Peter Morrell and his wife enjoy taking the culinary road less travelled at this fun eaterie
One thing that makes London such an exciting place to live is having access to a whole range of cuisines from around the world. My wife and I were recently in lively Bethnal Green Road to take advantage of one of these exciting culinary opportunities. We were going to eating in a Korean Barbecue restaurant called Yan Ji which has been getting good reviews.
The interior décor of the restaurant was cool and cosy with a twist of industrial chic. The layout of the restaurant is dictated by the way the food is cooked. Four seater booths line each side of the dining space. Normal so far, however in the middle of each table was a mini barbecue without any charcoal in it, we both puzzled as to how we would cook on it. A further refinement was the oblong plates. Divided into two, the far side was split into three sections, one held a Korean chilli sauce and two contained spice mixes, one spicy, the other aromatic.
The menu offered an interesting range of starters like duk bob gi, stir-fried rice cake with a spicy sauce and jap chae, stir-fried glass noodles. More familiar dishes like chicken, vegetable and prawn dumplings were also available. My wife chose kimchi pancake and I had cucumber with pig’s ears. For those who don’t know, kimchi is Korea’s national dish. It’s vegetables fermented with salt in a spicy sauce and most typically made with cabbage. It’s also a superfood, packed with probiotics and vitamin C and is something you must try.
When the starters arrived the portions were generous. My pig’s ears had been very thinly sliced and the seasoning was just right. I eat this dish as the ear has a line of pure white cartilage running through it which gives the meat a satisfying crunch. It was delicious, with the freshness of the cucumber adding another dimension.
My wife’s kimchi pancake was equally good, it was well spiced with its own crunchy quality of batter and vegetable.
At this point, we could have chosen more traditional Korean main courses like spicy kimchi pork, beef spare ribs or the famous bibimbab, rice with vegetables and egg, but we were here for the barbecue experience
There was a choice of skewers and items to cook in a pot or on a hot plate. Pot and hot plate options included oyster, scallops, pig’s trotter aubergine and sweet corn. We majored on the skewers, and there was a long list of tempting options, examples were chicken hearts and gizzard, lamb’s kidney and quail’s eggs. We chose one each of king prawn, squid legs and pork belly and also had enoki mushrooms in a pot.
Just as the barbecue food arrived everything was put in place to enable the cooking. An oblong steel box filled with hot charcoal was set into a recess in the table, an extractor pipe was lowered over the grill. The extractor ducting doubled as the industrial chic décor, making a virtue out of a necessity. Finally, two slotted bars moved backwards and forwards on either side of the charcoal filled grill. The skewers have small stars at one end that fit into the slotted bars. Once engaged they rotate the skewers for you, making the grilling process a cinch.
The staff kept popping back to make sure we were not under or overcooking the food and were very helpful and supportive.
All the food was delicious, the assiduously spiced prawns were delicate and delicious, the pork belly packed with flavour and the squid legs tender and juicy. Wire handles on the pot of enoki mushrooms allow it to sit above the coals and cook through. Looking like noodles, the mushrooms had a pleasant chewy texture and a good strong taste.
It was a fun thing to do, and we enjoyed the uniquely flavoured food with its subtle, smoky aroma.
The drinks menu was quite short but had some interesting items. Soft drinks had a sprinkling of things like iced green and Chinese herbal tea, plum juice and coconut milk. There was soju, a Korean distilled spirit and beers. The table next to us had an impressive 2.5 litre growler of Kirin. Wine wise prosecco was available, one rose, three reds and the whites were all aromatic.
Our pairing for the evening was the Le Pionnier, a French white made in Gascony from a blend of colombard and ugni blanc grapes. There were strong citrus aromas in the bouquet of this wine and these were joined by notes of tropical fruits on the palate. The lively acidity which worked well with the powerful food.
To complete the barbecue theme the dessert was skewers of marshmallows, an ideal finish.
This diversion from our standard culinary journey had been a welcome and intriguing change from the norm and I can thoroughly recommend it.
153 Bethnal Green Road,
London E2 7DG
020 3971 1244