On The Bab, restaurant review: Korean street dishes for hip diners looking for fun?

 

If you were inventing a restaurant to promote London's scene it would, surely, be this: Korean street food in Hoxton. It's got in-flight magazine article all over it: "Visitors to London will love this edgy eatery." Shudder.

But is that a reason not to love it? Is it owner Linda Lee's fault that kimchi and gochujang have been designated flavours of the month? Certainly not. This place is sating an appetite. If only the food were a little, well, better. Lee already has a Korean restaurant, Koba, and a Japanese, Nizuni, both of which are well reviewed.

On the Bab is a curious name if you're just passing and not down with the whole Korean street-food thing. You might be forgiven for thinking it's a slangy Turkish thing – "on the 'bab". In fact, it means "served with rice", although that's by no means the defining characteristic of dishes on offer.

In a narrow room, all bare bricks and hard seats, the punishing fine-black-print-on-brown-paper menu seems designed to put off ancient crones like me. I use my iPhone torch shamelessly (although when I offer it later to the chap at the next table, who's holding the menu so close it's touching his nose, he shrinks back. Who wants to look "old" in Shoreditch, his expression screams.)

On the Bab is an "anju" joint – in Korea, where food is served with alcohol. Gosh, will it ever catch on? The cocktails are tempting, certainly. It being a school night, I have a Never Drunk, which could be subject to the Trades Descriptions Act. It's soju and tonic, with ribbons of cucumber crammed into the glass. The other drink that's popular is So Maek, which is a beer-and-spirit combo in a metal beaker – Mr M is bemused by it, but not hammered: soju is lighter than your average, or even artisan, gin or vodka.

Perhaps if I'd stuck to a cocktail and fried chicken, everything would have been perfect. Most of our neighbours (the tables are so close together, I know everything everyone orders) are having beers and steamed buns stuffed with spicy meats, before heading elsewhere – I hear "Let's go and get a Viennetta for pudding" from one fleetingly seated couple.

But I want to get my money's worth from the ruinous parking costs of Hoxton Square (and I'm greedy), so we start with pa jeon (a spring-onion-and-seafood pancake, £4.90) and bab twigin (a Korean version of Italian arancini, £3.80). I don't mind food in metal trays on greaseproof paper – lord knows it's ubiquitous – but it only serves to show just how much grease that little pancake has soaked up. It's not terribly nice, but better than an unholy alliance of kimchi and cheese.

I've got the nagging feeling that I could be ordering something different that might be more authentic, or nicer, but the staff are run off their feet and blinking slightly at the relentless arrival of customers.

Maybe the fishcake-and-radish casserole, and the Korean-style kimchi bacon paella with a fried egg on top are taste sensations, but to my lesser-travelled stomach, they are unappealing.

So, yes, stuck in my comfort zone with fried chicken. The yangyum (small size, £11.90) is a heap of misshapes with crushed peanuts and either soy garlic or sweet spicy sauce and shredded cabbage and radish pickle. It doesn't get much more comfort than this (as Gregg Wallace might say).

Craftily, brilliantly, you can get this "half and half", the two sauces proving as addictive as each other. The thick, crisp coating is as much a draw as the meat inside, which is unremarkable, but it's the perfect twin for the booze: one assaults the tastebuds and the other (preferably the beery bomb) slakes the inevitable thirst. Subtle, it ain't.

Mr M is steadfastly working through his bibimbab, a rice-and-vegetable pot spiked with that piquant gochujang sauce and with spicy pork (or bulgogi beef, tender marinated strips) but it's a bit less zingy and more stomach-liner, if we're honest. And with that we're done.

I don't mean to sound grouchy; I'd have killed to have On the Bab near me when my evenings had no destination, just a procession of stopping-off points, where food and alcohol are peripheral, not the main event.

6.5/10

On The Bab, 305 Old Street, London EC1, tel: 020 7683 0361. £55 for two, with a drink

Four more of this week's foodie moments

Dirty Bones

Serving haute fast-food, this opened last week minutes from the office. Classic Yankee and Burger Dog on the menu. Doesn't bode well for "girthwatch".

Istanbul by phone

A mini-break to Istanbul was a culinary jaw-dropper – so many amazing tastes. Used Katie Parla's Istanbul app, which was terrific for hidden gems.

Turkish breakfast

Still in Istanbul, got hooked on the dangerously delicious breakfast of local honey and clotted-cream cheese made with buffalo's milk.

Hot Vegetable soup

Making my austerity January veg soup more interesting by grating coconut cream into it and adding a dash of The Rib Man's Holy Mother of God hot sauce.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick