Seoul food with a difference...
International cuisine is a great tiger legacy, as this korean restaurant proves
So aside from all this debt, what did the Celtic Tiger ever do for us? One good thing springs to mind and that is the hordes of young immigrants who arrived with their own food culture, who have utterly revitalised Dublin's north inner-city.
NOT so long ago Capel Street and Parnell Street were urban wastelands at night, but now we have an abundance of lively open-all-hours ethnic restaurants and shops -- a win-win for us all.
Korean is perhaps the most intriguing of the new food cultures to be introduced to the city. As well as rice and meat dishes a major focus is on side dishes, particularly the fermented spicy vegetable dish, kim-chi, which is served at every meal.
Kim-Chi is also the name of the best Korean restaurant in Dublin. Most Korean restaurants are Chinese in focus with a small selection of Korean dishes, whereas Kim-Chi's menu is Korean mixed with some Japanese noodle dishes and sushi.
To make sure they fitted in well, Kim-Chi's owners wisely opened an adjoining traditional pub called The Hop House so that Irish and Korean cultures and culinary arts could intermingle -- and surprisingly, stout and kim-chi are a perfect match.
So, to explore this branch of our new food culture I choose an adventurous foodie friend who loves spices and will eat anything.
We got lots of help from our waiter picking our way through the menu and decided to stick with Korean dishes.
The wine list is a selection of modern classics from Pinot Grigio to Shiraz so, for extra authenticity, we ordered OB Korean beer and a bottle of Soju with the evocative name Chum Churum. Soju is a little like a half-strength vodka and is served chilled.
Fried squid in crispy tempura batter arrived with a delicious, sweet, black-sesame-seed dipping sauce. Next came Kim-chi pancakes -- discs of battered preserved cabbage, light and crispy with a spicy tangy quality. Both dishes disappeared in seconds and worked best with the light refreshing beers.
My guest ordered a Bibimbap, the classic Korean comfort food -- a large bowl of rice, vegetables and minced beef, topped with a raw egg which you cook when you "screw it all together" with the accompanying chilli sauce, as our waiter explained.
I liked this dish but my guest found it a little sweet -- primarily the fault of the sauce. She contented herself by eating all our banchan (small dishes) of kim-chi, bean sprouts, potatoes and courgettes, and stealing fish from my soup.
For the main course I ordered Zampong Tang, a spicy soup of prawns, mussels and squid that came with its own flaming burner to keep it piping hot.
We had laughed off the warnings of extreme spiciness from our waiter but I confess that both of us ended up rather hot and bothered. Help was at hand, however, as shots of cooling Soju spirit is the perfect antidote to the fiery soup.
Koreans do not do dessert and that's probably just as well, as we were full, thanks to the generous helpings. We contented ourselves by observing the nearby couple trying in vain to flirt with the "dishy boy" who had served them all evening (my guest's description). As well as the dishy boys working in Kim-Chi we were equally enchanted by our smiley (and let's be honest, dishy) waitresses.
So go and be charmed by Kim-Chi -- even the depressing walk down deserted O'Connell Street failed to dampen our spirits.