Strolling down Gangnam Boulevard last night I was accosted by a giant sheep who thrust a CD into my hands and wished me a Merry Christmas. Slightly startled and fearing for my sobriety and mental health, I was relieved to see the cool blue luminescence of the Paris Baguette Cafe sign above me. "This is Korea," I told myself, "Giant Christmas Sheep loitering outside major bakery chains are a part of everyday life..."
Consoled by this ultimate truth I glanced down at the CD in my hands and was shocked to discover that I had been granted an exclusive copy of Paris Baguette's latest foray into the world of music: The Paris Baguette Christmas EP!
I skipped gaily down the avenue, smiling at the mask covered faces of anonymous office workers and possible H1N1 sufferers, delighted with the joys of Christmas. A free CD, for me, Paul Ajosshi! How can that be! I feel so free. Wait.. I need to wee...
After a brief visit to the toilets at Gangnam station, I was on my way again with a song in my heart and a bounce in my step. As I squeezed onto the packed 421 bus to Itaewon I felt complete. I had in my possession the one thing which would make for a perfect Christmas, the one thing that would bring happiness to me on these cold dark nights.
Waving goodbye to the driver and the other 87 passengers, I stumbled off the bus at Itaewon station, dodged the tiny angry old man brandishing his umbrella and ran all the way home.
Slamming the door shut, ripping off my coat and opening a Cass lite; I switched on my Macbook and prepared for 16.4 minutes of ecstasy.
So here it is my blow by blow account of the Paris Baguette Christmas EP (All track names are as printed in the pamphlet):
Track 1: 2PM - 파리바게뜨 케이크송 (Original Mix) As the nasal tones of 2PM greet you, your bile starts to rise and is only inflamed by the hideous rap section and the fact that they manage to emphasize all the wrong syllables in "Christmas". At several points in this 65 second track it feels as if there has been a mistake and that the needle has become stuck, then you remember that this is not the 1970s, this is not vinyl and some idiot has done it deliberately. As the commercial/song grinds to a halt we're a left with the words "Paris Baguettoo" and a sense of despair akin to that of watching a baby seal being clubbed to death.
Track 2: Frosty & The Snowmen - Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer Straight out of a shopping mall in Wisconsin, this ultra twee interpretation of the Christmas classic is a breath of fresh air after 2PM, but ultimately only appeals to the three year old child in me and leaves the Ajosshi bored and slightly aggravated. The nicest thing I can say is that at 81 seconds, Rudolph doesn't outstay his welcome.
Track 3: Boys Tostes - Sligh Ride Boys Tostes brings us a latin themed lounge track, that wouldn't be out of place in Starbucks. Not too bad, a little cheesy, but not vomit inducing.
Track 4: Monique Kessous - Jingle Bell Soft jazz leads us into Monique's gentle interpretation of this holiday ditty. Nowhere near as good as Barbra Streisand's batshit crazy version, but again not too bad at all. Unfortunately at 2 minutes and 56 seconds it does drag on a bit...
Track 5: John Pizzarelli - Let It Snow, Let It Snow John Pizzarelli's voice scares me, his slightly whiny pleading hints at possible serial killer tendencies. I want him to leave immediately, he is not welcome in my house. What's more worrying is the collection of Teamsters who shout "Let it snow" in the background, has he brought his friends with him to this romantic rendezvous? What are they doing here? Please don't hurt me John, please don't hurt me.
Track 6: Liz Menezes - Winter Wonderland I may have fallen into a Samba induced coma from this incredibly slow and extremely dull song. It may only be 2 minutes 28 seconds, but it feels like eternity.
Track 7: 2PM - 파리바게뜨 케이크송 (SWING BROS. Remix) Do I have to listen to this? Really? At 3 minutes and 13 seconds, this nightmarish travesty of a musical experience is enough to make your ears bleed. The terrible use of autotune does nothing to comfort my soul and by the time it gets to the electric guitar solo I am on the floor, covering my ears and writhing in pain. Why? Why? Why? Who chose to make this terrible excuse for a song? Who taught young Korean men to pronounce Christmas "christMAS"? When will K-pop stars stop making commercials and start making music? Why did I ever bother listening to this CD in the first place?
