Before I begin I must admit to having discovered a new guilty pleasure. As someone who writes about food I am always deconstructing the dish presented to me and analysing the constituent parts both separately and in unison. Fortunately they are usually of good, if not great, quality and cooked to perfection. I have said before that I am not a sycophant but, as it is my own money I am spending, I am not going to waste it on somewhere I have a strong suspicion that the food will be awful. Having said that, there is no greater pleasure than the bit of a meal which is not done as you would expect but is all the better for that.
Who can deny that the best part of a beautifully rare roast beef joint is the burned bit on the outside or that the skin on a home-made rice pudding or jug of custard isn’t the crowning glory of the dessert. I have even been known to deliberately expose the edges of lasagne sheets so that they crisp up whilst in the oven. There, I have said it, and don’t even get me started on scraps with fish and chips!
OBA is a Korean and Japanese Restaurant in the Merrion Centre owned by the people who have Hang Sing Hong food store on Vicar Lane and is their first foray into the restaurant world. They do a lunchtime deal for £12 comprising a starter and a main course from a special menu which is divided into two parts; Set A, and Set B which is vegetarian. I later looked up the dishes I ordered on the normal menu and the cost would have been £17.80, so quite a good saving.
When I arrived I was greeted at the door by a charming woman who escorted me to my seat and gave me my menu. She asked if I wanted a drink and I ordered a pint of draft Japanese lager. I was sitting in front of the bar and saw that beer had obviously run off so the waitress returned to ask if I would like an alternative. I opted for a bottle of Kirin Ichiban at £4.50, a brew with which I was not familiar, but am now! It was delicious.
There were three starters and mains to choose from and I had King Prawn Tempura Rolls and Chicken Bibimbap. The latter was again unfamiliar to me and was described on the menu as Korean Rice Bowl with assorted veg, egg, sweet chilli miso (sic) so what was not to like.
Whilst I was getting acquainted with my beer and awaiting the food, I looked round to see that the place was almost empty which, being just after 1.00pm on a Wednesday, was a bit sad. The decor was more Scandinavian than Far Eastern with a long brown banquette running the length of one wall, marble tables and bright yellow and electric blue dining chairs facing the bench. The crockery and cutlery were modern takes on Oriental style and the whole thing worked very well.
After a short time the four tempura rolls arrived generously packed with prawn and were as delicious as they appear to be on the photograph. They were firm and the shellfish was cold but not so chilled as to have the flavour impaired. The rice was moist so that the roll didn’t disintegrate when picked up with chopsticks, even in my oversized mitts.
When I had finished my plate was whisked away and the star of the show arrived. Having not sampled Bibimbap before I had no idea what was about to happen, which turned out to be the reverse of everything I have experienced in a restaurant before.
In the olden days, when you ordered something which needed to be prepared at the table, such as Steak Flambé or Crêpes Suzette, the ingredients would be brought and a spectacularly well presented dish created before your very eyes. Bibimbap turns this concept on its head in that the waitress brought a beautiful bowl of food and proceeded to mash it all together!
When the course arrived the waitress asked me how spicy I would like it, I said medium to hot and she created a cheffy pattern on the food with the sweet chilli sauce. I could see that she was about to do something else to it as she had picked up a couple of implements so I asked that she pause for a moment so that I could take a photograph. I am glad that I did because if I had only got one of the end product it would not have looked half as appetising as it deserved to.
Sure enough, when I had finished she attacked the bowl and mixed everything together. In some ways it was a relief as it saved me having to make a decision as to how to eat it myself. Getting a piece of fried egg with runny yolk from bowl to gob without soiling my sweater was already stressing me out so having that problem solved was a definite bonus.
As you can see, there would have been no problem in eating it anyway as there was a fork and spoon provided rather than chopsticks. The mixing process put the kibosh on my tasting the constituent parts as mentioned above, so I was left with the conglomeration, which was excellent. The portion size was just right and the flavour wonderful. The chicken was still moist and the veg not too soft. You can see for yourself how perfectly the egg was done. The kick from the chilli sauce made sure that the food would not be bland and was the perfect level of heat for me. The sauce was left just in case.
This is where my new guilty pleasure manifested itself. The bowl is made of stone and was still hot when it arrived thus ensuring the meal didn’t go cold. This meant that the rice and veg in the bottom had carried on cooking and formed an unctuous, overdone layer stuck to the bowl. I scraped a bit off with the spoon and, wow, what a taste. It was as though the flavours of everything I had eaten were magnified twenty times over.
As you will have gathered I enjoyed my meal at OBA very much but I would give you one word of warning. They add a 10% service charge to the bill, something which is not shown on the lunch menu, the main one or their website.