A new city means a new food scene to explore! Topokki Birmingham was my first venture into Korean cuisine. Why has it taken me so long? Fifteen years ago, a very vegetarian uncle went to Korea on a business trip and came back with stories of a dazed monkey, monkey brain and a straw. Scarred me for a good decade and more. Thankfully I forgot. Topokki was a treat.
Located in Chinatown, it's got a deliberate mismatched unkempt look about it. Metal chairs, some painted, some not, sketches on the wall, kitchen utensils used as lampshades, a long wooden bench in the middle of the restaurant because there weren't enough metal chairs, a random watering can painted with flowers, and an equally random old clock sticking out of a column in the restaurant.
On the menu were clay pot dishes, rice and stir fries, curries, noodles, dumplings, pancakes, and soups. We ordered the Korean style salt and pepper fried chicken and Jeon (Korean style wheatflour pancake stuffed with prawn, carrots, and courgettes) to begin with, and a chicken and vegetable bibimbap (fried rice cooked with vegetables/meat in a clay pot, topped with a fried egg) each for mains. Oh, and I ordered some citrus Korean tea for myself, which was wonderfully refreshing, with fresh orange rind and lemony-orangey juicy bits!
The food is all prepared in their open kitchen and served as soon as it's ready. So the starters and mains follow each other quite quickly, and we had one of those 'uh oh so much food on the table, how are we to finish this!' moments. It didn't turn out to be so difficult in the end, because it was all delicious.
The chicken was piping hot and crisp, and had been tossed in finely chopped parsley along with the salt and pepper. My vegetable bibimbap was beautiful - hot fried rice layered with vegetables and sauce and topped with a fried egg that trembled ever so slightly as the steam rose from the clay pot! I was told we were meant to mix everything up in the pot before we dug in. Broke my heart a little bit destroying all those lovely colours, I have to say. The show stealer for me was the Jeon. The pancake held together despite all the filling and wasn't soggy at all, and got on wonderfully well with the sesame dipping sauce. I loved every bit of it.
A happy meal that was. The only downside was that when we got back, we realized that every item of clothing we wore smelled of food. I'd change the open plan layout of Topokki, but nothing else.
Got to hunt down Korean restaurants in London now!