A lunchtime trip to the Old Justice pub in Bermondsey
I think I’d just been given the thumbs-up. I had just introduced some of my co-workers to Korean food for the first time. I wouldn’t say it was representative of your regular Korean food experience, but it was certainly popular with the Canary Wharf workers.
I’d phoned Chef Kim the day before to warn him we were coming. When I arrived at the Old Justice Pub at 12:30 with my work colleagues I realised that had been a good idea.
“Does Mr Kim know you’re coming?” asked Joanne the barmaid, as she hastily set about removing the upended chairs from the bar and table tops where they had been placed to facilitate hoovering after the night before. “Yes, I phoned him yesterday, and texted him this morning an hour ago.” “OK, I’ll ring him.” There was no reply. (Nor had there been an hour previously when I had tried). “He had a heavy night last night,” she apologised. She went outside, took a deep intake of breath and cupped her hands to her mouth. “KKIIIIMMMMM!” she bellowed at the window on the first floor. It was enough to wake the dead, and we heard some muted shuffling from upstairs.
We settled ourselves at the BBQ table and set about tackling the beer while we waited for the meat to arrive. First came a frothy omelette in a hot stone pot. A distinctly unKorean sprinkling of Red Leicester sat on top, just supported by the soft tension on the surface of the egg dish. I had to encourage everyone to dip in to the same bowl with their spoons, but once they’d got the hang of the concept of sharing, their first experience of Korean food met with my colleagues’ approval.
I had put in an extra order of seafood pancake. A disappointment was that the dipping sauce was just your plain ordinary soy sauce rather than anything more suitable (the Korean sous-chef on the ground floor didn’t seem to know quite what was expected), as Chef Kim prepared the meats upstairs. But the pancakes were great, and included mussels rather than the more usual chopped oysters – a nod to local tastes and produce.
Then the meats arrived: plain pork belly and thinly-sliced steak, and mounds of marinaded beef and pork bulgogi. Unusually, it was up to us to do the rest. If we felt like any vegetables, there were a few slices of onion and aubergine to barbeque, plus some white tofu. But of course everyone focused on the meat. A few dipping sauces to season the meat, some kimchi on the side, plus a few lettuce leaves in case anyone wanted to wrap the food before placing it in the mouth, but basically the meat was the star. Later came the doenjang jjigae to help wash it down.
“Would you like any more meat?” Joanne kept offering. We were fine.
To help things along, I ordered a couple of bottles of soju. I was amazed at how naturally my colleagues all took to it. A quick gulp, turn to the left, and a quick kkkaaaaggghhhh! They must all have been Korean in previous lives.
We were the only punters in the pub, and we were wise to pre-book. Chef Kim told us that in the evening, if we pre-book, we can have the proper charcoal barbeques outside.
“Just the right amount of spice … and loads of meat,” said one colleague approvingly as we walked back to Bermondsey tube. I think I’d just got myself some converts.
Price, for unlimited meat, extra pajeon, a couple of lagers and a third of a bottle of soju each, rounded up, was £25 a head. We’ll definitely be back, with reinforcements.