Sunday, 26 February 2012

My name is Maria and I am a cactus.

Now, while I do primarily blog about Korea and Korean-related events / topics, occasionally I like to throw something new into the mix. As many of you have seen from my previous review of 산길 restaurant in the north of Barcelona, I did promise that I would share a little more about my trip in my next blog entry so, here we go I guess!

Morgan and I had decided a while back to escape somewhere for her birthday and get lost in a city far from home so that we bought plane tickets, booked a hotel and went. Pretty much just like that. 

After a somewhat uneventful flight, we arrived in Barcelona and headed straight to our hotel...for a power nap. ((I normally don't mention this makes our story sound less cool.. :/ ) After that we went on an adventure to find a Korean restaurant and succeeded - see my 산길 restaurant review here :

After lunch we saw signs to Park Güell and as one of the things on our list to do, we figured it was worth doing while we were there. All I can say was thank god we'd eaten! We walked for ages and nothing ... we were pretty sure we'd got well and truly lost but then a strange sense of déjà vu hit and from my previous trip to Barcelona, I started to get an idea of where we were...which wasn't even that close >< The signs didn't mention it was actually mention how far it was going to be but in for a penny, in for a pound; we weren't about to give up! 

Eventually, after climbing the pretty large hill that leads up to the main park entrance, we'd arrived. 

For those who haven't had the opportunity to go (and I would highly recommend that you do), Park Güell is situated on El Carmel hill in the Gràcia district. It was designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and was then built between 1900 and 1914. Personally, I think it's absolutely stunning and I'm obviously not the only one who thinks so as it is actually part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Works of Antoni Gaudí".

The park features a number of levels up the side of the hill which are connected by stairs...lots of stairs (I picked the wrong day to wear heels~) Here are some pictures from the first level:  

There's an amazing little... I'm not quite sure what to call it...but we found "it" quite entertaining!  
After that it was up the stairs to the next level which included the incredibly famous mosaic dragon, probably one of the pieces most synonymous with the park.   
Me up the stairs - note the heels! ^^ 

Both the above photos exhibit some of the amazing mosaic treasures that can be found all over the park..wonderful aren't they? 

A level up brought us to an area filled with doric columns, which actually support the plaza-style overhang above. We indulged in an incredibly mature game of hide and seek in the columns...but I was cheating and peeking. Morgan was not impressed ^^ The photo on the left shows another of Gaudi's tiled ceiling creations. 

So, we levelled up again to the plaza - the views over the city were breath taking but would only get better as we climbed higher. We stopped here for a little break to rest our feet soak in the beautiful scenery before moving on!

See~! Bad things happen when I'm not in charge of the camera ^^
Another level up and the Park continues to impress. In the left photo you can see the birds nests built by Gaudi to imitate the trees in the surrounding area. We also found a good-looking gate and got all excited at the prospect of an adventure....but it was locked. No secret garden adventures for us. 

Shortly afterwards, we had the pleasure of meeting Maria, the cactus, which gave us great amusement. Morgan called me over and said "Anna, look! It's Maria and she's a cactus!". Whatever is in the water there - it needs to be bottled! Thus "my name is Maria and I am a cactus" became our line for the rest of the trip.  

We unfortunately had to leave Maria and continue climbing - but it was worth it for the views. The weather was gorgeous so we could actually see all across the city to the sea. Amazing. 

After commenting (rather loudly) to Morgan on how impressed I was by the views, a passer by told me I should buy the house, which is currently on sale. Intrigued, I inquired as to its price. Guesses anyone? Well, I'll be saving for a while because unfortunately I don't have €47 million in my back pocket... Any takers? 

But then again, imagine waking up to views like this~ 

And they have a really cool tree in the garden...looks like a running man, no? 

Goodness, after taking some more pictures - see left - we didn't want to leave - but there was still one more level to go. In the corner of the park, there was another tier with a cross on the top...and no safety rail (what has England health and safety overload done to me?!). With only a few curses and "Do you think we'd die if we fell from here?" comments, we finally reached the top, which in ankle boots was no mean feat but it was so worth it! 

But then it really was time to go ~ we had walked all over the park and seen all there was to see and taken so many photos I swear I have every angle covered! 

For anyone considering going, I would definitely recommend it. Not only for the breath taking views, the stunning art work and the possibility of meeting a cactus called Maria but it's a damn good work out! 

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Spanish Special at 산길 (SanGil)

Since even at university I still get a half term, although we're officially meant to call it "reading week", I took a trip to Barcelona with my best friend, Morgan, for a little bit of good ol' R&R. Being the half-crazed, somewhat Asian obsessed person that I am, I made it my mission to check out the Korean scene in the city. Now, although there wasn't that much around, I did manage to track down a pretty good Korean restaurant called 산길, San Gil, based in the north of the city. 