If a giant Christmas sheep accosts you today or tomorrow and offers you this CD, don't make the mistake I did. Run, run as fast as you can. Hide in Tous Les Jours or Dunkin Donuts(they can't get you there), just make sure that you never have to listen to this monstrosity. I've heard it and I don't think Christmas will ever be the same again. Learn from my mistake and have yourselves a very Merry Christmas...
This has been a Public Service Announcement from Paul Ajosshi.
Feeling the winter chill yesterday I was in the mood for something hearty and so headed down to Mi Madre for some paella action. They still have their very reasonably priced lunch set available: 9,500 won for chicken paella, but it costs an extra 1,500 won to chuck in some delicious seafood treats...
First off a simple little tapas treat. A slice of bread covered with crushed tomatoes, salt and oil.
And then the paella itself... It has been a while since I last went there, but they've kept up their standards and the paella is just as tasty as it has ever been.
This generous helping of rice, seafood and chicken is more than worth the small price tag. Perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned.
To get to Mi Madre take the subway to Noksapyeong station and head down towards Haebangchon. Mi Madre is on the right hand side of the main road just past Italonia and Thunderburger. If you hit the tiny Buddha's Belly cafe, you have gone too far. Contact them on 02 790 7875.
Popped down to CGV Gangnam today and caught a Digital 3D screening of James Cameron's Avatar. I had been trying to avoid any reviews or clips so that my enjoyment of the film wouldn't be spoiled and I'm glad I did. I went into the film with relatively little knowledge about what I was about to see and was delighted by the two hours and forty minutes that followed.
I've always been a fan of Cameron's work and Avatar is right up there with Aliens and True Lies for me. The story is very simple, the characters very familiar archetypes, the plot is fairly predictable, but the storytelling is wonderful. We're drawn into his world and taken on a very satisfying emotional journey.
I don't want to give too much away but the key phrases I've heard around the net describing this film ring true to me: Pocahontas meets Dances with Wolves meets the Smurfs... I'd also add in Last of the Mohicans and Starship Troopers. Like with the very best science fiction Avatar relates to both our past and present, dealing with important issues, without beating us over the head with them.
My only word of warning is to not bother with the 3D version. I saw it today and quite frankly gained nothing extra from the experience except for a pair of glasses and a slight sense of disappointment. I'd love to hear from others about what they thought of Avatar 3D, but I was underwhelmed. Avatar was a fantastic film, despite the 3D, not because of it. Maybe it's just me, but 3D did nothing to enhance the film apart from occasionally thrusting a bit of foliage in my direction. Though the novelty of subtitles vaguely hovering in front of the screen did amuse me.
For those worried about language issues, there are no English subtitles for some of the alien dialogue, but you won't miss too much. I was able to follow most of the Korean subtitles for those parts, but then most of it is then spoken in English afterwards (or the meaning is made clear by facial expression and tone).
Let me know what you think about Avatar, I'd love to hear your reaction to this Science Fiction CGI Spectacular...
Strolling around Itaewon today, I noticed a new restaurant has sprung up in the neighbourhood: Spice Table Asian Dining & Bar. This three day old venture by the owner of Korean bbq place Don Valley offers an interesting menu of fusion Asian dishes and on a recommendation by the waiter I went for the stir fried beef in black bean sauce with asparagus (25,000 won).
Service was good and the waiter spoke excellent English, he was kind enough to bring out a complimentary salad with my food. A pleasant combination of mixed greens with an interesting 유자 (citron) dressing.
The main dish itself tasted delicious, the combination of beef and asparagus blended well with the black bean sauce, but it was hindered slightly by some very powdery peas. The beef was a tad chewy, however, the flavours worked very well together.
Presentation is excellent at the Spice Table and over the coming weeks I'm hoping it will turn into an interesting place to hang out.
To get to the Spice Table head out of Itaewon station towards Hangangjin and turn left after Kraze Burger. Spice Table is on the left hand side directly opposite Los Amigos and CasAntonio. You can call them on 02 796 0509.
Well done Cinus, on both Monday and Tuesday you've made it pretty much impossible for any normal working person to see a subtitled film. Way to go! All listings are correct at time of posting, but may be too busy gorging themselves with beef pot pie...
On my way to see Ninja Assassin this week I popped into Yongsan's IPark Mall to find something tasty for lunch. Unfortunately unless you like bad Japanese food, imitation spaghetti or coffee and doughnuts then there's not much choice. After searching the levels I settled upon what looked like the best of a bad bunch: KhuaThai.
