Va piano – Berlin

They seem to have a thing about Italian food in Germany. For example,  the biggest manufacturer of frozen pizzas is Dr Oetker.

Not only is pasta everywhere but pizza is so popular you could be mistaken for thinking that you were in Naples.

On a recent visit to Berlin with my girlfriend, we happened upon this place.

Upon arrival we were presented with a card and instructed to swipe it every time we ordered something.

It struck me straight away as a gimmick and instantly turned me off the place. Then we were led to the seating area. There were several stations where you could order risotto, pasta and pizza.

the emphasis is on freshly prepared food cooked in front of you.

It’s a lovely idea but it fell apart straight away. The chef couldn’t hear us because of the din. People were waiting for half an hour for their food. Cooking each dish individually means that the chef can only prepare one dish at a time.

Standing around waiting doesn’t feel like you are in a restaurant, more like McDonalds.

There’s a very good reason why most restaurants don’t have open kitchens: most (nearly all) chefs are ugly with terrible anger-management problems.

There’s also nothing remotely interesting about watching an overworked Polish immigrant cooking the 100th bowl of pasta.

My bowl of spaghetti Carbanora tasted tougher than my shoelaces.No doubt it was not properly cooked because of the throng of people waiting at the counter. I sent it back and the second bowl was scarcely any better.

Shareholders love this idea, and you can see why. Getting the customers to place their order and wait for it means they can do away with waiting staff. Hell, you don’t even need a kitchen, you have the chefs prepare everything in the dining room.

I was so taken aback by the concept that I investigated the company. It turns out that they have restaurants in London too with a big one near the Thames at Bankside. If this is the future of restaurants, count me out.

Va Piano, Alexander Platz

My thoughts on the EU referendum.

You’ve now heard the results: Britain has decided to leave the European Union after a 40-year alliance setting back years of progress and integration.

The majority of voters in London voted to leave Europe, in stark contrast to voters in Scotland, who voted by a majority of 68% to remain in…

What does this mean for the future of the United Kingdom? Right now, we don’t have a new government to lead a post EU-break-up Britain. After the result was confirmed on Friday, David Cameron swiftly announced his resignation as Prime Minister, as many suggested he would.

Why did so many people vote to leave, in spite of all the warnings from politicians, economists and lawyers? Here’s what I take away from this referendum: people felt sick of being told how to think, how there was only one way they should vote in the referendum. All the arguments were negative, in that they warned of the dangers of leaving the EU, rather than emphasising all of the positives that come from membership.

A far more significant reason for the result has been the 3.5 million EU residents living in the UK. That’s the highest number of foreign residents at any time. As a small country, there is a sense that we can only take in a certain numbers of immigrants before things are unbearably stretched. You only have to look at London, with its transport system bursting at the seams , overcrowded schools and NHS waiting lists. It might not be fair to blame the migrants directly.

Of course there have been many benefits from migration,  but if you’re a business man, you gain much more from cheap labour than a UK worker who sees stagnant wages and little chance of ever earning a decent living.

For me the tipping point was when the EU relaxed laws of free movement from former communist countries Romania and Bulgaria. We saw thousands coming in to the UK in a short space of time. These were people with no skills to offer, yet they were coming into England with exactly the same rights as UK citizens.

For immigration to work, there has to be a benefit both for local people and the immigrants. For example, I live in an area which has the largest community of Koreans in Europe. You can see the benefits straight away. Not only are the Koreans who have moved here incredibly hardworking, but they have a real sense of civic pride in the local area. They are quick to learn English and cause few social problems. They just get on with their lives quietly.

Contrast this with people from India, the Middle East and Pakistan, who move here with large families and require bigger council houses and more social support. They have less desire to integrate and seem reluctant take on local customs.

Most intelligent people ought to consider the head covering worn by muslim women despicable yet because of the large numbers of women wearing it we have become accepting of it. Once a group of people in society begin to act noticeably different form the majority they become a very marked ‘other’. No wonder people are uncomfortable around Muslim people, for this reason.

We’ve always felt isolated from mainland Europe. We have a suspicion of anything ‘foreign,’ only accepting them when they are made acceptable to our English taste (see Indian curries, which are nothing like authentic curries in India.

I’ve been trying to think of a recent comparison to this decision, yet anything falls short. Perhaps you have to look to Henry VIII’s break from Rome to find anything remotely comparable. These are exciting times to be British, make no mistake.



Does South Korea have a problem with women?

The recent news coming out of Korea has not been good. Aside from the prospect of Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear weapons build-up, there has been the continuing controversy of the government’s response to the Sewol ferry.

In the last two weeks there have been two articles from Western publications which have highighted the limits which women face in the workplace.

Korea has one of the lowest scores of a developed country when it comes to gender equality, being ranked 115th out of 145 countries. This means that most women face almost insurmountable barriers when it comes to working. For example, women are not employed if bosses feel they will become pregnant.

