There are a lot of restaurants that can serve THAI FOOD, but most of it is kind of a watered down approach. I mean, I ate in Busaba about ten years ago when it was one of the first THAI Chains, and it was nothing special, but maybe if you’ve never been to Thailand, you’d enjoy it.
A lot of food in Thailand is eaten by roadsides, because the weather is so hot, people crowd around plastic tables and sit around for hours drinking and piling tables high with plates and bowls. Even when it comes to street food, you can get some really amazing food from vendors selling pork broths and skewers. Usually, it’s just one dish that they have been cooking for years and years.
Now you can find some good Thai food if you go to Giggling Squid , but if you want something that is reminiscent of the food they actually eat in Thailand, you can go to a wonderful Surrey restaurant. Chim’s avoids the cliched image of Thai restaurants, there are no plastic buddhas or elephant sculptures. It’s just a bare restaurant with minimal design, but everything has been carefully set up for you to really experience Thai food in it’s totality.
The first thing you notice when you get the menu is how varied the food is. Most people are familiar with Pad THAI and curries. And if you want them, you can get them here. I first tasted their food when I odered their Massaman curry over the grim lockdown period. It came studded with tender pieces of sweet potato that I at first ssumed to be lumps of fat. The curry had been simmered for hours to create a velvety smooth broth.
When I came to eat last Saturday, I was looking for the kind of food I wouldn’t be able to make at home.
A common idea about Thai food is that it is very spicy, but many of the dishes here are more subtle. Take the Isaan sausage, which is fermented and served with peanuts. It’s not fatty but it was still juicy, and it turned on its head the idea that sausages are cheaply made and processed.
I ordered Tofu Larb, because in the right hands it can be excellent. Rather than the overused Thai basil, it came with fresh mint, and red onions – a deliciously summery salad. I remembered that larb is a popular dish in some parts of northern Thailand and I meant to ask why they had used tofu instead of beef or pork, but I forgot to ask the server. After this healthy opener, I needed something richer to follow it. I ordered deep fried squid, because you have to order at least one seafood dish when eating Thai food. The squid came in some insanely sweet tamarind marinade that nearly broke out of the batter, but was awesome anyway. And I think this one had some grapefruit segments in, maybe because they couldn’t get any pomelo (it is a challenge to find the correct ingredients). By this point I was buzzing from the Italian chardonnay and the huge array of flavours, but I wanted more.
After reading the list of curries available, I was most interested in the Hinlay from Burma. It came in a blue china bowl decorated with roasted peanuts and fronds of coriander; I inhaled the fragrance of fish sauce and turmeric and my heart pounded in anticipation.
The curry itself was gloriously thick, but what stood out were the slices of caramelised plantain that studded the dish. Beside it I had a bowl of virgin white coconut rice that I used to soak up the curry…. One glass of Singha beer on draft and that was me done, in just under two hours I had tasted the real heart of thai cuisine and I had only tried a small section of the menu. I was going to have to return.
In the end, I went back two more times. Like a film that you re-watch to get more meaning, I wanted to see what else the kitchens could offer, and it turned out there were more surprises. Street food often means food that is drunk with alcohol, so I wanted to try one of their cocktails.
Tamarind Whisky sour put a spin on the classic and made an excellent accompaniment to my deep fried tofu. But on the third visit, I was most taken with the Thai Tea-rimasu. Not enough people appreciate how good Thai tea can be. Redder than Chinese tea, it’s often drunk in sweetened form with condensed milk and sugar. But here, they use it’s bright flavour in a truly brilliant dish that is in many ways nicer than a standard tiramasu dessert.
If you go to Chim’s, you get the sense of dishes that have evolved over time. But it’s nothing serious or boring, like a dish that people are too scared to adapt. The basic ingredients may not change, but each time you try the dishes you will get something new from them.
Sometimes restaurants deliver in some unexpected ways and I react in different ways to how I imagined I would.
Like when I went to Hochi Bochi restaurant in Chiba recently.
