What I say:
Noryangjin Seafood Market is the “Tsukiji” of Seoul, South Korea, and a great attraction if.. well.. you are into fish. There are many endless rows of fish and shellfish. Some are live; some frozen; others fermented and kimchi-ed.
The London restaurant scene moves forward at the speed of light. Even some of the good restaurants don’t survive the test of time, and for those that do live on, I think they need some extra mentioning here ^_^
Situated on the basement level of a building next to Holborn Tube Station, Asadal is my slightly-more-expensive-than-average Korean restaurant with quite a wide selection on the barbecue menu (£6.50-18.50) and a relatively effective and non-intrusive extraction system. (No ventilation tube at table to suck your eyelashes off, so to speak). Useless as this may sound, I never try order anything else at Asadal apart from barbecue, kimchi and rice dishes. The pungent, variably spiced selection of Kimchi (£6) was crunchy and reliable. Namool Selection (£4.50) was less successful and lacked some vital aromatic dimension of sesame oil. That said, in most Korean restaurants in London, kimchi and namool dishes are complimentary. An Chang Kui/Rib Eye Marinated with Sesame Oil (£13.80) spoke quality but was too calm in taste. More robustness and fragrance from the marinate and the char would have made it brilliant. Bulgogi/Marinated Topside Beef Slices (£9.20) had more flavours, notably sweetness. Gal Bi/Stripes of Marinated Rib (£9.50) was my usual favourite – beefy, well-marinated and quite full of tenderised bites. Dewji Bul Go Gi/Spicy Marinated Pork (£8.50) was lost on the spicy side. Sang Chu/Fresh Lettuce with Seasoned Bean Paste (£2.50) was nice, though I would have loved the paste with a little more heat. Pa Seng Che/Shredded Spring Onions in Sesame Oil and Chilli Powder (£1.90) was fresh, feisty and vinegary. Great foil to the mellow taste from the barbecue. Kimchi Bokum Bab (£8.80) was a dish of stir-fried rice with kimchi and small beef cubes. The rice was grainy but quite wet; the heat was there to please (me) but it could induce a kimchi sweat from irregular chilli consumers; the beef cubes were tough and lost in taste.
For those in the know (of Japanese shopping), Mitsukoshi is the long-standing Japanese department store with many of its branches spreading across Japan, Asia, Europe and America. The one in London – on Lower Regent Street and next to Japan Centre – attracts mostly Japanese (and some Chinese) tour groups. You may expect the same groups of diners in the basement restaurant. You can also expect an all-encompassing, everybody-can-eat menu. And, you can expect Japanese authenticity. The ambiance is low-key, but it is often busy.
The lunch menu contain mainly set courses, costing between £15-27. Most options are served with a bowl of rice, soup and side salad. The dinner menu is dearer but features a wider range of A La Carte dishes. Given my experience at Mitsukoshi, it’s best to go for lunch; the non-deep-frying dishes are usually acceptable; the sashimi, sourced by the same fish supplier as Sushi Tetsu, is reliable.
My Una-Ju Zen (£26.50) from the dinner menu was decent. The accompanying sashimi starter (of salmon, akami and seabass was fresh, though the wasabi was quite dry and tired and didn’t taste much. The eel grilled and caramelised with kabayaki sauce was meaty and fell apart apart in my mouth. The smoky sweetness was quite distinct and the rice was nicely cooked. More spectacular was my A La Carte De Luxe Sashimi (£28.80) from the lunch menu. This premium assortment included salmon, akami, sea bass, yellowtail, flounder, scallops, prawns, squids and vinegared snow crab. It went down quickly with a bowl of rice ^_^
Centrepoint Sushi is a hidden Japanese restaurant above the Japanese-Korean supermarket on St Giles High Street. The budget-priced menu covers a wide selection of dishes, from sashimi and sushi to deep-fried and cooked dishes. Not a destination restaurant, but more of a place you pop in and order the safest-sounding dishes on the menu and hope the kitchen will execute it right.