As well as the problems of employment, women have it hard at home, where they do nearly all of the housework. They also face immense scrutiny when it comes to their appearance (the amount of plastic surgery centres in Seoul shows how far theuy are prepared to go for perfection).

It seems that in a culture as seeming modern as South Korea, the old Confucian values die hard. I don’t believe that all Koreans hate women. I think that there are a number of men (as there are in this country) who resent women who show any signs of wanting to avoid a traditional path.

The article in the NY Times referred to a recent murder of a woman by a man who said he killed the woman because he felt that he had been ignored by women his whole life. The comments in the web pages that were set up for the victim were hijacked by men who left comments such as “you’re as helpless as you let yourself be.”

These comments are unpleasant but I doubt that they represent all of Korean men. One thing that will make life easier for women in South Korea is for the government to pass the anti-discrimination bill which would help reduce discrimination, create legal protections and compensation. The women of south Korea deserve much better than what they are currently given to them from their government.

Dotori, Stroud Green Road

How many Londoners are aware that only 20 minutes from central London there is a cosy enclave of 20-or so Korean restaurants? Not too many, if this highly popular restaurant is anything to go by.

It’s Korean/Japanese which means that sushi is served alongside bowls of bibimbap and Japchae.

It’s on the corner of Stroud Green Road, an unwelcoming part of north London just across from Finsbury Park tube.


So what’s it like? Well, its tiny. Inside capacity looks like it can seat 24 diners. Waiters hurry up and down delivering food on tables no bigger than a chessboard.

The small size won’t be a problem, however, if you are Asian-sized, but some people are going to have difficulties. Last Monday two Australian women looked awkward as they moved, crablike, into their seats.

On our first visit we tried a tempura bento box and bulgogi bento. Ingredients were good and the tempura was deliciously crisp.

There were no offerings of kimchi but we were given a bowl of iceberg lettuce before our food came.

On Saturday we went back to try something Korean. We ordered Saewoo Dolsot. It was a hefty sized bowl but lacked some of the vegetables you would normally find, such as beansprouts. The prawns benefitted from the gochugang sauce which we stirred liberally into the rice. It was good but by the time we had finished the restaurants was feeling incredibly claustrophobic. In true Asian style, we dined and dashed, but not before paying the bill (a not unreasonable £11.95, for the Dolsot and a glass of Ice GreenTea).

Dotori, 3 Stroud Green Rd, London N4 2DQ

Food: 3/5

Service: 3/5

Atmosphere: 2/5

Who goes there? Cool kids with money to spend and groups of middle-aged locals.


Remembering Sewol

Two years ago a passenger ferry carrying 476 people sank off the coast of Jeju Island, South Korea. 304 lives were lost, including 250 high school students who were en route to Jeju Island for a school trip.

To this day, no government body or official has accepted responsibility for the event or given any form of official apology.
The group “Remembering Sewol UK” was set up on after several silent protests on behalf of the people who died in this terrible tragedy.

I spoke to Debbie Kim – who works for the organisation – to see if she could explain why after two years the families of the victims are still looking for answers


“The Truth Shall Not Sink”

Firstly, in spite of its technological advances, South Korea is not a hugely safety-conscious society. The boat that the students were travelling on was not in good enough order to make the journey. This, along with the fact that it was heavily overloaded, means that the disaster was in some ways foreseeable.

Whilst the boat was sinking, TV crews filmed the event which was broadcast live on TV news. The lifeboats that were dispatched rescued all of the crew first. Yet, there were no lifeboats sent out to rescue the passengers, and in such an emergency situation why did the coastguard not respond quicker?

For one thing, the coastguard refused offers of assistance from Japan, from fishing boats and the US navy. It seems that those in charge were negligent, or they didn’t respond quickly enough. It might have been possible, if the coastgurard had acted sooner, to rescue the passengers.

Two years on, the families of the nine victims whose bodies have not been recovered, (who include children, a teacher and a member of the public) are still waiting for the ship to be retrieved.

There has been a permanent tent set up in the main square near the Blue House, the official residence of the President of South Korea.

Some believe that the media set out to deliberately smear the family. They got their compensation, they should move on. The story, which was front page news is in danger of being forgotten by a public addicted to instant news and the next interesting story.

One positive outcome is that the students who witnessed the disaster are becoming more aware of the flaws of their government. Many have had enough of what they see as the corrupt establishment, which has in its president a relation of the dictator who crushed the student regime in 1980.

Some are so sickened by what they term “hell Choson” that they are leaving to work abroad in countries like New Zealand and Australia. It was perhaps inevitable that a country which has some of the highest working hours recorded of any country would see a backlash.

Rememebering Sewol has supporters throughout the world and has recently established a link with victims of the Paris attacks through a Remembering Sewol group there.

There have been screenings of the dcoumentary “Upside Down” and the parents have recently travelled to the UK to meet with parents of the Hillsborough survivors.

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