When did a Korean barbeque last blow up in YOUR face? We live in dangerous times, and fortunately there are people whose job it is to protect us.
A couple of weeks ago my big brother was staying with me, and I thought I’d introduce him to Korean food. So I took him to a place just off Piccadilly and ordered my usual. Yukhae, pajeon, galbi and kimchi chigae. A nice table-top barbeque is as good a place as any to start with Korean cuisine.
Sometimes when dining solo or with just one other person I’ve had the problem where the restaurant can’t be bothered with the fuss of the table top barbeque and cooked the bulgogi in the kitchen. But as there were three of us this time round, I thought we should be safe.
I was a bit suspicious when the waitress plonked all the side dishes right on top of the steel BBQ cover. And when I moved them off in anticipation of the lid being removed she slid them right back to where they were.
And then she brought the sizzling beef straight from the kitchen. She wouldn’t, or couldn’t, explain why she wasn’t using the table top grill. I thought: maybe it’s a little hot and the air conditioning’s broken, so they don’t want to make it even hotter in the dining room. Later though, I lifted the lid and found the gas burner to be carefully wrapped in aluminium foil. I left the restaurant slightly grumpy. It didn’t help that the Hite seemed extra gassy that night.
Then, this week, SBS directed my attention to this article in the Telegraph.
Brits and other Europeans may have noticed that on their gas fires and electrical equipment there’s a little trademark or some such: “CE”. Who can tell me what it means? Conformité Européenne. Call it what you like: commendable concern for the well-being of European Citizens, or nanny state-ism; business-friendly standardisation of the rules, or trade protectionism; – but it’s some form of certification that appliances and equipment have to meet before being let loose on a poor innocent unprotected public in any EU or EFTA member state.
And how many Korean table-top gas barbeques have the CE certification do you think? I don’t know the answer to that one. But Westminster Council is clamping down on those restaurants whose ovens don’t comply. The main target is Chinese ovens used to cook crispy duck (below), but unfortunately the Korean gas barbeque is also caught.
Purists will say that of course a proper bulgogi is cooked on charcoal, not gas. Quite right too. I hear that there are one or two proper barbeque places within reach of central London. But there are probably even more onerous environmental and health & safety rules to comply with when you’re using live coals than when you’re using a gas cooker.
As with any clampdown, there are opportunities for those that spot them. There’s one supplier of apparently CE-compliant BBQs that has been taking out full page ads in the Korean language Euro Journal (below). So all is not lost. Those hard-working restaurateurs who don’t have the right grills can waste a whole load of cash on an expensive re-fit, while the importers can cruise past their sales targets for the year without even trying.
And the lesson is: if you’re hoping for a table-top BBQ experience in a Korean restaurant in Europe, check before you place your order that you’re actually going to get one. Particularly if you’re in the City of Westminster, which includes most of the Korean restaurants in central London.
- Thanks to SBS for the photo of the sealed-up crispy duck oven