Now, while I have had my fair share of Korean food, Morgan had never tried it before so I insisted, on our first day in the city, we go try it out...! (Yes, I have my priorities straight...!!) 

So after a morning spent rambling around Las Ramblas (sorry, bad I know~!), we had both worked up quite an appetite and decided to try and find this restaurant armed with only the closest metro station. While we had decided to use this opportunity to get "lost in the city", we had meant it in somewhat of a more metaphorical sense but our attempt to find the restaurant led us through so many side streets that by the end, we really were lost! 

After consulting locals (giving me a good opportunity to practice some Spanish!) and resorting to taking mad pictures to take our minds off our gnawing hunger - see below....
My "feed me now" expression 

We eventually managed to find the restaurant! Pretty, no? 

We arrived soon after they opened and so were the only ones in the restaurant allowing me to take pictures without scaring / confusing people! The restaurant was fairly small but really clean and pretty with traditional style artwork on the walls. They even had a television set on the Arirang Channel which was, rather obviously, in Korea but subbed with Chinese and English - I felt like I was in language heaven!! 

The restaurant - and f(x)'s Sulli on TV!

The restaurant is owned by a really nice, old Korean couple who have hired a young man to help them run the restaurant. When he came to take our order, he spoke in English to Morgan then in Spanish to me and then in Korea to the I then spoke in Korean with him - which made the owners rather excited as they came to talk to me too! 

We both ordered 돌솥비빔밥 (dolsot bibimbap) and while waiting, I was really impressed to have a plate of 반찬 (side dishes) delivered to our table which were free of charge (many of you will have heard me complain about having to pay for sides of kimchi here in the UK!). Morgan and I both agreed that the sides were really delicious and I used this as a chance to teach Morgan how to use chopsticks... which made for lots of dropped bean sprouts..but was rather entertaining to watch! 
The side dishes that made me so happy ^^ 

Our food came really quickly and despite somewhat strange vegetable combinations (lettuce in Bibimbap anyone?), it tasted great! After a morning of shopping we were pretty hungry so the food disappeared rather quickly! But it's ok, I managed to snap some photos before it ALL disappeared ^-^ ~

Finally, before we left, I took a picture outside the restaurant! 

The pricing wasn't too bad, similar to that of the UK. A bibimbap set us back €12 each but canned drinks were priced rather steeply at nearly €3 each... >< 

That said, the portions were really good and we did get free sides! 

My final scores: 
Food: 8/10 
Atmosphere: 6/10 (surely better with more people!) 
Service: 8.5/10 
Value for Money: 7/10

C/ Legalitat 22 
Metro Joanic 

Telephone 93 284 41 79

After lunch we set off home and ended up heading over to Park Guell which was actually within walking distance of the restaurant! Check out my next post for more about my trip :) 

Contact Information credit : Time Out Barcelona 

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Kimchee for the masses!

Don't worry ... I know that "Kimchi" isn't normally spelt with "ee", I am in fact referring to the London based Korean restaurant which, for the whole of January, was serving Korean food to the masses at half price!! Amazing right?!  

Despite rather negative reviews in many papers, at the prospect of such an amazing offer, I couldn't resist the opportunity and drag my two flatmates,  Alice and Noshin, out to dinner. Alice, who has lived in Japan, and I had both eaten Korean food a lot before (our fridge is full of Kimchi!) but Noshin had never eaten it so we insisted on buying lots! 

Unfortunately, lots of other people had the same ideas as us so there was a really long queue... we queued for about an hour but while we were in the queue, they were serving hot tea to those of us waiting outside to help keep the chill at bay. 

One of the little things which did bug me about the place is that there is no Korean writing on the menu, nor are there any staff (as far as I am aware) that speak Korean. While this isn't a big issue, I like ordering in Korean when I'm in a Korean restaurant and it kind of sucks that you can't do that here... (also their romanization of the Korean dishes' names is a bit funny!)

When we got inside, it was incredibly busy. We were seated by the window which I'm sure, on a not busy day, has a great view. However, when the restaurant IS busy, it is slightly awkward to eat your dinner while being watched and stared at by all the very hungry people queuing outside in the cold, waiting to come in.  

Having queued for an hour...Noshin and I were really hungry....hungry face >< 
 The restaurant itself is really beautiful and many of my Korean friends have commented how much it looks like restaurants in Korea...while this is a sweeping generalisation..I have to admit that I do see what they mean! While the benches are a little close and there's a slight "sardine in a can" feeling at peak times, it's still a really good atmosphere! 

Kimchi -  £  2.50 
 To start with, we ordered a side of kimchi (김치) , a portion of battered chicken in a sweet/sour style sauce and  kimchi pancake (김치전). Now, as someone who has travelled quite a bit, I still can't quite get past the whole idea of paying for Kimchi (which is distributed freely with meals in Korea)... and paying a lot for it! Priced at £2.50, the tiny kimchi portion is practically extortionate...and it wasn't even that good - it obviously hadn't fermented very long and lacked the infamous "Kimchi-kick".     

