hand over my £3.50 for some crisps, a ploughman’s sandwich, and packet of apples slices on-the-go. I’ll be sad that I’m not walking through the door at Seoul Bakery, and sitting down to a bi bim bap instead.
The thing is, it’s not just the food but also the space. Sit in a booth there, and you could be sitting pretty much anywhere in the world. I forgot that I was grabbing a bite to eat between meetings, and felt holiday-relaxed. The walls are a thick collage of post-its and luminous notes written by the thousands of people who have passed through the restaurant: cartoons, cryptic messages, doodles announcing someone ‘woz ‘ere’, romantic scrawls…and dirtier confessions. A kind of toilet door of an interior, but a great place to have lunch for one. Forget bringing a book – I had to tear myself away from that wall once I’d finished eating.
The brilliance, but also the sadness about Seoul Bakery is that it only seats seven people. So I hope that not too many people discover it. That said, they do takeaways, so if you’re ever feeling peckish round Tottenham Court Road, then do pop into Seoul Bakery for a bite. Good for the stomach, and good for the seoul.
55 St Giles High St, London WC2H 8LH
020 7240 0877