The Petite Corée sets itself out as a friendly neighbourhood restaurant in West Hampstead and it’s hard to disagree when you visit their simple, yet clean website and also when you arrive in person. The decor is more homely than flashy, the olive-green and wooden wall panelling at the bar is soothing on the eyes. You could easily imagine head chef/owner Jae might have contributed significantly to the design and assembling of his bistro.
The real shock is when the food arrives. Whilst it is a husband and wife team, the food is no home-cooked affair. As soon as the starters arrive, you can tell straight away from the exceptional presentation that Jae has been classically trained in some top establishments in London. Luckily, he made time to come and chat with us and did reveal after some probing a glittering CV that includes working at Mirabelle, Nobu and the Connaught.
I am not always a massive fan of Korean fried chicken, which can be greasy and heavy; however, Jae’s version here has light, delicate batter and the chicken is incredibly tender. The green chilli sauce is the perfect foil to flavour the chicken. The battered king crab leg also has the tremendously light batter and an explosion of spiciness from the chilli lime salsa. These dishes would not look out-of-place if presented at any of Jae’s previous places of employment. Jae never purports to offer authentic Korean cuisine, it is a fusion of Modern European and Korean styles.
For the main courses, we tried 2 of their most popular dishes. The prime rump steak with “bulgogi” jus for extra beefiness was as far from the typical bland steak you would get at a neighbourhood restaurant as possible. It was finely sourced, it had the chew you expect in a steak and to top it off the potato mash accompanying the dish was as silky smooth as the very best you will find in London. It does remind me of one I had at Mirabelle many moons ago before it closed down. The slow braised pork shoulder I had was so utterly tender, it made the use of a knife redundant and the creamy buckwheat polenta was just as silky smooth. Clearly Jae has learnt his trade well from people like Marco Pierre White (assuming he had actual time for the kitchen rather than being busy with his TV commitments).
The desserts were far more European than Korean, although it was just as professionally made. The pear tart tatin had perfectly caramelised pears and golden pastries; I would recommend combining it with their addictive black sesame ice cream. The olive oil and green tea cake might have seemed a little safe, but it was brought alive by rhubarb and ginger compote.
A visit to The Petite Corée really shows you can’t judge a book by its cover, chef Jae might look like he has just left university, but his food has the maturity of a veteran Michelin-starred chef.