My chicken karaake bento box (around £12) was decent. The batter was crispy; the chicken did taste like chicken; and the rice was nicely cooked. The side order of assorted pickles (£4) was full of crunch. From my previous experience, however, the sashimi here isn’t usually the freshest. (Generally you can’t really go budget for good sushi or sashimi).
PRINCESS GARDEN OF MAYFAIR
The Mayfair scene is usually the place for swanky, inventive Chinese restaurants (say, Bo London, Novikov Asian, Kai and Hakkasan) but its much more traditional Cantonese Chinese restaurant neighbour Princess Garden of Mayfair will have enjoyed its 30-year-old success in 2013.
For me, Princess Garden isn’t the place you go for a *wow* dim sum lunch but a reliably well-done one. The pricing for dim sum (around £3-4) is also quite a steal for the Mayfair location. To my knowledge, they are also the only Chinese restaurant that offers abalone and sea cucumber as the fixed staples on their dinner menu.
My char siu puff (£2.90) flaked nicely and was without grease. The pork was gently spiced and deliciously sweet. The shredded mooli cake (£2.90) was tangy, crispy and crunchy. The beef cheng fun with enoki mushrooms (£4), thinly wrapped and doused in rich sweetened soy dressing, also boast a correct texture. The turnip cake (£2.80), oozing a mild turnip aroma, was soft on the inside and fried for delectable crisp on the outside.
Mango Tree and Pan Chai by Ian Pengelley are counter restaurants at Harrods Food Hall. The former took over the old dim sum bar; the latter the older sushi bar. Interestingly enough, the majority of the menus of the former restaurants have survived this rechristening. One desperately hungry moment led me to taking a seat at Mango Tree, now a dim sum bar with a modern *fusion* Thai menu. The price range is high enough to make a Harrods regular gasp. The *cheapest* options on the menu are Spare Ribs and Choi Sum with Oyster Sauce at £7.50 each; the most startlingly expensive option is Thai Green Curry with Wagyu Beef at £59.80.
Seeing the menu, my appetite dwindled and I resorted to Goong Ten (£15.80). The dish – or, rather, my martini glass – held three king prawns steamed in ridiculously bland and watery tom yum dressing and a bed of banal (but fresh) salad of carrot and cabbage. This was edible but overwhelmingly disappointing, which is a shame because Harrods’s recent redevelopment of its restaurant section is really exciting.
2012 also saw the end of the era of Nahm London – the world’s first Thai restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. Chef David Thompson has moved on not only to opening Nahm in Bangkok to great acclaims but also to branching out in London, Hong Kong and a few other destinations in Asia for more casual ventures. I will miss the macho, meaty and slightly salty take of Thai cuisine at Nahm as well as its sparkling array of Thai desserts (the best I’ve ever had in and outside Thailand).
Below was a combination platter of Nahm’s iconic desserts Pumpkin and Taro Custard, with threads of syrup-poached egg yolk and caramelised sesame biscuits. (Well, Bangkok is just one 12-hour flight away)..
229-231 High Holborn
Tel. 020 7430 9006
Dorland House (Basement)
14-20 Lower Regent Street
Tel. 020 7930 0317
20 St Giles High Street
Tel. 020 7240 6147
PRINCESS GARDEN OF MAYFAIR
8-10 North Audley Street
Tel. 020 7493 3223
Harrods (Ground Floor)
Tel. 020 7730 1234
There is so much brilliance I can recall about this meal, but I have decided not to put all into writing. Lazy blogger, no. Necessity, yes. The “elements of surprise” are crucial, according to FAQ. When it was first launched, 41° Experience (or 41 Grados) by El Bulli-famed Ferran and Albert Adria was meant to be just a cocktail bar for the annexed Tickets. But it has morphed.. into a 16-seat, tasting-menu-only restaurant, most recently alleged as one of the most difficult to get reservations in the world.
