Sunday, 8 August 2010

A barbecue for the British summer

My friend Celia and I are on a joint culinary mission. I'm not sure quite what our aim is, but it involves regular dinner dates in central London trying new and interesting restaurants and finding out about cuisines previously unbeknown to us. This week we checked out Koba, a slick and shiny Korean restaurant in Ftizrovia (or, aspirationally, NoHo), my old stomping ground from when I was studying at nearby UCL.

Celia had acquainted herself with the Bibimbap style of Korean food when she stayed in New York, but I was a total newcomer to the cuisine. Koba serves a range of Korean food, including rice and noodle dishes; its speciality, though, is barbecue. Every table has a gas fired hot plate in its centre, and after we had a tasty miso soup, they fired our grill up.

You could order individual selections of meat (including strips of ox tongue!), fish and vegetables to cook on the barbecue, and there are a range of assorted selections too. We opted for the Koba special selection, which included thin strips of pork belly, baby octopus, prawns, beef, marinaded sweet and spicy chicken, and a spare rib.

Sensing that we were novices (and that I have poor motor skills!), the waiters tended to the barbecue in between serving other tables and showed us how to prepare the food. So once a piece of meat or fish is ready, you take it off the grill, dip in some sesame oil, place it in the middle of a leaf, top it with some thin strips of pickled cucumber and then add some spicy bean/peanut satay-like sauce, before rolling the rest of the lettuce leaf around it and eating it like an interesting relative of the dolmades.

The combination was delicious - the smokiness of the meat, the sourness of the pickle, the earthiness of the peanut sauce and the crisp, greenness of the lettuce leaf. The ritual of preparing each item meant there was build up and anticipation and each mouthful stood out.

While it was delicious, novel and fun, it definitely was more of a 'treat' meal at £25 a head. But there were plenty of cheaper things on the menu. Interesting to note that age old benchmark of an authentic eatery - we were some of the only non-Koreans there, so it's a sure sign that Koba offers a taste of modern Korean cuisine if you fancy it!

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