We have a lot of respect for businesses that fight the good fight in Beijing. With licences rarely secure and hutongs changing as fast as the winds, the rough and tumble of catering to the capital's hungry hordes is no mean feat. So when we heard Saveurs de Corée, the Korean bistro formerly of Xiang'er Hutong (and before that Nanluoguxiang) had relocated yet again to Dongzhimen, we had to go and pay our respects.
The new venue is on the second floor of a rather incongruous and barren Rum Coabana Hotel. Once inside the restaurant though, atmosphere abounds as friendly staff seat you at one of the elegant wooden tables; an impressive wine selection lines the walls in a nod to the restaurant's French name and on the night we visit, the French-speaking owner King Tai, himself from Hong Kong, is greeting a party of francophone visitors while serving other customers in effortless English and Mandarin.
The food, however, is resolutely Korean. A traditional array of banchan, Korean pickles, comes to the table as we peruse the menu. The pickles are not as punchy or crunchy as the Platonic pickle might be, but free pickles at the start of any meal are a joy and add to the authentic feeling of the restaurant.
Onto the main event. We go for two starters: crispy tofu with a Korean soy-onion sauce (19RMB) and a kimchi pancake (59RMB). The former looks bland but tastes bolshy – the tofu's crisp shell is a robust match for the pungent dipping sauce, and despite the deep-frying and the oily dressing, the dish tastes light and fresh. The latter looks marvellous but tastes meagre – a wide, crispy cake comes atop a sizzling hotplate, its bright red hue shining through the golden crumb. However the kimchi within seems to have been a bit overcooked, and doesn't have the chilli kick we were hoping for.
Next up is the bulgogi (79RMB), which turns out to be the star of the show. Finely sliced rib steak is stir-fried to tender, juicy, light perfection, and comes with a generous side dollop of gochujang, the Korean chilli sauce that manages to be savoury, spicy and sweet all at once, owing to starchy glutinous rice and fermented soy bean that it's made with. The 'assorted vegetables' promised on the menu turn out to be lettuce leaves, sliced raw garlic and chilli, making it more of a low-key barbecue than a vitamin fix, but we're pretty fine with that.
The bibimbap we try is more disappointing. On the waiter's recommendation we opt for the beef tartare version, which, at 69RMB is the most expensive option on a very reasonably priced bibimbap menu. We were warned that it's served cold but the tepid mixture of raw beef, egg yolk and cold rice and veg is a little unpalatable. Strong flavours could have saved this dish, but all is overpowered by the saltiness of the sauce.
There's a lot to enjoy at Saveurs de Corée, and decent Korean options outside of Wangjing are few and far between – especially ones that are this friendly and well-priced. With the latest location being in a slightly rogue spot, here's hoping it remains under the radar of the fun police.
By Amy Hawkins