Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Good Korea choice

I've written before about how my social media feed is constantly filled with food, which in turn compels the Ewing and I to traverse the country seeking these exciting morsels out. Well, the same thing happens with my Instagram memories. While most people get reminders that it's been four years since their child started school, or four years since they got married, or half a decade since that life-changing backpacking trip across South America, I get a pop up commemorating which restaurant I ate at this time last year.

Which, most recently- in Bournemouth, on the Monday after the annual air show extravaganza, hungover and bickering about where to go for our customary last lunch in town (an annual occurrence) - it turned out to be very welcome aide memoire with the restaurant in question being Kori, a Korean on the Holdenhurst Road pretty much opposite the Asda superstore, where we would stumble to for late night supplies of Jaffa Cakes when my sister lived in the student halls opposite.

While we very much enjoyed last year's lunch it failed to make it onto the blog. Mostly because of my hangover, following several days drinking espresso martinis and Thai Red Bull, and the fact I was distracted writing about our visit to Di Mario, after what felt like years of trying.

So lets's start with the first visit (of course there were photos), which began with a Korean iced coffee for the Ewing, who was off the booze after the aforementioned big weekend, and a Hite beer for me. Some may consider Hite to barely qualify as a beer, but I quite like its malty, buttered corn sweetness against the salty, spicy flavours of Korean food.

And indeed the refreshing fizz made a perfect match to my main, Kimchi jjigae - a kimchi stew with pork, tofu, onion and spring onion. The broth was rich and salty, full of rich chucks of fatty pork belly and tangy pickled cabbage, topped with wobbly, bland tofu slices that soaked up the spicy broth. Alongside was plain rice and banchan - side dishes, here brightly coloured pickled veg - that typically accompany Korean food.

The Ewing was very virtuous and went with the grilled salmon with sesame seeds and radish salad, with more steamed rice and pickled veg. Notable (even when asking her a year later, and considering she normally has no recollection of what she had for dinner) for it's generous portion size, this was just what was needed after a full-on weekend.

On our most recent visit we were both off the pop (thanks to an spontaneous night at Vodka Revs). The Ewing stuck with her Korean iced coffee and I tried a refreshing roasted barley iced tea while looking longingly at the list of shochu.

I ordered the bossam, which is described on the menu as a sharing platter, but I do relish a challenge. Bossam means 'wrapped' and traditionally consists of pork belly, boiled in spices and served sliced thinly, served alongside the wrap element which in this case were beautiful butterhead lettuce leaves. It came with a dish of ssamjang, or wrap sauce, made of soyabean paste, chilli sauce, onion, garlic and spring onion and, along with a bowl of fragrant, sticky rice and some dishes of pickled radish, beansprouts and some kind of spinach-like greens, this was pretty much my perfect lunch.

The Ewing was also very happy her dish of dakgangjeong - small chunks of chicken battered and deep fried before being tossed in a spicy sweet chilli sauce and served with walnuts. Korean fried chicken is some of the very best I have tried and this was no exception. Like the best spicy nuggets you have eaten (ever, in your life, or could dream of eating, they were exceptional - TE). Maccy D's take note. 

This was also a gargantuan portion, although it proved no match for the Ewing, who found her metal chopsticks proved a handy weapon when I attempted to assist her in finishing it.

We also ordered soothing bowls of miso soup and a dish of fiery, bright kimchi. Convincing ourselves that the fermented cabbage would be just what we needed to sooth our stomachs while not properly considering the fact we still had a two and a half hour drive home after lunch to contend with... It tasted delicious, though.

Some people may not like the idea of an omnipotent presence lurking deep within the internet and second guessing their very deepest thoughts (more a puddle in a drought, in my case). But one advantage of AI knowing me better than I know myself means we now already have the destination for our final lunch in B Town following next year's air show sorted. And well before an argument can ensue. As Grace Jones probably wouldn't sing, sometimes I'm happy to be a slave to the algorithm.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Being basic with Bernie

When I first met Stealth, many years ago now, I considered her to have impeccable taste. Not just in the choosing of friends, but also when it came to eating and drinking. As time has gone on I have concluded that this may have been a somewhat misguided assumption. 

While she is still the only person whose mother left a loaf of M&S rosemary and potato bread, a leg of lamb and a pot of caviar in the fridge when they went on holiday, I have realised that culinary skills are not always hereditary. (I do have to admit, though, that I’m pretty sure no one could made an off-menu individual stuffed crust pizza quite as perfectly as Stealth used to, and probably a good reason our friendship endured throughout our teenage years…).

So it was with some surprise that I found an image in my Instagram inbox of a sandwich that - unbeknown to Stealth, the sender - was vying to become the most Instagrammed thing between two slices of bread. She had captioned it 'I need this in my life'. 

Not only was Stealth voluntarily showing me interest in eating something exciting, I also knew that you could find said sandwich in the Arcade Food Theatre. The new food court housed on the ground floor of the Brutalist Centre Point building. You don't need to tell me these things twice.

