With Michael away in New York, I managed to convince my stepdad to share mum and let me keep her in London the night before her birthday, provided that she was on the first train home the following morning. Since the two of their birthdays are actually only 9 days apart, their joint birthday gift was to be a family dinner at Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack, paid for by Michael & moi. With that in mind, the venue for mum’s & my cheeky date night was to be more of a low-key affair.
Since mum loves Korean food but never gets to eat it (being a country bumpkin and all), I could think of nowhere better to feed her Seoul than On the Bab.
Service: We arrived at the Shoreditch branch just before 7pm on a Tuesday evening, to “beat the queue”, only to be met by a queue spilling out of the front door and lining the street.
Intent on holding out regardless of the wait, we joined the back and nattered away for a few moments before the lady with the clipboard (who, since visiting Mildred’s, Dishoom and Granger & Co., I have learnt is the absolute most important person to befriend in a restaurant) greeted us and informed us of the 30-minute wait. She was incredibly welcoming and apologetic, saying sorry over & over again, promising to do all that she could to speed up the wait. It was totally unnecessary as mum & I were happy to wait for good food and enjoy the half-decent summer’s evening, but it was appreciated and refreshing, nonetheless. The lovely lady also returned multiple times to update us as to the current wait time, which turned out to be less than originally estimated.
I love an open kitchen, and the teeny-tiny size of On the Bab’s makes it feel quite family-like and homely. The exposed white brick and red neon lighting also blends well with the trendiness of the surrounding Shoreditch area.
Food: The menu offers a variety of authentic and ‘modern’ Korean food.
Mum actually lived in Korea for many years as a young’un, studying Korean at Yonsei University, resulting in her being a fluent speaker and having a great affinity for the country, and especially the food. She was so excited at seeing some of her favourite dishes on the menu, although utterly horrified at the modern infusion and mention of steamed buns.
Absolutely in her element, she went large on starters & sides.
From the starters, we ordered the spring onion & seafood pancake (£4.90), pan-fried chicken dumplings (£3.60), and broccoli salad with Korean dwenjang mayo (£3.90). The pancake had a crisp outer & soft inner, with the sprinkling of spring onion adding punchy, fresh flavour. I enjoyed the texture of the pancake a lot, but I must admit that it wasn’t the most flavoursome food that I have ever eaten – a good sauce would have been most welcomed in place of the rather weak & bland liquid that it came with.
The pan-fried chicken dumplings were fantastic, with a nice chewy casing and meaty filling. They were a little greasy, but truly authentic Asian dumplings should be, just as they are served at Eight over Eight & Roka.
The broccoli salad was a rather bleak affair. I chose the dish as I thought it sounded quite tasty and fancied a bit of greenery, although from the very start mum was having none of it on the basis that it “wasn’t authentic”, so I had the little jar all to myself. I mean, I like broccoli, a lot, so I ate it, but it was nothing more than cold broccoli with a squeeze of mayo – it certainly wasn’t a salad and, for the price, I definitely wouldn’t order it again.
From the sides, we had the kimchi (£2.00), seasoned bean sprouts (£2.00), toasted seaweed (£2.00), and a bowl of rice (£2.00).
I have it on good authority that the kimchi was “spot on”, with the right balance of crunchier & gloopier bits, sauce & spice. The bean sprouts are a side that I imagine most people wouldn’t order, but I would strongly recommend that they do, as the flavour was both tasty and unusual. Mum & I are big lovers of seaweed, and On the Bab’s toasted version was very moreish (it’s also a superfood, so get it down you!). Rice is rice, but it was cooked correctly.
“The proof is in the pudding”, as they say, and I can think of no way better to illustrate this when recommending food than by re-ordering. Hence we had another round of ‘picky bits’, featuring the pan-fried chicken dumplings (£3.60), seasoned bean sprouts (£2.00), toasted seaweed (£2.00) and, not one, but two, orders of kimchi (£2.00 each) – I swear she could live off the stuff!
Finally we moved onto mains.
Mum ordered the spicy tofu & seafood stew, with free range egg, made KOBA style (£7.00), and a side of rice (£2.00). She told me that whilst living in Korea this was her staple breakfast, and I could tell by her excited slurping that she was loving every spoonful. In fairness to her love affair with Asia, she still opts for the traditional meat & noodle soups on offer at the breakfast buffet when we are ‘holidaying’ in Thailand.
I had the bulgogi beef bibimbab (9.50), made up of a bed of rice, various vegetables, marinated beef and a fried egg. It was DELICIOUS – the vegetables so flavoursome; the meat incredibly tasty & tender; and the egg cooked to perfection. I often make a (rather good, if I may say so myself) Asian veg and fried egg stir-fry at home, but On the Bab’s bibimbab was definitely on par, so I will for sure be testing out my skills at home with some of their ingredients in the near future.
^ Egg on point.
It being mid-week and having just arrived home from highly indulgent holidays in Cornwall, New York and France, I was a bit of a party-pooper and had a diet coke (£2.50), whilst mum enjoyed her meal with two Asahi beers (£4.10 each).
Price: Our bill with 12.5% service came to £67.30, which we thought was pretty good for the quantity and quality of the food that we had eaten. I would personally like to return and try some of the more ‘modern’ dishes, such as the steamed buns and ‘sushi-style’ rice rolls filled with a meat of your choice, and the Korean fried chicken, but I will have to do that on a date without my mother! Nonetheless, I think it’s great that On the Bab serves both authentic and more fusion-style Korean food as, under normal circumstances, people can then sample a bit of both. We had a lovely pre-birthday meal in a relaxed, trendy setting, and I intend to go back for more.