This shiny crimson restaurant seduced me with its promise of cheap Thai food, I should have heard the warning bells in the back of my tiny skull, but I sat down and ordered the "Pad Moo Raat Khao" (Fried Pork and Rice) for 8,000 won...
The picture on the menu looked appetizing enough and I was tempted by those fleeting glimpses of fresh coriander. A short while later, my own version of the dish arrived and I was a tad disappointed...
I know that one must allow for a certain amount of artistic license when it comes to menu pictures, but it is my firm belief that Khuathai have over stepped the mark. The only thing remotely similar in both of these pictures are the chopsticks... No coriander, no thick chunky pieces of pork, no contest.
The thin slices of very crispy (one might say overdone) belly pork weren't too bad in and of themselves. The mushrooms, carrots and peppers were all fresh. However, these ingredients were swamped in a translucent spicy gloopy sauce that didn't say Thai as much as it said cheap Korean-Chinese... I'm not an expert on Thai food and I'd love to here what all my wonderful readers think, but this is nothing like the Thai food I've ever had before. I felt like I was eating in a Chinese restaurant in an American shopping mall, not transported to Bangkok.
The worst thing about it is there is nowhere decent to eat within the mall (or at least I haven't found the holy grail of restaurants there yet). Yongsan station holds very little excitement in the way of food for me and it saddens me to think of the paucity of delicious tidbits near my local cinema. You can avoid Khuathai by not visiting the fifth floor of the Yongsan IPark Mall and by not calling them on 02 2012 0567.
For those of you with a penchant for physical theatre there's a small treat awaiting you this weekend if you have the time and the money. Over at the Arko theatre in Daehangno 리어카, 뒤집어지다 (Handcart, overturned) is being performed by the Momggol Theatre Company.
This four person play deals with the upturned lives of Seoul citizens in the 1970s when they were turfed out of their houses so that construction could begin on what is now glittering Gangnam.
There's very little dialogue and the cast manage to bring together short scenes of the lives of ordinary people with humour and charm. Whilst comedy carries the play, it is the extraordinary choreography and physical talents of the performers that shine through. The titular handcart also plays a very important part in the movement and it is really exciting to see how the actors explore this fairly ordinary machine transforming it from plaything to homestead to rolling death.
This production is not everyone's cup of tea, but for those who enjoy physical theatre and have an interest in Korea's past, it's well worth seeking out. Tickets are only 20,000 won and the play is performed at 8.00 on Friday, 3.00 and 7.00 on Saturday and 3.00 on Sunday.
To get to the Arko theatre, take the subway to Hyehwa station (line number 4), exit at gate number 2 and take the first left. The red brick Arko theatre is on the left hand side opposite Maronnier Park.
I've already expressed my love for Rain in a previous post, but now having seen the ridiculously fun Ninja Assassin, I feel the need to speak out once again...
Ninja Assassin is a very silly film, the story is contrived, the characters two dimensional and the acting wobbling from wooden to over the top, but it is saved by two things: Balls to the wall gory ninja fight scenes and Rain himself.
Bouncing back from the unimpressive Speed Racer, Rain's physical form is now that of an Adonis. His abs are as Koreans like to say "chocolate" to the extreme and his martial arts moves are on a par with any modern action star. For God's sake the man does handstands on a bed of nails! Watching the film I was reminded of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian (though slighter in form); he speaks little, but is a large presence on screen.
Ninja Assassin was able to please both the 14 year old boy inside of me and the 40 year old ajumma. Its nasty, blood soaked ninja antics enthralled me for the all too brief 99 minutes of screen time and unlike most modern day three hour blockbusters I was left with a relatively ache free bottom and a hankering for more.
Now go my children, runt to the nearest multiplex and seek out this chocolate ninja, for he is the future of Korean cinematic heroes and the future is good...
Good Morning President has run its course and now we have 시크릿 (Secret)... I've checked with the people at Cinus and they have confirmed that the film will be shown with subtitles in both Myeong-dong and Gangnam, however listing sites don't have the subtitled showings listed just the normal ones (which will probably be the subtitled screening times). To cut a long story short, the listings for this week should be correct, but might have some issues which I'll try to sort out as soon as possible...
