Gogi: Gone downhill (November 2017)

When it opened in 2013, Gogi offered something different amid the rather staid Little Venice dining scene. With its exposed brick walls, low-lighting and pumping soundtrack, the restaurant would not have felt out of place in New York. And, the food was amazing - well cooked and very authentic takes on Korean cuisine. Based on how busy the restaurant was on a recent Friday night when my comrade and I visited, Gogi must clearly still be doing something right as the place was packed, with new diners arriving even after 9pm. However, we could not help feeling that food standards had slipped, the place was poor value for money and the service little more than perfunctory. Begin with the food. Yes, there is a wide selection of dishes, but I would rather see a smaller number done better. My spicy squid starter had been liberally doused in some MSG-heavy sauce, obliterating any hint of delicacy. Meanwhile, the problem with the sauce that accompanied my comrade's vegetable dumplings was the opposite, namely that it was so bland as to be irrelevant. Onto our mains and we both settled for dolsot bibimbaps. To the uninitiated, this is a stone hot pot comprising rice, vegetables, meat (or tofu), enhanced by a fried egg on the top and the addition of chilli paste. Trust me, a good one tastes excellent. Here, the dishes were not actively bad, but our distinct sense was that Gogi had taken a few shortcuts and scrimped on the exciting bits, substituting them with rice, rendering the whole dish less satisfying. To pay close to £90 for the experience (which included an over-priced bottle of NZ Pinot) seemed unfair, particularly when the serving staff were broadly indifferent to our presence. Maybe Gogi has enough of a following for it to remain full, but there is absolutely no way the place can afford to rest on its laurels; rather, it perhaps needs to up its standards.