Briefly. There is no reservation line. The booking is made via their website and partially requires payment. There are some drinks included in the €200-per-head tasting menu. You can order a separate alcoholic pairing at €45. Blah. Blah. The venue is a decent-sized bar space, dimmed and dark. There were more FOHs than diners. Above me was a nebula of eclectic images – a kind of modern pop art featuring disparate cultural items around the world – being played in slow motion. And soothing trance-like music..
Not so briefly. The fun at 41° Experience kicked off with a stubbornly square, neatly crafted “41°” ice cube which chilled a smoky liquid substance. Along came a jar containing drops of green olive, preserved in oil. Just your typical jar of olive – but the molecularised EL BULLI style. The liquid olive essence was entrapped in a gelatinous skin. Fragile, it rolled for an escape on the tongue and burst into a taste of what would have been like if I stuffed my mouth with 10 olives in one go. I have never made enough effort to be at El Bulli and I am – or was – never convinced by molecular gastronomy. BUT. That was some alchemy that I highly recommend.
Through my first 3-4 courses, I departed from Barcelona – the 41° latitude as the name of the restaurant portends- wandered through Italy, France, Russia, Asia and many more. Ferran and Albert Adria not only know so much about cuisines but also cultures, wherein lies humourous anecdotes and stereotypes. All these are re-interpreted into all the 41 dishes served at 41° Experience. Some were more successful than others. Some got me to physically interact and/or contemplate intellectually; others made me LAUGH OUT LOUD. (Something about France, of course. And Rene Redzepi might be on the menu). That said, as the concept of the menu relies very heavily on the elements of surprise, of not knowing what comes next and which country where you will end up, it is best not to do so much telling (or display any sharp and clear images). The cooking was exquisite but a complement to the concept. SO.. if you are a global character, know a lot about cuisines and cultures, you will be having a very good time at 41° Experience. If you are averse to internationalism, there is a high risk that you might not get the “jokes”, which are the best part of the meal.
Life-changing? No. But this meal reversed my eagerness in life and I felt happy, giggly.. as if I became a child again
(Sorry. Can’t help not telling you of my most favourite dish – a re-constructed Peruvian “causa”. A thick slice of super fresh and firm yellowtail/hamachi marinated in lime, chilli and garlic was served nigiri-style on a velvety ball of spiced-infused mashed potatoes. The dish paid homage to the Japanese influences in Peruvian culinary tradition and taste-wise it was a bomb of citric umami).
PS Don’t hate me for doing this >_<
Avinguda Paral-lel, 164
Fire without smoke
Koba is a popular, moderately priced and casually pristine Korean restaurant in Fitzrovia. To me, the reason that distinctly sets this little place apart from other Korean hubs – most notably those on St Giles High Street – is not its food but its most effective smoke extracting system. While I usually don’t mind being fumed with meaty fragrance or splashed a little with kimchi stew, a few of my friends do. They will dress down for the “smelly” occasion, even.