I was lured in by the varied Okonimiyaki on offer restaurant. The restaurant has a very unique atmosphere With low level tables where we sat on cushions in front of a polished steel grill, which was where the okonomiyaki were cooked. Monje yakki was raw vegetables (tuna, cabbage and sweetcorn) which we combined with the batter to make our very own okonomiyaki.
To my delight the staff were nearly all female, with many of them young students. I started to focus more on them than on the food. They were wearing red bandanas with t-shirts with what looked like the restaurant logo.
I went back a second time the following evening. The restaurant has a great atmosphere where staff call out each order as they go back to the kitchen. In traditional Japanese style the servers greet each customer loudly and this happened on both occasions when I went there with my girlfriend.
Photo of Ayume, my girlfriend Mihi and me. I got so sidetracked by the female staff that my interest was moved away from the food and onto other appetites.
The atmosphere was warm and very inviting. The smoke rising from the grill greeted us as we entered, and the interior was so warm and cosy that we didn’t want to leave.
Ayume served us on both occasions and she was an absolute delight. Watching her sit down to scrub one of the grills in her bare feet was an experience I won’t forget in a long time.
She posed for photos, laughing as she did so. She works there every night from seven. I’d like to go back in a few months time to find out if she and any of the other cute girls are still there.
I realised recently it was naive of me to think that I could go to Korea and make all my problems disappear. cause when you move to a new country, you replace your old problems with new ones.
When i was living in London, I though that everything about Korea was good but now I live here and can see it up close I am aware of all the problems. And, and I can see all the good things about London that Korea doesn’t have. Like basic human rights and customer service….. Or at least, the standard of human rights is lower here.
It sounds harsh but Korea still feels like a very undeveloped country in many ways. The technological advances don’t change the fact that Korea is still a very backwards country in many ways. Luckily I’m not a woman but I still get some of the negatives living here. A case in point: I’m supposed to stand up if an elderly person needs my seat, even if I was on the train first, or I’m tired.
Or i should respect old people no matter what (why)? I guess people don’t usually want to mention how conservative Korea is (but they should!) because they are too busy mentioning the good things.
The train system is not the only bothersome thing (although I recommend taking the bus instead). Like why do I have to order an anju every time I want to go out for a drink? And even though I haven’t found any places that explicitly ban foreigners, there are many places that will do whatever they can to stop them coming in (which is bad, if not worse). Recently I went to a restaurant but they wouldn’t let me order anything because they said I was on my own. The next time i was with a group of Koreans so it was fine. The point is it shouldn’t have happened at all.
Koreans travelling outside their country would expect to treated fairly but it’s naive to think that foreigners will receive fair treatment at all times. I’m seeing a lot of campaigning for tourism in Korea but if the government wants more visitors they’re going to have to do a hell of a lot more to get people to come here. Like improving service in shops and restaurants. And making sure that there are adequate signing in transport areas. Otherwise, people will go to Japan instead and who can blame them?
First, let’s get past the over-familiar, guidebook cliches written about South Korea: It’s a land of contrasts (often the first sentence of many travel guides); its one of the most rapidly developing of Asian countries (actually it was, but the economy has been slowing down in the last few years; the country doesn’t have any old buildings (kind of true, but not the full story).
First things first. Most passengers arrive at Incheon airport, the rectilinear building that was opened in 2009. The first thing you notice is how quiet it is. Korea is often referred to poetically as the land of the morning calm. It’s peaceful and quiet on the day that I arrive. From the airport it’s a one hour bus drive into the centre of town.
Seoul has been a popular tourist destination for many years and traveller numbers are growing every year. Whilst it has a reputation for being closed off to foreigners, it has become a very accessible city.
I wanted to do several things on my trip. Firstly, use the language which I have been learning for the last 16 months. Secondly, I wanted to get to know as many Korean people as I possible. Finally, I wanted to know how it would feel being a foreigner in a country whose population is over 99% ethnically homogenous.
