Monday, 8 December 2014

Dotori, Finsbury Park, Stroud Green Road

You could say Finsbury Park is the gateway to North East London proper: buses, trains, tubes to Harringay, to Tottenham, Stoke Newington, Clapton and Hackney Central. And get into the West End in 15 minutes. Like many gateways, it's grim and transient. The traffic roars past, through a number of one way systems, and the main roads are lined with litter, commercial waste, 99p stores, a Lidl, and "hotels" which only serve local councils providing emergency accommodation for homeless families.

Stumble off the main drag and you'll find pockets of lovely: Stroud Green Road is experiencing a food-fuelled boom and has some excellent pubs. But eating well on the busy main roads is a challenge.

That is with the exception of Dotori, right in the middle of a traffic island, but possibly the best spot for Korean and Japanese food in this part of the world. And it's no secret: stumble in at any time, whether weekday evening or Saturday afternoon, and the place is heaving. You're well advised to reserve for any sitting - phone or in person, no online.  

There are two separate menus: Japanese and Korean, although you can order from both at the same time. The menus therefore add up to be quite long: but don't be alarmed, there's a relatively small number of ingredients used to make a huge number of different dishes. We ate mainly from the Korean menu, with a couple of sushi items. I'll be back for a full sushi and sashimi experience another time - what we had was fresh and perfectly executed.

The Korean menu has a large number of snacky fried items, fermented vegetables, as well as bi bim baps (rice with fried egg, meat and vegetables), barbecued meats, soups and hotpot stews. Between three of us we shared an excessive number of (not so) little fried dishes, which were some of the best renditions of them I've had in London. 

Tteokbokki - glutinous rice sticks - were just perfectly chewy, and the sauce was fully bolshy, overwhelming, sticky, sweet. You could tell they'd not held back on those pungent anchovies or the gochujang - unlike Korean Food For Hipsters On the Bab in Shoreditch, where the tteokbokki was meek and flavourless.

Dotori know how to use their deep fat fryer - vegetables were still crisp and the batter not too claggy, courgettes, onions, green beans and asparagus making it in to the serving. Squid came crisply fried, though by the uniform patterning I suspect it was from a freezer, but that's what you expect at this price in an Asian restaurant. It was doused in salt and white pepper, and the sweet and sticky sauce was laced with gochujang. 

We enjoyed their signature seafood pancake - the batter was light, filled generously with seafood bits and lots and lots of spring onions. Despite being stuffed full, they held their form well when picked up with chopsticks and smothered in dipping sauce.

Their kimchi cucumbers, sesame dressed spinach, and lightly pickled bean sprouts are a refreshing antidote to the fried food. Sesame spinach, in particular, I could eat endlessly - it's basically just sesame oil, blanched spinach and a few toasted sesame seeds, but it just tastes like the most velvety luxurious thing in the world..

With a bi bim bap to share too, and 4 pieces of very nicely presented and impeccably fresh sushi, our ordering had us more than full. And at £17 a head (including soft drinks and tips), it's a very reasonable way of trying a number of different, authentic Korean dishes without leaving North East London.

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