by Will Hazell
Busan was Islington’s first Korean restaurant, arriving in the borough in 1988. After a five year hiatus, the family-run restaurant (which is named after a coastal city in South Korea) reopened at the end of last year, and is less than a minute stroll from Highbury and Islington tube station. In addition to serving traditional Korean fare, the rebooted Busan now also dabbles in Japanese food and sushi.
Busan’s décor is attractively contemporary, with crisp white walls illuminated by bubble-gum bright coloured lights. A large mural of mist shrouded mountains in washed out shades firmly fixes the setting in the Orient, and a rather charming streak of eccentricity runs through the restaurant, manifested most obviously in Mr Lee’s impressive vegetable carvings, which depict a panoply of flora and fauna.
For starters we shared a Sigumchi Namul (£2.70) – tangy spinach seasoned with sesame seeds and oil – and the Chogesal Bokeum (£9.20) – scallops stir-fried in a sweet and spicy sauce and ‘served in a shell on a bed of flames for that show stopping dining experience’. Or so the menu informed us. The ‘bed of flames’ was actually a bit naff, yet felt strangely appropriate given the restaurant’s general quirkiness.
As a lover of fleshy seared scallops, I was vaguely disappointed by the Chogesal Bokeum. The scallops felt undercooked and a tad raw in the mouth, but were not unpleasant when steeped in the spicy sauce.
For our main course we had the Busan Steak (£8.90) – grilled sliced steak cooked in teriyaki sauce – and the Salmon Teriyaki (£8.60) – salmon steak again brushed in the sweet Japanese sauce. Both dishes were well cooked and richly flavoured. For wine we shared a pleasing and reasonably priced bottle of pink fizz with subtle summer fruit flavours. The service was understated but attentive, and dishes tend to arrive when they arrive. Busan is a cut above the run-of-the-mill, cheap and cheerful Asian restaurants which are sprinkled throughout the capital, and the restaurant’s punchy flavours, attractive venue, and affable idiosyncrasies mean it is well worth a visit. Welcome back Busan. Busan, 39 Holloway Road, N7 8JP