The cooking at Koba, with a level of refinement that reflected its sanitary ambiance, remains authentic. Namul (£5.90) was a very decent assortment of crunchy vegetables lightly tossed in sesame oil. Japchae – potato glass noodle stir fried with soy sauce, mushrooms, red peppers, onions and chives – (£6.90) was also pleasant. I liked the elasticity from the noodle but found the dish overall a little over-peppered. Bo Ssam – pork belly slices with ssamjang paste and vegetable wrap – (£9.50) was flawed in its construction. I was not keen on the soy sauce braised pork belly and preferred the simply broiled and sliced version at Po Cha (or anywhere else) for its neutral porky taste; the garnish of lightly pickled cabbage leaves would have been okay by themselves. However, as this was a “ssam” dish (meaning “wrap”) and everything needed to be assembled together for eating, the taste of the pork and the cabbage leaves together with the ssamjang paste became immensely overwhelming. Korean Fried Chicken (£7.50) fared much better. The soy sauce glaze burst umami-ed sweetness; the batter was light and shattered nicely. Also lovable was Ddukboki – Korean rice cake dry-braised with loosened ssamjung paste, fish cakes and quail eggs – (£8.20). The sweet gummy rice cakes balanced the chilli heat off very nicely. As I was last in Koba with non-beef eater friends, I only tried their pork and chicken barbecue. Samgyupsal (£8.70) featured a platter of good quality pork belly slices and tasted accordingly. The same could be said for Daeji Bulgogi – spicy pork belly slices – (£8.90), though its fiery marinate made the dish more memorable. We were unanimous that Dak Bulgogi – spicy chicken – (£8.50) was the best of the barbecue we ordered. We found the chicken thighs succulent and tender. They were also carefully boned for an adequate girth to counter the strong marinate. Dolsot Bibimbab (£7.50) arriving with a soup (as set lunch) did not wow us. I found the rice nearly too wet and the stone bowl not hot enough to create occasional crust on the grains. We were also given another bowl of steamed rice to go with Kimchi Jjigae Lunch Set (£7.20). Surprisingly enough, the same “nearly wet” rice tasted brilliantly on its own (as opposed to being smothered with chilli sauce in a heated stone bowl). The Jjigae – kimchi hot pot – was also a tour de force. It was bouillabaisse-like and rich to the point it became velvety, oozing perfect tang and heat. It was, in short, a thoroughly pleasant meal.
11 Rathbone Street
I felt marooned at Ace Hotel (where hip boys and girls play dress-up and doormen can tell a Raf Simons from a Prada bling) on the cusp of Midtown and Koreatown. In that premise there are a Michelin-starred (where I had an underwhelming breakfast), an oyster bar (I gave it a miss) and a very hot Stumptown Coffee (where you can also buy NYC’s acclaimed Mast Brothers Chocolate). There are also a No.8A (a design-focused shop that sells these amazingly addictive, not-so-easy-to-find-but-dead-cheap Girl Scout Cookies) and an Opening Ceremony boutique (that is remarkable for its mark up when compared to the bigger one on Howard Street). Too cool.
The positive side of being at Ace Hotel, however, is that the hotel is within the walking proximity of many Korean gems.
This is a modern Korean tapas bar and a recent winner of one Michelin star. High wooden tables and bar stools. No pomp. Walking in only. The dinner menu was more extensive than the lunch. I fell in love with the Beef Bulgogi Sliders ($12). The beef stripes were expertly marinated and doused in onion sweetness; the steamed and toasted buns were pillow-y; a touch of butter enhanced the unctuousness of the match; the shredded spring onions and the kimchi-ed cucumber gave it a slap of spicy refreshment. Danji is also known for its KFC. My Korean Fire Chicken Wings ($10) did that fame a justice. They were fried for explosive crispy-ness and glazed in spicy honey dressing, which having been infused with four kinds of chilli, boast a good depth. Sticky, finger-licking good. Spicy Pork Belly Sliders ($12) did not vouch for the same level of deliciousness. The combination of fatty belly and sweet Kochujang chilli paste was domineering and did not leave much room for the crunchy cucumber to counter.
This little dumpling place on West 32bd Street is not life-changing but will do as a quick bite place. The Mandoo (a Korean word for dumplings) were prepared fresh at the restaurant’s window and served either boiled (mulmandoo) or deep fried (gunmandoo). There were three variations for fillings: pork, seafood, and vegetable. I ordered a small nibbling portion of all three ($4 each). The boiled pork dumplings (below) contained pork and chive. The casing had a good dense texture. The seafood ones contained a mixture of prawns and seafood sticks and tasted slightly processed. The fried vegetable ones were pleasant. The filling was made predominantly from bean sprouts, cucumber and pickled turnip. Stringy and crunchy to contrast with crispy elasticity. Decent quality of oil and it didn’t leave much of an oily smell.
