In a push to make Korean cuisine increasingly mainstream in major, cosmopolitan cities around the world, one of the country's biggest food companies has opened its first European bibimbap outlet in London.
After setting up shop in Beijing, Beverly Hills and Singapore, Korean fast food company Bibigo has chosen to open its first European outpost in London's Soho district.
Bibigo's signature dish is bibimbap served in a hot stone bowl: steamed rice topped with assorted, marinated vegetables, beef, chicken or pork and bound together by a spicy red bean paste hot sauce or soy sauce.
According to The Korean Herald, the London opening is part of parent company CJ Foods' ambitious plans to increase the number of overseas Bibigo restaurants to 20 by the end of the year, with planned openings also set for Japan and Vietnam in 2012. CJ Foods is one of the largest food companies in South Korea.
By 2017, the company plans to expand that to 1,000 locations in 20 countries.
The chain has been patronized by one of Asia's biggest idols, Korean singer and actor Rain, while the Los Angeles locations have been visited by US celebrities like Martha Stewart, Jay Manuel and Heather Graham.
The 2,482-foot space (264-square meter) will occupy some prime London real estate at Great Marlborough Street near Oxford Circus.
While the international locations are built more as fast food spaces, the London restaurant is designed as a more formal eatery and seats 85 diners.
Meanwhile, other entrepreneurs living abroad are also evangelizing Korean cuisine with chains and franchises like Koryo Korean Barbecue, which has a presence in food courts across Canada, and Sorabol Korean BBQ and Asian Noodles across California.