You step on to the subway and typically you are the only white person on board. I keep my head down mostly. The wifi connection means that people can use their phones underground, but nobody bothers sending messages or makes calls, instead they use the countries’ message app Kakaotalk. Its free to send messages and emojis. I also notice how large the elderly population is. With one of the lowest birthrates in the world, South Korea has a huge army of seniors. Sometimes they look at me strangely and at other times they seem to glare, but it’s not always easy to tell. They can be very helpful as well. I go to Busan, and when my ticket won’t open the gate, an ajeosshi (old man) pushes me though the turnstiles at the same time as himself. Interesting fact – they have underground malls at most of the big metro stations. Some of them are easily 500 metres long. And they sell things everywhere. From piles of stockings, winter gloves and scarves, to food stands (the waffle craze is going strong) you can’t travel anywhere without buying something. The stations are huge (some have as many as fourteen gates) and all are very clean. They also have toilets just inside the gates, its very conveninet. The urinals are stationed directly on the floor, meaning that unfortunately it’s possible to aim and miss.
Old vs new
Does traditional culture still exist in modern Korea? Yes, you can find it if you know where to look. You can stay in a hanok (traditional Korean house) in the Bukchon area of Seoul. Girls dress up in hanoks (korean traditional dresses with voluminous and brightly cooloured skirts). The most popular Korean drama is currently Dokkaebi (and it cleverly sets itself in the past and present with a time travelling goblin played by Gong Yoo. Coffee has become extremely popular with several US imports (Starbucks, Dunkin’ Doughnuts, as well as Korean companies such as TOM N TOMS and Yoger Presso). I go to several but disappointingly they are all much the same. It is still possible however to go to a traditional Korean teahouse (tabang), where you can sit on the floor and drink various teas from beautiful Korean ceramics.
I had already primed myself for eating Korean food, and I have enjoyed many bottles of soju. But I wasn’t ready for the sheer amount of it. My first snack was grilled chicken, eaten standing up in the frozen streets near Jongno Samga station. In Busan, I eat the famous odeng (compacted fish cake on a stick) with a cup of fish broth. Everyhwhere in central Seoul you will see pojang machas, the tents that are run by seasoned men and women. I eat a plate of the sweetly spicy snack known as tteokbokki and I am instantly flooded with endorphins. Later in the university district of Hongdae I try a deep fried milyang hotdog on a stick (no bun) which costs WON 1,000, the equivalent of one dollar. If a stall has a long line, it’s usually good indicator of the quality. Korea is a fairly rule-based culture, but it seems you can do anything where selling food is concerned. I wonder why we can’t have the same thing in England, before realising that the red-tape and bureaucracy means that vendors can serve nothing more adventurous than burgers and ice-cream.
In the coastal town of Mokpo, I have some of the best food experiences of all. First, I visit a raw tuna restaurant. They serve different parts of the fish, which we roll up in thin layers of dried seaweed. I try the cheek and the liver, each part having its own different taste. We sit in a private room with curtains which are opened every few minutes by the waitress who has to crouch nearly to the floor to bring in new delicacies.
With so many places offering food and drink, it’s hard to find somewhere that only serves alcohol. Seoul has very few British style pubs. The one I went to was Cask, a wrong-headed attempt to make an upmarket pub, with table reservations and a beer sommelier. One beer here costs 8 dollars. Only a few minutes away I stumble across one of my best finds. Situated above a chicken restaurant and a karaoke room is a hof. I go alone, a daunting prospect. Luckily the barman sits down with me and shows me some drinking games. I try them out on a group of female students on one of the tables next to me and they are impressed enough to spend the next few hours drinking with me.
Whilst it’s rare for traditional Koreans to eat and drink alone, there is now a craze for solo dining and eating known as ‘honsul’ and ‘honbab’. Honsul Couple was also a recent Korean drama starring SHINee. There are even solo noraebang (karaoke) rooms for people who want to sing without the horror of others watching them. I tried one and it was a very liberating experience.
