Thursday, 23 December 2010

Restaurant Review: Dotori

Korean food has made it to Soho in quite a pronounced way with Koba and a handful of others confirming that neighbourhoods continued status as one of those most receptive to new eating trends.  There's also a few good places in Holborn and around town.  But it's still not a cuisine that has captured the imagination like sushi, if sadly not the rest of Japanese cuisine, started to do in the mid-nineties.  Maybe that's why Dotori offers ramen and sushi alongside its Korean options to guarantee custom.  This stuff looked good, but we weren't interested in that, we wanted the satisfying bibimbaps and kimchi stews on offer, and we certainly weren't disappointed by their quality.

If I were trying to characterise South East Asian food in a few words - something I don't recommend - I would probably talk about the abundance of fresh herbs, lime juice and lemon-grass, I might even say something as meaningless as zingy.  By the time we get North to Korea the character is very different - vinegars and deep, rich sweet and fermented bean and fruit pastes are much more likely to define your meal than the lighter flavours of the South.  Having said that there is definitely variety and our first course showed this.  A seafood pancake, reminiscent of Vietnamese happy pancakes stuffed full of fish, prawn, mussels and squid, the batter was not completely set inside, but there was so little of it there barely mattered.  The inside was almost all 'the good stuff', i.e. the seafood itself, whilst the exterior was made up of the majority of the batter, which made up a thick and crunch shell.  Very good, but maybe one or two more flavours would have really brought it alive.

The same was true of the kimchi and pork stew.  Kimchi is the pickled, chillied cabbage ubiquitous in Korean cuisine - so much so that the average Korean eats around 20kg of it every year.  This dish was good as well, but suffered a little from the same faults as the starter.  A little more richness, and a bit more complexity would have been welcomed.  The kimchi flavour is very nice - if you've never tried it think sour kraut and your getting there - and added a lovely vegetal sourness, with a good chilli heat, but I would have liked the pork to come through a bit more.  Still a good dish though.

What was even better and addressed all my, slightly pedantic given that I enjoyed eating them, issues about the first two dishes.  Nuance, richness, bags of layered and satisfying flavour were all to be found in the raw beef bipimbap.  Bibimbap is the most common dish in Korea, a bit like a sandwich here I'm told.  It's a bowl of rice, vegetables and pickles, with some kind of protein and a raw egg yolk,with a bit of bean, plum or mustard paste.  What makes it particularly interesting is that the stone bowl is roasting hot and crisps the rice at the bottom before the whole thing is mixed and keeps doing so as you eat, continually developing the textures and flavours of the dish.  The raw been stayed raw for most of the time adding a lovely texture and a light meaty flavour, but some cooked changing the character. The crispy bits of rice added a lot to an otherwise soft dish and the sweetness of the plum paste contrasted brilliantly with the sweet pickled cucumbers.  These were light and fresh and went well with the fresh grated carrot, which got sweeter as the heat got to it.  All in all absolutely delicious and the kind of dish that makes you boring by ordering it every time you go somewhere.

Finsbury Park is really close to me, hence my trip to Dotori, which is a wonderful local place especially as it offers something very different from the other food in the area.  It's a great and very enjoyable local restaurant if not worth travelling for on its own.  If you are around though, I heartily recommend you go, and given how popular it is (full every weekday evening, except Monday when it's closed) you should definitely book.  And if you do go, follow my example and be boring by going for the raw beef bibimbap.

Price: £22 for two drinking tapwater
Telephone: 020 7263 3562
Address: 3 Stroud Green Road, Finsbury ParkLondonN4 2DF 

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