It’s taken me so long to get around to writing this (partly because of how I felt in the following days, for reasons you will see shortly) that Grace Dent has already got the boot in. So you could probably save time by reading the reprise of her visit. Clearly her account doesn’t feature any nugz though. So, if you have an interest in chunks of deep fried poultry, then read on.

For clarification, they don’t sell spicy nuggets in the Food Theatre, although there is a Maccy D’s across the street, where I picked up a sharing size box for Stealth after she had sent me another message before we met up. This time of the poster advertising them in the window of the McDonald’s on the Walworth Road.

Inside it's now a shiny labyrinth of concrete surfaces and confusion., with various concessions with counter seating, or central tables if you want to mix you meal up and try a few different things. There didn't seem to be any staff to bring food to the tables, but they were very eager to try and remove things we hadn't finished with yet...

Thankfully Stealth managed to get us both a beer (available from the central bar, the end bar is for cocktails only, or so she found out after queuing there initially), before heading up to the stairs to TOU, housed on a level described as 'incubation-focused mezzanine', to procure the fabled sandwich.

And here it is, in all it's wondrous glory. You can see by Stealth's reaction that she didn't quite know what to be happier about, the katsu sandu or the big box of contraband nugz I had pulled out of the bag, literally, to surprise her with while she was gone (and also because I was concerned all my things were going to be irreparably imbued with the smell of chicken).

Nugz safely stowed in her rucksack for now, we cracked on with the main draw, the, as she had described it in a message to me 'delicious fatty pork sandwich'. AKA the Iberian Katsu Sando, made with toasted brioche, slow-cooked and deep-fried Iberian pork neck, shredded cabbage, raspberry brown sauce and xo shallot sauce. 

In all honesty, looking at that list of ingredients how could it possibly not be an incredible butty? And indeed it was. Sweet, salty, fatty; a joyful marriage of fat, crunch and carbs. Was it worth 14 quid? Well, the three bites I dispatched my half in worked out at about £2.30 a mouthful. Make of that what you will.

This time it was my turn to order and, as it was a Tuesday, it seemed remiss not to grab another round of beers and eat some tacos. These were the pastor version from Pastorcito, the latest off shoot of the El Pastor family.  Twenty-four hour marinated pork shoulder and caramelised pineapple, carved from a rotating spit served with taquero salsa, white onion & coriander. Good, if a little underwhelming and, at seven quid for two, hardly a bargain.

While many of the dishes served at Arcade were to be on the bijou side, the bowl of guacomole, also from Pastorcito and served either with chicharrones or totopos (obvs, I chose the former), was pretty vast. Although it may have proved that we really belong to Generation Z, instead of being Millennials, as there was so much avocado we couldn't even finish it.

While eating our giant bowl of guac and putting the world to rights, we moved onto a bottle of white. Which we quickly made short work of.... It was when discussing what to drink next that I, retrospectively, feel the night somehow turned into one of those Fighting Fantasy role playing books I was obsessed with as a child. If you roll an even number, down a pint of water and go home for an early night. Roll an odd number and have a look at the cocktail menu....

Of course the odds were against us, as we were soon enjoying one of their Chocolate and Cherry Old Fashioneds. Made with cocoa butter washed Bulleit bourbon, sour cherry liqueur, demerara sugar and chocolate bitters, garnished with a cherry and so good we quickly ordered another one each.

This was followed Followed by a Pine Negroni with Tanquery 10 gin, lavender vermouth, pine liqueur, and Arcade bitters. Which, thankfully, carefully straddled the line between being reminiscent of a disinfectant or a drink. It was also pretty strong.

While waiting for our drinks to be made (thumbs up for both the bar tenders that served us at the end bar, who were both lovely) it seemed remiss not to order some pudding from near by Lina Stores, an offshoot of the Soho stalwart.

This was their cannoli stuffed with ricotta and adorned with pistachios and chocolate chips. Very good, pretty substantial - even when you have to share it with your fork-wielding friend - and yours for a fiver.

While the negroni had subtle lavender notes, Stealth's next beverage choice, the lavender soda, was proper full on granny's drawers level. Unsurprising, as it was made from Old Curiosity Lavender gin, lavender cordial and soda, finished with a sprig of dried lavender.

The floral flavour was nicely offset by the special edition nuggets, which we had cracked into due to excessive imbibing and started to covertly tuck into, aided and abetted with a dunk into the accompanying spicy nugget sauce. Worth a try, but the young pretender can't match up to the original.

We finished with our fifth cocktail of the evening, a Honeyflower Flip, made with walnut pampero rum, wildflower honey, coffee, milk, lecithin, and bitters, and which reminded me of drinking Baileys at Christmas. Sweet, creamy and good fun this was entirely superfluous after all that had come before and all the more enjoyable for it, The perfect nightcap, for a perfect night.

I made my train, sans leftover nuggets, which Stealth took and then taunted me with by sending a picture of her polishing the remnant off. As envious as I was, what I really wanted was an individual stuffed crust pizza.