Secret should be on at the Myeong-dong Cinus Theater:
In these times of economic hardship, some pop stars are going to extraordinary lengths to increase their fan base. Girls Generation (소녀시대) seem to have set up what can only be described as Korea's first pop star business club. Located just round the corner from the Kyobo building in Gangnam, this charmingly fronted night time pleasure space gives me the impression that Yoona, Tiffany, Yuri, Hyoyeon, Sooyoung, Seohyun, Taeyeon, Jessica, and Sunny are all working very hard to make sure that SNSD can break into the adult market...
I can't find any information about the club on their official website, but I'm sure that's just a temporary oversight as I'm pretty certain that no one in their right mind would exploit images of these wonderful young women for the sake of a sleazy club...
I don't know when it appeared on the shelves, but last week on a visit to the Hyundai department store in Apgujeong, I discovered that they had Fleur de Sel de Guérande for around 9,000 won per tub. This cheeky little salt is supposed to be the best in the world and has a delightful and distinct flavour. It's meant to be used sparingly right at the end of cooking and it may seem frightfully expensive, but for me it's a early little Christmas treat...
For more info on this delicate sodium, check out David Lebovitz's article here.
굿모닝 프레지던트 (Good Morning President) continues it's rampage through the Cinus Theater chain...
Good Morning President is on at the Myeong-dong Cinus Theater:
Thursday (19th) - 200, 1445 and 2330 Friday (20th) - 0940, 1210 and 2330 Saturday (21st) - 1210 and 2330 Sunday (22nd) - 0940, 1210 and 2330
And at the Gangnam Cinus Theater:
Thursday (19th) - 0850, 1340, 1830 and 2320 Friday (20th) - 0850, 1340, 1830 and 2320
I'll update times as they appear. All listings are correct at time of posting, but may freeze to death. Hopefully the Hub of Sparkle will be up at some point soon and when that happens I'll continue posting there...
November 11th, is known all around Korea as Pepero Day! The day when you are encouraged to go out and buy overpriced poor quality chocolate coated biscuit sticks for the loved one of your choice. Never has there been a more commercial celebration of our love for chocolate batons!
However, according to STCO (Shirts and Tie Coordination), today is in fact "Necktie's Day", a time when we give our very special someone a piece of neck couture to celebrate our feelings.
Even though sub par confectionery and strips of knotted cloth appeal to me, there's a more important meaning to this day. Over on Gangwon Notes, Brian pays tribute to Rememberance Day by posting In Flander's Field and it inspired me to do something similar.
When I was in school we studied a fair amount of first world war poetry and one poem in particular has stuck in my mind through all these years. Wilfred Owen's Dulce Et Decorum Est is a powerful reminder of the terrible price that so many men and women have paid...
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime... Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,– My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
Écumé [ekyme] or 에뀌메 means foamed in French, it also means skimmed and plundered and has an unfortunate connection to scum, but don't let that put you off this small restaurant located less than a minute from the Hamilton Hotel.
This chic little diner has taken over where Kate's Kitchen left off and serves the usual pasta and steak selections you might expect from this kind of place. They offer a reasonable lunch set menu ranging from 15,000 to 17,000 won which gives you a choice of pastas, risotto, steak or chicken breast along with a self-described "small salad" and coffee or green tea. I decided to go for the "black pepper-crushed strip loin steak, red wine shitake mushroom sauce" for 17,000 won plus tax and crossed my fingers...
First to come was the bread basket, crusty chewy little slices that were quite delicious, but unfortunately came with a rather oddly flavoured herb butter that tasted like it had seen better days.
Next to come was the "small salad", I opted for no dressing (sour plum is available) and was pleasantly surprised by this varied combination of greens with raisins, dried apricots and chopped peanuts. An interesting and slightly sweet addition to lunch.
After a brief hiatus out came the strip loin steak, presented well, but hampered by some rather unexciting accessories. The broccoli was rather hard and the small hash brown sort of thing hiding under the meat tasted slightly of failure. The cherry tomato was perfectly adequate, but the steak, mushrooms and red wine sauce were far better. A little too salty for my liking, but still enjoyable.
The meat was a tad grisly and strangely enough was undercooked. I ordered medium-rare, but the steak that arrived was rare in my book; I didn't have a problem with it, but for those who like their meat cooked precisely to their preferences may have issues...