I believe that you should be able to go anywhere on your alone and meet up with someone, make friends. Sadly it doesn’t happen too much in London, where people are more concerned about themselves than other people. But I has several encounters where I met up with people in this way. When I left the girls at the hof, I walked into a pizza place and ate it at the table. Pretty soon I meet a bunch of Korean guys and we start talking. Then someone suggested going on to somewhere. That meant more food and drinking, the place being a yang gochi joint, and I got to try the latest Korean food trend, which is to rotate skewers of lamb over a charcoal barbecue.
What can I possibly say here? Except that – with or without plastic surgery – they are some of the best looking women you will find anywhere in the world. Whether young or old, fashionable or cute, they are all different but at their core they have something about them that is unmistakably Korean. When you approach them always be polite, friendly and respectful. I didn’t always get the best reaction, but it was always interesting.
With the popularity of British culture currently very high, Koreans are very interested in learning about England. I met several women who wanted to practise speaking English with me.
When a big new Korean film is released, everyone goes to watch it. A country smaller than the UK has a very healthy film industry. Recently released Crime thriller Master beat Star Wars to the number one slot at the box office. Its star is Lee Byung Hun, who recently appeared in the American film remake of the Magnificent Seven. I watch it at the luxurious cinema chain Megabox in Busan. Cartoons are also very popular, with Japanese anime Your Name currently topping the box office. In Seoul, I try a DVD room, a place where you can watch a DVD in a private screening room. I watch a Korean film Shinsegae(New World) which also happens to be the name of the country’s largest department store. It’s possibly the most violent Korean film I have watched.
K-pop has been the biggest thing in Asia for the last several years and shows few signs of slowing down. Not everyone loves it by any means and some Koreans hate it. When I was staying in Gangham, I found a Dunkin’ Doughnuts store right outside the offices of JYP Entertainment. I was surprised to see that most of the women waiting to catch a glimpse of their idols are middle-aged tourists from Japan. Right now the biggest acts in K-pop are the Korean/Taiwanese/Japanese girl group Twice and boy band 2PM. English music is also very poplar and it seems that Koreans love romantic ballads by Sting, The Bee Gees, and Ed Sheeran.
Politics and protest
Nowadays everyone must surely be aware of the political storm surrounding President Park Geun-hye. Even sub-zero temperatures couldn’t keep the protestors away from the streets of Seoul on the Saturday I visited. But away from the main pro-democracy protest calling for the President’s resignation, there was another protest defending the president against all the charges. The pro-park rally gathered outside Seoul Station, where they sang the National anthem and waved the Korean flag. There was a slightly sinister air about it. The old guard, who supported Park Chung Hee (dictator until 1979) obviously don’t want things to change.
The best of Korea
Here are some of the places I enjoyed visiting on my trip:
Bukchon Hanok village: I stayed here with Miho for three nights.
Busan, Seoul’s second city is only three hours away from Seoul by train. The food is different and the people speak with a different dialect. I found it to be very laidback and relaxed.
It’s now been more than three years since I moved from East London to London’s Koreatown and although I occasionally think about leaving, I have never made any serious attempts to do so.
I’ve lived in many different places since I left home. But the first time I managed to feel that I lived in somewhere I could call my own was when I moved to this charming London suburb.
The question I sometimes ask myself is, if I hadn’t have moved to New Malden, would I still be interested in Korea? True, I had liked Korean movies ever since 2005, and I thought that the food was good too. But when I moved to New Malden, which has approximately 10,000 Koreans living here, I realised that food and films were just a few of the things that I would love about Korea.
It was after a few months living here that I began to consider learning the language. It seemed ridiculous at first, but I started to build a list of basic phrases that I could use in the local shops and restaurants.
Korean is a dreadfully complicated language. But I can hold a basic conversation with people and I have a bookshelf crammed with Korean textbooks. I can still remember the first words I learned in Korean. No doubt I was aware of what a big journey I was going on even at the time back then.
