Helen Wilcock gets a dose of authentic Korean barbecue when she visits Yanji, an inconspicuous DIY restaurant tucked away in colourful Shoreditch
Let’s talk about barbecue. Not the burgers, slightly charred sausages and occasional foil-wrapped salmon. But flavours of the far East – the art of Korean cuisine.
Typically focused on beef, pork and dishes chicken, Korean barbecue refers to the traditional methods of grilling different meats – most of which are delectably marinated beforehand.
One of the UK’s most popular cuisines, Korean barbecue can be found dotted around London’s streets – we have a growing selection of restaurants dedicated to the stuff.
Tucked away in Shoreditch’s graffiti-clad streets, Yanji BBQ is one of these. It serves authentic Korean BBQ that celebrates both traditional dishes and westernised options for the less adventurous of foodies.
Located minutes away from Brick Lane, Yanji is very unassuming. So much so, in fact, that I almost walked past it during my visit.
It’s quiet when we first arrived just before 7pm but this changed rapidly with the restaurant soon filling up with both South East London locals and tourists.
The main restaurant is made up of booth seating each around a DIY BBQ built into each of the tables. We later discovered multiple private dining rooms downstairs, which would be perfectly positioned for parties and large groups.
One of my favourite things about the table design was the integrated pot for your dirty skewers. A design feature so simple but also so helpful – especially when you have a table heaving with dishes and a plate full of food.
Once settled in we were handed the menu, the hot coals were put into the BBQ and the overhead fan was pulled down from the ceiling. Utensils at the ready, we were raring to go.
The menu is created in a unusual way where you tick the dishes you want to order instead of the standard operation of telling the server (mispronunciations and all) of all the things you want to try. This certainly made the ordering process very simply and also ensures that they can’t get it wrong!
On the menu, dishes are categorised into specials, BBQ on the plate, BBQ skewers, starters and mains. This is a restaurant and menu that encourages the mixing and matching of dishes to share with each other.
There’s everything from a tame vegetable dumpling to a more experimental pig’s ear on the list – offering something for both the brave and the squeamish.
We wanted to try a selection, so ordered the mixed lamb & beef skewers (£20), chicken wings (£1.50 each), king prawns (£2.20 each), pork belly skewers (£2.00), chicken dumplings (£4.50 for four), Kimchi pancakes (£7.50) and spicy stir fried pork belly with kimchi (£9.50).
Our standout dishes were the pork belly skewers and the kimchi pancakes. With the help of our waitress, the pork belly was cooked perfectly over the charcoal. Meanwhile, the pancakes were crispy on the outside and spicy on the inside – which was the perfect combination. Our only regret was not ordering more of both!
The dumplings were also delicious and were even served on a plate shaped like a dumpling – an adorable detail.
It’s difficult to know exactly how much to order when first handed the menu (or how much your stomach can fit) but our extremely helpful waitress offered many recommendations and advice when it came to getting the most out of our meal.
The Wordrobe verdict
A visit to Yanji is both delicious and fun. From the moment we walked into the restaurant, the front of house team welcomed us as friends – and treated us as such throughout the night.
There’s something to sample for everyone here, and each dish offers its own own distinct flavour when cooked on the BBQ. If you prefer big sharing meals, this tucked away spot is perfect.
Authentic, inconspicuous and most importantly, appetising. Whether you are visiting Brick Lane or simply in the area, be sure to visit Yanji and get your Korean barbecue fix.
Make it happen
Where: 153 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 7DG
How: Click here to find out more and make a booking.
Review words by Helen Wilcock