January is not an exciting month in the British food calendar. Everyone’s being healthy, nothing is really in season and there aren’t any good festivals to get excited about. The only logical option is to gatecrash someone else’s party.
For many countries in Asia – the lunar new year is the biggest party of the year, a chance for families to get together and celebrate unity and prosperity. When I heard tell of a one-night-only Korean party in Tooting market I was definitely interested. Busan BBQ are a husband and wife team who run a food-truck serving American-Korean fusion.
The venue was lovely (if a little chilly) – rows of tables set-out in the deserted market with live music and later a DJ (Korean Hip-hop is an under-appreciated genre). On arrival we were greeted with a Soju cocktail and some table nibbles. “Jinro Soju” is the most popular alcoholic drink in the world – this sweet Korean wine sells more by volume than any other brand. The average Korean will drink nearly 90 bottles a year! In a mojito it was just pleasant, but it really shone in the mule, with ginger and apple.
The starters arrived as sharing bowls. The kimchi was sharp and slightly fizzy, a good deal stronger than many of the versions you get in the UK. Mooli (a kind of radish) was lightly pickled and still had a pleasing crunch. The chicken skewers were tender and full of flavour, the pork meatballs were outstanding – covered in a gorgeous sauce, well seasoned and full of piggy flavour. Each component was very nice, but when you got some radish, kimchi and meat at the same time the whole thing sang. It’s a flavour combination you don’t get anywhere outside Korean cuisine.
After the starters there was a short interlude for a traditional Korean game (think hacky-sack crossed with darts) before the mains. More kimchi and a surprisingly hot slaw accompanied the star attraction – a beer bulgogi philly cheese steak. Thin strips of tender beef in a rich, sweet sauce, covered in cheese and served in a really good bread roll. Proper comfort food. The sweet potato fries were wonderfully crisp, while the slaw and kimchi allowed you to spice up your beef as much as you dared.
Dessert was a yuja cheesecake with plum syrup. This tiny citrus fruit has a lovely mandarin tang and works really well with the creamy topping. A little ginger from the base and the sweet plum syrup make by far the best “Asian” dessert I’ve tried in years.
The whole evening was great fun – it’s not a slick restaurant service, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a communal experience – complete strangers brought together by a shared love of food. Busan BBQ are doing something different – their passion and enthusiasm shines through, and the fact that it’s delicious doesn’t do it any harm!
If you’ve never been to a pop-up, I urge you to give it a go. If you’ve never tried Ameri-Korean fusion, you’re missing out, track Busan BBQ down and order the entire menu.
Busan BBQ: www.busanbbq.co.uk @busanbbq
Pop-up Dining Club @popupdiningclub