KOBA: A KOREAN DEFEAT
Well, it had to happen sometime. It had to happen that, beaten by the sheer volume of food, I sat across a table as someone else polished off the meal and I stared down at the floor in shameful defeat.
I always expected, when it did happen, it would be HP across from me and it would involve a steak of considerable magnitude. I did not expect it to happen with Korean food, nor did I expect to be vanquished in the appetite stakes by a woman.
I am getting ahead of myself.
One of the real bonuses of the whole EAT MY GLOBE journey/book/publicity is that I have been receiving mails from people around the world telling me they enjoyed reading about my exploits. I always answer every mail, which seems to surprise them, but it does mean that I have built up fascinating correspondences with some remarkable people who, when they are in town, seem keen to meet up, if only to see if the ears are real.
On Monday I found myself in Quilon having supper with respected Indian author, Nandita Puri as she requested that the restaurant made a special Prawn Gassi for me and kept the hot appams arriving until I had to beg them to stop. A remarkable woman with whom I am sure I shall stay in touch.
On Wednesday, it was the turn of Sonia Lo to draw the short straw and watch me eat. She too is an author and had contacted me after reading my own effort horrified that I had not made it to Korea on my journey. She was right, of course, it was one of the great omissions for all sorts of reasons and is high on my future lists of “must visits”
By way of atonement she insisted I join her for supper on Wednesday and chose as our location Koba, a restaurant on Rathbone St that she considers one of London few worthwhile Korean options.
I am not sure about other food bloggers, but one of the downsides of doing this writing lark is that my friends always assume I know more about food than they do and thrust the menu at me to order for the table. Usually I don’t mind as it means I can order all the dishes I want to try, but once in a while it is nice to sit back and let someone else give it a go. When Sonia bundled in a few minutes after me, it was soon pretty clear who was in charge.
“The biggest shame in Korea” she explained “is that someone might leave the table hungry” and with that she began a long and earnest discussion with the waiter as he struggled to keep up with the list of food she was ordering.
It began to arrive soon afterwards and before long our table was covered with dishes. There was kimchi, well of course there was, there always is “but theirs is house made” Sonia told me “a lot of other places buy it in from Germany” Who knew?
There was namool, plates of seasoned beansprouts, spinach and raddish, there was Panjeon, the seafood pancake I first encountered on a visit to LA’s “K-town” There was Kim Goi, strips of toasted seaweed, which Sonia showed me how to wrap around rice to make a salty one bite snack. Best of all, there was Bindae Duk (I think) a mung bean pancake spiked with a powerful hit of chilli.
So much food and more than plenty for a light meal. Then Sonia pointed behind me to where a waiter was pushing a trolley of meat in our direction. It was BBQ time and what was already in front of us was just Sonia’s idea of a Korean amuse bouche. She had ordered four different types of beef for us to sample; rib eye, marbled through with fat, ox-tongue, short rib and marinated sliced beef. The cover was removed from our table grill and in turn each cut of beef was cooked for a few seconds before being plopped on our plate to be dipped in its own sauce.
All sensational stuff, but by now rivulets of meat sweat were already beginning to run from my bald head and down the back of my neck as I struggled to keep up with Sonia who was happily wrapping beef in lettuce with the addition of sliced spring onion marinated in chilli and vinegar and popping the meaty parcels deftly into her mouth in one bite.
When we had finished all of the meat I relaxed, but my relief was short lived as Sonia announced
“Now, we have rice to make sure we are full” as one waiter cleared our meat plates and another appeared carrying a bowl of bibimbap and one more of miso soup with tofu. Sonia instructed our server to stir the contents of the hot stone bowl so they were all combined and then to leave it so the bottom layer of rice developed the pre-requisite crunch. I will never be quite sure how, but we finished it and I sat back in my chair and, in a Homer Simpson moment, loosened my belt with an audible sigh.
“Time for dessert” Sonia announced and about thirty seconds later she was cleaning the last mouthfuls of a bowl of fresh raspberry frozen yoghurt as I watched on in admiration, before finally announcing that the meal had come to an end with the redundant question
“Have you eaten enough?”
Normally my answer to that would have been polite but dishonest not wanting the host to think they had come short in sating my appetite. On this occasion all I could do was nod for fear of the consequences should I open my mouth.
I was defeated. However, if I was defeated, I am glad it was by someone as delightful as Sonia Lo and, in any event, I am already planning a return match at Masters Superfish in the near future. I am looking forward to reaching over as she struggles with the gargantuan “Master Special haddock” and saying
“More mushy peas, love?”
Revenge will be mine and it will be sweet.