As for the people, they have been another reason why I have been learning the language with such enthusiasm.
From the time I first started meeting Korean women, I have been near-obsessed with talking, getting to know them, and spending time with them. In the last three years I have gone on more dates than I had in my life up until that point.
I still feel a pang of something when I think back to the first time I went out with a Korean woman. Although she was older than me (and married) we had an electric connection. Without doing anything physical, she turned me on completely, just because of her attitude and her aura. I’ve been looking for this in other women but I’ve never managed to find it.
I had to wait a several months before my first Korean girlfriend, but when it happened it was completely worth it.
I see that I’m not the only one in my town who likes Korean women. And to be honest, it’s not hard to see why men would prefer them to other women. Not only are they (usually) very smart, they are super-sexy, without being trashy or slutty.
As for now, I’m blissfully happy living in New Malden with Korea on my doorstep, but I want more. That’s why I’m travelling to South Korea on the Tuesday after Christmas. I’ve waited three years for this moment and it’s finally approaching. Part of me wishes I had been able to travel earlier, before the birth of Korean cool that has seen the numbers of foreign visitors go up from 9 million in 2012 to 13 million in 2015. But there is no right time, I guess.
It’s going to be one amazing adventure and you can follow it all on here. I just wish you could come along too.
Jason Atherton is a great guy. He signed my menu for me when he was the guest chef for the London Art Week Pavilion in 2013.
When Gordon Ramsay opened his Maze restaurant in 2005, he chose Atherton to work there as head chef. I remember being amazed by the range of food, and the fact that you could order 10 or 12 small plates of tapas style dishes. The sharing concept was a new idea for London then but now you can find it everywhere in restaurants ranging from Peruvian ceviche joints to Italian tapas (Bocca Di Lupo).
As well as several Social restaurants, Atherton has now added Sosharu to the list. I haven’t been, but the restaurant has been reviewed very approvingly by several restaurant critics, including Jay Rayner (The Observer).
Giles Coren is my favourite food critic and I was keen to see what he had to say about it…..
After spending the first page of his review in rapturous praise of the toilets, which leave him ‘with a spring in his step, snd a full 10/10 waiting to be hung around Sosharu’s neck’, he gets round to discussing the food. I normally don’t mind some background information before going into specific details enjoyable but this is overdoing things somewhat.
Coren tries ‘two tiny rectangles of hamachi sashimi’ which come on a tray ‘made of ice and set in a wooden block.’ They are ‘too small to count as food’: it seems like he is going to be harsh about the small portions but he praises the scallop tartare as ‘fresh, summery, relatively filling, and fun to eat with the sleek wooden sticks.’
Then an open temaki, which pleases Coren very much. Not least the playful preparation of the dish, which comes with a miniature plastic bottle, similar to the squeezy bottles so often used by chefs for drizzling and dribbling sauces on to plates. He sees this as evidence of Atherton’s more playful approach to food and notes that ‘the great man may be truly lightening up.’
On trying the ‘best deep-fried chicken’ (Karage); Coren notes the value of his choice (£6.60), and finds himself ‘yodelling for the wasabi mayonnaise again’ which is served in another plastic bottle. The usually loquacious writer can only describe the taste as ‘dreamy.’
Already won over, he tries a ‘hockey puck of chashu pork belly and a puck of cabbage’ which are served on udon and oyster mushrooms. The presentation, so important in Japanese food, is given as much significance as the taste. The sheet of nori stuck in the side is described as like a 99 flake in a Mister Whippy, and tastes ‘exquisite.’
Too full to eat any more, he leaves a miso-glazed aubergine, having dined there alone.
The winner of the Restaurant writer of the Year award, Coren always makes you feel you can almost taste the food with his vivid descriptions of tastes and flavours.
His final scores are:
Review published in the magazine of The Times Magazine. Saturday 10 September.
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.
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
Who goes there? Cool kids with money to spend and groups of middle-aged locals.