YangYeum Chicken - £  4.90 
Moving on to the chicken, which was actually one of my favourite dishes of the evening. (We'll bypass the fact that I'm supposedly vegetarian..!) This proved popular with all of us and disappeared pretty quickly. Described on the menu as a "lightly battered chicken in a sweet chilli sauce", it was that except 'lightly' is perhaps not the word. The batter was rather soggy and not really what I was used to in Korea...that said, without comparing it, it's not a bad dish. 

Kimchi Pancake -  £  5.50  

The last dish to arrive was the kimchi pancake and I have to admit that I was slightly let down by this. At the price it's at, I was expecting the kimchi pancake of all kimchi pancakes...the truth is that I can cook better ... and I'm no master chef. The portion was pretty small too...not good having waited so long in the cold. 


Dduk Bok Gi -   £  5.20 

We also ordered one portion of Dduk Bok Gi (떡볶이 )  which wasn't bad but again, I did feel rather let down by not only the portion size but also the fact that rather than being mostly 떡, or rice cake, it was actually mostly fish cake...which didn't taste very good. While we all agreed the rice cake was good, we all left the fish cake. A bit of a waste of money :/ 

From there, it was on to the main course.....

Beef Dolsot Bibimbap -   £  8.20  

 On her first time at a Korean restaurant, Noshin played it safe and opted for the traditional beef dolsot bibimbap. 'Bibimbap' actually translates as 'mixed rice' and includes a base of rice, covered in an assortment of vegetables, a type of meat/fish or sometimes tofu and is normally served with an egg on top! When we ate, it came served in a traditional stone bowl and was pretty good to look at! I didn't have any (my rebellious vegetarian streak didn't stretch that far) but she seemed to really enjoy it. The only bad thing being they were a little stingy with the chilli paste (고추장). The tip to eating bibimbap well is to let the rice get really crispy, as it burns against the sides of the bowl, before you start mixing!

Alice is a pro at mixing her bibimbap! 
Alice ordered the raw beef dolsot bibimbap - as seen below- a very popular traditional Korean dish. Like the plain beef bibimbap above, the dish is served in a boiling hot stone bowl which as we've mentioned equals awesome crispy rice. After the bowl has cooled down a little, it's time to get mixing, making sure to properly mix in all the chilli sauce. My general view is that, within reason, the more you mix, the better it will taste! Of course, with the raw beef bibimbap, you have the option of cooking to your preference so start eating whenever you want! 

Raw Beef Dolsot Bibimbap -   £  8.20 

BibimNaengMyeon -   £  6.90 
Finally, I ordered the BibimNaengMyeon which is another traditional Korean dish of noodles served cold with a chilli sauce called 초고추장 - made from sugar, vinegar and gochujang, cucumbers, Korean pears and a boiled egg. This is probably my favourite Korean dish and is one that I regularly make at home. I really like the recipe that they use ( in fact, this is the second time I've eaten it in a week!) so I am a die-hard fan of the dish~!

And since we (somehow) had a little space left.... 
Golden sweet chestnut Ice Cream -   £  3.40 
We finished off the meal with a bowl of chestnut ice cream to share between the three of us. It was a rather strange concoction but was surprisingly nice and something I would definitely have again next time!! 

I guess, all in all, it was a really nice evening and I, for one, am really glad I went. When I asked Noshin what she thought she said "I really like Korean food so would definitely eat it again. Was it worth waiting for an hour for in the cold?...No, probably not, but I will eat it again when it's less busy". Since Alice and I are both Korean food fans, our views are slightly biased with both of us walking away very full and very happy! 

There is no questioning the fact that, not including the discount, it is a pretty expensive place to eat. I was satisfied with what I had, for the price that I paid, but would I return now the prices are back to normal...I can't be sure. The food was good...but not spectacular and the portion sizes are small and I can't help but feel that with some of the dishes, I could've made better in my kitchen at home. 

The service wasn't bad, especially considering how busy the restaurant was, but again, when compared alongside the prices, I could say I would have expected better. Also, it is worth noting the 10% gratuity that is automatically added to your bill. 

I mentioned earlier in the introduction that I had read many negative reviews in local papers and online - in my opinion, it's a pretty good restaurant but it has many potential areas to improve. It would make a really nice evening out with friends but expect to walk away with a substantially lighter wallet!  

My final scores: 
Food: 7/10 
Atmosphere: 6.5/10 
Service: 6/10 
Value for Money (with discount) : 9/10
Value for Money (without discount) : 5/10 

Kimchee Restaurant 
71 High Holborn 

020 7430 0956