As Peter Ackroyd notes in London: The Biography, St Giles High Street has only ever been a grim part of London, bedevilled by poverty, prostitution and drugs. Therefore it can't be high on many restauranters' desired location. Yet, there appears to be a very mini-Seoul, with a couple of restaurants and a bakery. Po-Chung Ma-Cha is one of those restaurants. From the outside it is hard to confirm this is a restaurant, grime smearing the windows. Inside there are a couple of tables and a black lacquered bar with enough space for about ten people. Behind the bar are a couple of exceptionally helpful and friendly staff, willing to guide the ignorant through the menu.
I went there for the second time today and I loved it. I had three dishes: cucumber with kimchi; spring onion salad and stone bibimbap. The cucumbers were effectively new green pickled cucumbers doused in kimchi. It was a great combination of spicy and sour. The onions in the salad had been lightly pickled. I would guess macerated in some sort of vinegar - maybe rice? The result was a mellow, sweet (from the onions), sour (from the vinegar) salad, with decent crunch. The bibimbap, with vegetables and chillis was equally good. None of it was rocket science, fried egg, vegetables, rice. All of it simple and most importantly, all of it tasted great.
I have never been to Korea, and prior to my two meals here, I've only been to one Korean restaurant. I am therefore not an aficionado on whether this is good Korean food, but I know I enjoyed it. It is difficult to judge just how authentic this is. I don't always feel comfortable following the rule of thumb that if the natives are eating there, it must be good. There is no reason this should be true. It could simply be that those eating there don't have good taste (viz the popularity of fast food restaurants). However, I got the impression from my fellow diners, who seemed in the main to be Korean students, that this was a bit like home-cooked food: not outstanding, but filling and enjoyable. This was confirmed to me by Aki, who knows about such things.
Po-Chung Ma-Cha is a ray of sunshine in an otherwise relatively bleak part of the West End. Even more so on a freezing cold March day, when we should be heading into spring rather than looking for our long-johns.
Po-Chung Ma-Cha, 56 St. Giles High Street, London, WC2H 8LH, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7379 7381
What others think
As far as I can tell, nothing else has been written about the restaurant. I'll let you know if that changes.