Bow Wharf, 221 Grove Rd., London E3 5SN
Chicken wings are having a moment, aren’t they? No longer just an abbreviated snack, they have been fused and fancied up, fussed over, and high-fluted to an unrecognisable level. I mean they have a whole festival! Your reviewer even lives above one of these temples to the queen of meat’s limb.
Equally Korean-Mexican fusion is on the rise. From its Santa Monica origins in the late 90s to LA fame, and now around the corner from Vicky Park, same same really.
Ashley Chipchase (best surname for a restaurateur) found his Mexican Soul (he he ha ha) rather heroically while on furlough during the great-indoor-lock-in. What did we do ehh? Start a business? Or…try (and fail) to finish The Wire (speaking for a friend). With food truck and crew in tow, everything rather sizzled up from there. Winning second place in the Wing-feast festival, awards and endorsements from a famous MC have provided them with greater and greater…I believe the kids call it…hype.
This thirty-year-old can jump on that train like the best of them, yet every wandering nomad wants a permanent watering hole. So, in May with the help of a spot of crowdfunding, they nabbed a sweet rectangle of a space, with enjoining outside area between Bow and Bethnal Green.
Considering their wheeled origins, the restaurant is very grown up. Black and white floor tiles, exposed brick, marble tabletops, and neon signs give us the eclectic but still put-together sense of a hot new thing on the scene. What I believe to be midnight blue covers an accent wall, and the cosy strings of orange lights tempt us to venture outside in the dwindling evening.
The menu is to the point, clipped, and easy to understand. Small plates, tacos, or wings, thems your options. Time, thought and words must be devoted to the thing, the wing, that started this whole journey. Honey Buffanero, or Gochu-Gang, and Cauli Bites for the vegans. Naming his “crew” rather cringe-inducingly the gouchu-gang these are an imperative selection, eponymous as they are succulent. This fermented, rice and chili Korean sensation is also having its time in the sun and paired with the sticky slickness of well-cooked meat is a match crafted by the food gods. Dusted with a crown of sesame seeds, spring onions, and drops of gochu mayo it’s certainly a pretty dish. Although Ashley can’t be credited with its invention or even being the first to bring it onto the London food scene, these are dam good flappers. The Honey Buffanero boasts an award-winning buffalo sauce but is overpowered by a rather flat chili taste, a clash of metallic heat that isn’t offset by the oozing blue cheese dip or micro coriander (which is a rather pointless garnish). Cauliflower also coated in the famous gochu-sauce is a lighter option for vegan and non-alike, although equally mess-making. Nibble, debone, suck and savour to your heart’s content, you filthy beast!
Tuna Tostada’s on a corn tortilla is a slab of purplish sashimi, feeling under seasoned and bland in comparison to the wing’s kick. Elote Ribs on the other hand are wide almost architectural arches of corn, like cathedral windows that crunch satisfyingly. Coated in Chili flakes, a pecorino cheese keep these from the vegans, but we carnivores and veggies praise to high heavens this most pleasing bite. Thoughtfully providing for those not interested in flight appendage decimation the opportunity to chisel with their teeth, butter dripping suggestively down their clenched fingers.
Punchy Bulgogi Beef Tacos, and Spicy Pork Belly variations are cooked with patience and precision. This taco bar has its head screwed on when it comes to the Mexican delicacy. Korean slaw, lime crema, fried leeks, salsa verde, and bibimbap sauce keep the culinary fusion burning throughout. We hope the menu expands from the two meat and one tofu option. Fish taco? A light edition for summer that is much needed. The bowls are oddly high walled for what is required, although all sitting under £12. Certainly, on petite side so be ready to double up on the fan favourites.
The fun starts (or ends depending on consumption) with the drinks. Soju (the Korean rice spirit) pops up in many forms. Shots (plain grape) are wonderful palette cleansers and stand in for the lack of desserts. But you must immerse yourself in ritual and have somaek. A traditional drink where you pour a shot of soju into a half pint of light beer, then fluff it up with a spoon, making a foaming beverage that tastes like a candy floss cloud and a cider had a child. Beware dear diner, a neckbeard at a table behind us smashed his glass in a misguidedly spirited cultural emersion. Mezcal shots give the taste of tequila with the warmth of whiskey, and the expected blazing Picante and unexpectedly potent Kimchi Bloody Mary are musts for a flame-kissed on-theme tipple.
As we trundle out the door, having gone through a small forest of napkins and still feeling sticky, a green tea off-menu cocktail is slung down the bar “just to try”. Is there any way to get in my good books quicker?
Mexican Seoul is riding a culinary wave that started off the coast of sunny CA, yet perhaps is on its way to cresting. Yet Ashley and the team surf with skill and energy. This is a neon-glowing venue for a raucous and mucky dinner with your food-obsessed friend or homesick Korean and/or Mexican roommate. But as I discovered a challenging choice to unpick a friend’s recent theatrics, gazing seriously into each other’s eyes, murmuring words of affirmation as we delicately picked chicken tendons from under our nails. It must be experienced, just maybe in wipe-clean fabrics?
Book and table and get stuck in, click here!