Turntable Mad for Chicken
Literally, the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life. Turntable Mad for Chicken was located on the 2rd floor of a nonchalant building (with dodgy, tacky shops on street level). You can’t see the restaurant clearly from the street and have to walk in looking for the sign. The second floor was split into the dining area, the bar and the private booths. At night ‘analog’ music can be expected. There were different portion sizes of dissected chicken to choose from – wings, drumsticks, boneless – and two Korean-inspired styles of glazing – non-spicy soy sauce or hot and spicy glazing. My first encounter (I went twice ’cause it was too dark for photography first time) was a medium platter of wings and drumsticks (lost sense of pricing, sorry!). Steaming hot. The skin was so crispy it shattered as I was biting the wings; the meat was incredibly tender and moist; the glazing was, surprisingly, bold, hot but not sticky. A good dose of heat and vinegar-y acidity and immensely addictive. I went again (failed photography = good excuse to return) for the soy glazed action (first drumpsticks below). Big umami taste. The sweetness was the main essence distilled by a hint of saltiness. All the elements were as perfectly technically executed as the hot and spicy ones. Still, the soy glazed lacked the piquant kick, the wow factor. (I also felt obliged to order another helping of the hot and spicy so you can contrast… )
(Special thanks to L’s brother for recommending TMFC :-D!!)
And the addresses ^_^
346 West 52nd Street
New York, NY
Tel. 001 (212) 586-2880
2 West 32nd Street
New York, NY
Tel. 001 (212) 279-3075
TURNTABLE MAD FOR CHICKEN
314 5th Avenue 2nd Floor
(between 31st and 32 nd Streets)
New York, NY
Tel. 001 (212) 221 2222
The black one..
Po Cha is one of those dodgy-looking Korean eateries on the strip off St Giles Central that I have frequented for years but never got round to remember its name. I just call it “the black one” due to the black paint on the restaurant’s facade. Unappealing from the outside, but intimate and cheerful within. On the menu is some usual Korean fare. Dishes are huge and moderately priced. A touch bolder and more refined than the home-flavoured menu at neighbouring Assa (I call this “the Thai one” as it’s very popular among Thais). There are also “the green one” and “the post-it one” next to Po Cha that I am hardly bothered about.
The red ones….
With the chilli demand from Mrs CC, I ended up with a tableful of menacingly chilli-fied dishes. Kimchi Pajeon was a pancake with vibrant kimchi filling. I loved the tang from the cabbage fermentation and the expertly crispy skin. The soy vinegar dipping undercut the lip-lickingly greasy texture. Topokki was deliciously gummy rice sticks braised in sweet chilli sauce combination. Masochistic. Very spicy but then the intense sweetness straightaway relieved my palate of the burning heat. (At Po Cha, you can also opt for the extras of fish cake and noodle). Stir fried pork with kimchi was also appetising. The tender slivers of pork cooked just right went down well with crunchy pickled cabbage leaves. There were slices of tofu on the side to act as a chilli extinguisher. Also spectacular was Bo Ssam – slices of steamed pork belly served with vegetable batons doused in ssamjang paste (chilli, sesame oil, garlic, onion). This was a DIY dish. I popped a little garlic, chilli and pork onto lettuce leaves and then a slap of ssamjang. The play between hot and cool elements was heavenly. The voluptuous fat from the belly rendered my chilli-fied bite refreshingly meaty and balanced. Spicy bulgogi, however, was a let down. Chilli-marinated pork belly slices arrived a little too grilled for my liking. Kimchi Hot Pot with Seafood did not get me excited at first as most of the seafood (blue swimmer crab, prawns, mussels) was frozen. That said, very soon after, all the components came alive in a pungent, sour and hot kimchi broth. The sight to behold and the flavour to relish. The bill came to about £80 and the meal could have fed at least 5 people (or 10 if you order steamed rice).
PS For chilli haters, I promise it won’t be a spicy meal next time
GO FOR: Chilli comfort. Cheap and big portion.
56 St Giles High Street
Tel. 020 7379 7391