“…..we had the classic seafood and spring onion pancake and it was one of the nicest versions I’ve encountered in London with sweet octopus and pan fried to the perfect level. Korean fried chicken with soy garlic was indeed very special and perhaps some of the nicest chicken I’ve had when value is considered, not overly crispy with lovely sweetness and spiciness.” Food & Drinks Noob
Even after the destruction of K-town to make way for crossrail, London isn’t short of Korean restaurants and On the bab was one of first wave to open in the capital in December 2013. It is owned by Linda Lee, who also founded highly-rated South-east Asian restaurants Koba and Nizuni. On the bab simply means a dish served with rice and their short menu consists of some traditional Korean dishes, including tofu stew and kimchi paella, as well as fried chicken and a choice of beef, pork, chicken or veggies on top of rice, Korean noodles or steamed buns. It has been dubbed a Korean Anju restaurant, which signifies somewhere that serves dishes with alcohol – they have a nice looking list of cocktails using soju (which translates as “burn alcohol” and is composed of a mix of ethanol and water). We went to the original branch in Old Street (they also have outlets in Covent Garden and Marylebone) – the space is small, seating only 30 with minimalist furnishings, lots of light wood, tiles and (of course) filament bulbs.
We went along at prime time on a Tuesday night but were seated after a short wait and served very quickly. I chose bulgogi beef (grilled marinated beef) on the bab (fantastic value at £8.5) which was served in a massive helping, with mounds of shredded beef on the rice. The quality of the beef was pretty good – it had a nice texture and wasn’t chewy and my rice was perfectly cooked. The shredded cabbage was fresh and the sweetness of the electric orange sauce that it was smothered in worked well with the rest of the dish. The atmosphere was loud and bustling; service was mechanical but efficient enough.
Verdict: inexpensive, tasty Korean street food 7.5/10
“If there’s a better lunch to be had in Britain right now than the beef and barley buns with horseradish, the kid goat curry with the fried potatoes and the brown butter and honey tart served at the Marksman pub on the Hackney Road, I want to know about it” Jay Rayner, The Guardian
The Marksman is a gastropub in Hackney which opened this summer amid a flurry of excellent reviews, most notably a gushing write-up from Jay Rayner. Co-owners Tom Harris and Jon Rotheram made the brave move of buying the pub outright using a combination of their own savings, support from the government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme, crowdfunding and a range of individual investors. They had previously worked together at the Michelin-starred St John hotel restaurant (Harris was Head Chef) which unfortunately ran into financial troubles and closed a few years ago. Rotheram was formerly head chef at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and Oliver has also lended some business support to help start up The Marksman. The renovation of the old pub is excellent – they have cleaned and polished the place, but it still looks like an East End boozer, this was enhanced by the smattering of flat-capped cockney regulars propping up the bar during our visit.
The menu is curt and reasonably priced (especially given the supreme pedigree of the chef/owners) with starters at up to £8 and mains £12-21. I started with a simple but sublime dish of cured sea trout with kohlrabi and crème fraîche (£8) – the trout was a beautiful deep orange colour and had retained its moisture and freshness even after the curing process. It had a nice amount of fat which lended richness and worked well with the pickled kohlrabi. For me, this was a wonderful example of a confident chef letting his ingredients speak through rather than showing off wizzy technical abilities for the sake of it.
We then ordered some mains to share, including a massive hunk of saddleback loin with coco beans and kale (£16) – the meat was juicy, had a fair amount of character and was great value. I was disappointed with the coco beans which were a tad dry and not very creamy, they should have been cooked in a rich, stocky sauce rather than simply being boiled in water. Plaice with cockles, cucumber and samphire was also served in a generous helping and on the bone which meant it was a lot of work to eat but the flesh was really packed with flavours of the sea.
The star of the show was a braised shoulder of lamb with sea beet and mint (£39) – this was served whole along with a puddle of stock and the meat simply fell off the bone. The rustic greens served alongside rounded off the dish nicely. As a true Scotsman, I really enjoyed our artery-clogging fried potato on the side which was concertina-shaped to maximise its fat content. They have a few decent beers and ales on tap, focusing on reasonable but unchallenging beer from the nearby Redchurch brewery.
Verdict: one of the best gastropubs in town 8.5/10