Hooked on Korean food! – always on the lookout for new and interesting beer and food pairing ideas.   The HopFlower spends an evening at London’s School of Wok

I reached a momentous birthday in July. I won’t spell it out but let’s just say my Dad was lucky enough to go to Wembley and see Bobby Moore lift the World Cup when I was just a week old…

Some lovely friends wanted to buy me a birthday gift but I struggled for ideas as having reached such a ripe old age there’s little that I need. I decided instead that good memories are the perfect present and asked for vouchers for the School of Wok cookery school in London.

I love cookery courses. I enjoy cooking but moreover I am always on the lookout for new and interesting beer and food pairing ideas. I have previously done an Indian cookery class in Delhi and a Basque class in San Sebastian.  

A little bit closer to home near Charing Cross Station, along the road from the excellent Harp pub, School of Wok had caught my eye as they offered Korean Cookery classes.

I should explain the opportunity to visit Seoul arose a few years ago as my brother was lecturing there at a university summer school. He had a free week before he came home and an apartment on the campus so I bought an inflatable mattress and booked a flight.  

Seoul is a huge city with a fascinating mix of modern, traditional and residential architecture fringed by mountains and temples. The people are friendly and the food is amazing.

On my first morning in Seoul we went to a restaurant and had Mung bean pancakes which were heavenly. That was it – I was hooked on Korean food!

Whilst in Seoul we spent many evenings in a tiny local bar which appeared to be run singlehandedly by a woman who didn’t speak English so we quickly learnt how to ask for two beers in Korean. I can ask for beer in four languages other than English but otherwise hello, goodbye and thank you are pretty much the extent of my bilingual talents – shame on me!

We were drawn to this particular bar as it had the great feel of a local. We were always greeted with a huge smile. It was common to be given a bowl of peanuts in Seoul bars but here the lovely woman went one step further and gave us bowls of cherry tomatoes and whitebait as well. Locals were served huge platters of cooked food produced from behind the tiny bar –this woman was an amazing host!

I have to be honest and say the beer wasn’t outstanding but it was cool and refreshing which in the heat of Seoul in June did the job!    

Bulgogi – Meat on fire!

Since my Korean trip I have made the occasional trek to the South West London Suburb of New Malden which being home to a large Korean community has excellent and reasonably priced Korean restaurants. I have also dabbled at home but almost finished off my other half who has adverse reactions to spicy food. So I thought it was time I had a lesson from the experts.

School of Wok hold a range of classes in Oriental cookery but wanting specifically Korean I booked myself on their Korean BBQ and Kimchi three hour course. I was joined by seven other students, a mixture of ages and nationalities all keen to learn about Korean cookery. Our teacher for the night was the warm and friendly Yun Ko.

So with nothing scarier than a chop stick in sight iI allowed myself a couple of bottles of Tsingtao

After a lesson on how to use a scary looking cleaver we chopped vegetables, ginger and garlic for the Bulgogi marinades. Bulgogi is a Korean speciality. Yun told us it literally means ‘meat on fire’ . When making the marinades however you can adjust the seasoning to your taste.   We made one marinade for beef Bulgogi which had a base of Soy Sauce and another for Spicy Pork Belly Bulgogi which based on Korean Chilli paste was a more glutinous marinade.  

Next we made little dumplings stuffed with minced pork. Although this looked fiddly as the idea is to manoeuvre the pork and chopped seasoning into cigarette paper-thin wrappers made from dough it was surprisingly easy

Finally Yun gave us a Kimchi making demonstration. Another Korean staple, Kimchi is all about fermentation – like beer! Yun mixed mooli (a type of radish) a mixture of spices and seasoning, raw oyster and shrimps with chopped cabbage. The addition of raw seafood may sound scary but it gives freshness to the Kimchi. In Korea communities gather to make huge quantities of Kimchi for the winter which improves as it ferments. Kimchi is an acquired taste but definitely worth trying.

Throughout the evening we were offered drinks although I delayed hitting the beer until all cleaver use was over. So with nothing scarier than a chop stick in sight I allowed myself a couple of bottles of Tsingtao.  

We cooked the Bulgogi on table top BBQs. A great sociable way of eating

The evening finished with us sitting together devouring the food we had prepared. The dumplings had amazingly stayed in one piece and were delicious. The delicate flavour was not overpowered by the Tsingtao and the carbonation sliced through the dumpling wrapper. I think the dumplings would pair very well with a flowery Blonde Ale such as Siren’s fragrant Love of Work. A sensible ABV of 3.6% with notes of Earl Grey Tea which would complement the dumplings beautifully.

We cooked the Bulgogi on table top BBQs. A great sociable way of eating which reminds me of Raclette – without the bread and cheese but you get my drift.  

The beef Bulgogi marinade was the lighter of the two so we had this first. Not too spicy but flavoursome, this had notes of sesame oil and soya sauce. We had decided to add an extra touch of ginger to give it a bit more sweetness. With this I would suggest The Kent Gipsy’s Yuzu. A collab beer from Gipsy Hill Brewery and Kent Brewery containing gorgeous Sorachi Ace hops. Yuzu is a pale blond cloudy ale with an ABV of 5.2% and notes of coconut and lime leading to a dry palate-cleansing finish.  

We then cooked the Spicy Pork Belly Bulgogi until it started to crisp a little. This was delicious, quite a bit hotter than the beef but not too high up the Scoville scale for me to handle. The Korean chilli paste gave this marinade a richer slightly creamier mouthfeel and taste. The Tsingtao cooled down the spice but given the choice I would pair the Spicy Pork Belly Bulgogi with a beer which has the ‘belly’ to stand up to it such as a good full bodied IPA . I had a can of Northern Monk’s Heathen with the pork belly leftovers from my doggy bag the following night which worked well. The Heathen has the hoppiness you’d expect from an IPA but not to the extent that it overpowered or distorted the Spicy Bulgogi. With an ABV of 7.2% Heathen is robust and has a good amount of sweetness to complement the caramelised pork belly. Pepper notes in the finish also complement this dish perfectly.

If you are looking for a Christmas gift for someone in your life who has everything or fancy broadening your cooking skills I would recommend School of Wok. And maybe pop into the Harp* for some beer pairing inspiration….

 * Please see the August edition of CAMRA publication London Drinker for a tribute to Binnie Walsh, who was the long time owner and licensee of the Harp