Overall not a bad lunch, plus the service was fast and friendly. You can find Écumé [ekyme] just two side streets away from the Hamilton Hotel, just come out of Itaewon Station exit 1, walk past KFC and the Nike shop, then turn right just after the Samsonite shop. The restaurant is a few metres away just behind Le Saint-Ex. Give them a call on 02 3477 7378.
As we head towards winter, there is still one final comfort we can be sure of - persimmons are out in abundance and these glorious orange balls of sweetness are a perfect antidote to the bitter cold outside. I was lucky enough to be treated to some beautiful organic persimmons straight from my friend's garden today.
Hard or soft, fresh or dried, they are worth a try and should sit pride of place in your fruit bowl.
Tonight a few of us from our theatre headed round the corner for an evening of culinary hedonism at Star Chef. There really is no other place like this in Korea, the food is exquisite and the flavours are not to be found anywhere else in Seoul...
As always the broccoli and garlic chips made their way to the table and were consumed with abandon. I'm not a broccoli fan, but this dish makes me want to ask for seconds.
Next up was the octopus and cuttlefish salad, this isn't on the menu, but if you ask nicely they may be able to whip it up for you. The seafood is succulent and dressed beautifully, but one companion complained of too many olives and capers; a punchy addition to a beautiful salad.
To follow we procured the grilled chicken breast salad, I was skeptical, but as soon as I tasted the perfectly cooked fowl, I was hooked. Still juicy and gently smothered in rosemary, a very different salad with very different flavours.
Hot on their heels came the Prime Rib Eye Special, another salady dish with a gorgeous mustard dressing and perfectly cooked Australian waegyu beef. It's wonderful to be able to order steak and for it to come out exactly how it should be: bloody and tender.
Moving on to the crispy fried beef was also a pleasure. Delightfully light battered meat with another differently dressed salad.
Tossed together they created a fantastically messy coriander laden crispy delicacy.
Finally we were served The Amazing Fish, we went for the red snapper which arrived crispy and covered in coriander and ginger. Boned at the table and then quickly devoured; it was the star of the evening.
Star Chef is most definitely worth a visit, but to be safe be sure to book a table ahead of time to save any heartbreak. You can call them on 02 529 8248 and they are located just round the corner from Maebong station.
Onto a little bit of an exclusive, from this weekend onwards Star Chef will be serving Alley Kat Draft for 8,000 won a glass. A mighty fine tipple that quenches the thirst and satisfies those with a yearning for pale ale in Seoul.
I have a passion for ribs at the moment, I only started cooking them earlier this year, but they have become a regular feature at the dinner table. They're boiled and baked with a recipe of my own concoction, sort of a cross between chinese and western ribs, trying to mix complimentary flavours from both worlds.
Here's the recipe, why not give them a try...
You will need:
A rack or two of pork ribs A peeled onion A peeled carrot Eight cloves of garlic A thumb of peeled ginger A star anise A teaspoon of schezuan pepper (whole, not ground) Ten whole black peppercorns A teaspoon of five spice powder A pinch of chili powder A good glug of honey A good glug of soy sauce A glug of your alcohol of choice (whiskey and rum work well)
Add all of these things to a large pot of boiling water and leave on a gentle simmer for an hour or so. If your ribs are especially meaty then give them an extra ten minutes for luck. Every once in a while skim the surface for oil and make sure the ribs remain covered with water
When your time is up gently remove the ribs from the pot and place them in a foil lined baking tray meaty side up. Add a little of the rib water to the bottom of the tray and baste the ribs with the following marinade:
A glug of oil, a dash of soy sauce, a pinch of black pepper, a squeeze of honey and a shot of your alcohol of choice.
Once your marinade is mixed together lovingly brush the ribs with some of this concoction and place them in a hot oven (225 centigrade) for about half an hour. Take the ribs out once or twice and baste them with the rest of the marinade, adding a little stock water to the bottom of the tray if things are getting to dry or burnt. Bake your ribs as crispy as you like, but do be careful unless you fancy cooking Cajun style...
Finally take the ribs out of the oven and let the rest for ten to fifteen minutes so that they can relax. Then hack at them with a pair of scissors until separate and eat with your fingers...
I love to use dark rum with these ribs, but a half decent whiskey will also do the trick. Just follow the golden rule: If it's not good enough to drink, then don't cook with it.
The ribs will happily sit with a salad, steamed veg, a simple pasta, rice and kimchi... in fact they'll go with pretty much anything you like.