Posted on Sunday, 2nd November 2008
It’s mid-term and schools are out. There are no classroom lessons, but lessons from parent to child are taught on a daily basis. Some will be of the practical kind, like how to tie shoelaces, looking both ways before crossing the road or how to properly brush teeth. The kind of teachings about life that when we grow older, we simply take for granted.
Some of my life lessons I also learnt in my father’s kitchen. Like the one about always heating the pan first to the appropriate temperature to allow meat, etc, to brown. As a youngster, I knew not the science, but I knew it made food taste good, intensifying flavour by creating that little bit of extra crispiness on the surface of the food.
At a more technical level, browning occurs as a result of the moisture on the surface of the meat evaporating when it comes into contact with high heat. Consequently, a chemical reaction takes place whereby the proteins on the surface of the meat develop. It then leads to the caramelising effect which ‘browns’ the meat, adding not only flavour, but also a more appetising appeal with the added (brown) colour. ‘Browning’ is also known as the Maillard reaction, so named for the French scientist who first investigated the reaction. It is one of the reasons why when we partake in our beloved BBQs we always make sure the heat is high so that we get that wonderful outer layer of flavour and crispiness on our steaks and sausages. It is also the heat that creates that mouth-watering aroma of smoking, sizzling meat which makes the wait for the cooking food sometimes unbearable.
So it was with this thought in mind – the allure of a good sizzle – that we ordered some Korean BBQ at a little hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant called Myung Ga. Decorated like a school canteen with yellowish lighting and Korean writing as wallpaper backdrops, it set an uninspired tone as a restaurant. However my reading of the Time Out review on their food and service had been promising, and I’ve never been averse to a poorly decorated restaurant should the food prove to be good.
The menu contained a variety of BBQ choices and traditional Korean dishes. After placing our orders of BBQ seafood (£20) (fish, prawns, scallops and mussels) and BBQ beef tenderloin (£8.90) with sesame oil and garlic, I proceeded to chat merrily away with my friend. Totally engrossed in our conversation, at a certain juncture I stopped mid-sentence, to watch aghast and with great consternation, the waiter commit a grave cardinal sin.
The griddle in the centre of the table was not hot, for the waiter had just turned it on. So as he placed the first scallop onto it to begin the cooking process I couldn’t help but point out this particular fact to him: that the griddle was not hot. As if one transgression was not enough, he then proceeded to demonstrate another. “Don’t worry,” he replied, “it’s frozen,” referring to the seafood. If the purpose of his response was to illicit comfort from us then it surely failed. Any particular logic behind his words failed to engage with my brain, although I suspected it might have had something to do with the fact that as frozen seafood, it was necessary to cook on a lower heat to ensure that it was cooked through properly. Although why the food was not fresh to being with, or if frozen not defrosted in the first instance, were two matters I didn’t quite understand.
Those words resonated in my ear like a painful echo throughout the rest of the evening. The BBQ was unsatisfying: the seafood for its origins and cooking technique, the tenderloin because it was overpowered by too much garlic. An additional dish of bibimbap (£8.20) also didn’t quite hit the mark. It was under seasoned with sesame oil, thereby missing a good, strong aromatic fragrance, and it was also served without the mandatory egg.
Time came to ask for the bill and it took a little while to secure eye contact with the wait staff. Reminiscent of high school teenagers who chat throughout the duration of a class and pay scant attention to the teacher, they appeared to be much more engrossed in their conversations with one another at the bar than being on the look-out for the needs of their customers. This basically seemed to summarise the irreverence of the tone of the service during the evening. It was a Monday night, so perhaps the manager was missing in action. But Dehesa down the road was doing a thumping trade as I walked past after leaving the restaurant, so errors of this magnitude won’t be forgiven by a discerning Soho crowd.
Lessons are learnt everyday. Mine for today was characteristic of one I learnt when I was young. Like not brushing your teeth, poorly prepared food can leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Myung Ga Korean Restaurant at:
1 Kingly Street,
London, W1B 5PA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 8220