Neil Sowerby considers cultural appropriation and massive geisha heads in the suburbs.

CULTURAL appropriation. It’s the curse of our age apparently. But maybe we should be fretting less about Jamie’s jerk rice, more about his chirpy exploitation of 90-year-old Italian nonnas for his current chocolate box telly travelogue. 

I’m not holding my breath for those rustic capers he plucked from a bush in the Aeolian Islands showing up soon at Jamie’s Italian on King Street. That faux Med mausoleum has survived the struggling chain’s cull, but for a proper Manc Mezzogiorno experience go Sugo, I say.

So on to another stranger I’m delighted to make the acquaintance of – Osam-Bulgogi

Which brings us to Japan. No, there’s not a 'Geezers’ Gyoza' brand ready to roll out on the High Street, but we don’t show the cuisine the respect it deserves. Sushi certainly is a devalued currency. What started as our yen for Yo! has ended in a proliferation of supermarket chill cabinets harbouring dried out turds of rice, topped with last week’s fish. 

If this is lowest common denominator sushi, there’s also its essential role as a perceived calorie-free option for ladies who lunch or a hip appetiser at bars which think sticking yuzu in a cocktail is cool.

2018 10 28 Okitchen Review Exterior
OKitchen has opened at 43 Barlow Moor Rd - a site previously occupied by Didsbury Lounge

As it happens, in OKitchen my cocktail of choice is a marriage of convenience between Italian and Asian with the Negroni’s holy trinity of gin (Ophir on this occasion), Campari and sweet vermouth supplemented by a dash of lychee liqueur and stirred with half a deseeded chilli. This Kesi ni Giri is delicious, even if as an £8.50 premium tipple it doesn’t qualify for the new bar’s generous £10-for-two cocktails Happy Hour offer.

OKitchen describes it self as a ‘Restaurant & Bar, serving Japanese and Korean Food’, so I had to ask my Malaysian server the nationality of owner and chef. Both Korean. So is the Japanese half of the menu a concession to that cuisine’s cultural primacy, despite Korean staple Kimchi’s recent rise as the ferment of choice? The wide choice of sushi (and sashimi) suggested a Yes; the lack of character of the mackerel and octopus nigiri (in each case £3.80 for two pieces) I ordered persuaded me perhaps No would have been a better idea. For the Korean dishes to come were a revelatory treat.

2018 10 28 Okitchen Review Gyoza
A tray of five chicken gyoza (£4.50)
2018 10 28 Okitchen Review Sushi
Sushi (£3.80 for two pieces) lacked character

It’s a truism but the key element in all forms of sushi is the rice itself, slightly warm with a hint of rice vinegar in there. None of the sort here. Perhaps unfair, but only days before the equivalent at Umezushi, with their mackerel effortlessly intenser, had almost stood up and sung the Japanese National Anthem. And the exec chef there, continuing a theme, is from Gran Canaria.

I had kicked off with a tray of five chicken gyoza (£4.50), perfect finger food, moon-shaped shells encasing a spicy minced filling. A side of Kkakdugi (£2.80) substitutes daikon radish for the cabbage customary for kimchi; the texture is different but the spicing’s the same – gochugaru and fish sauce in the mix.

2018 10 28 Okitchen Review Osam Bulgogi With Pickles
Osam-Bulgogi (£9.60) with pickles was a treat
2018 10 28 Okitchen Review Raw Beef Yukhoe
Yukhoe (£8.80) is beef tartare Korean style

The long, narrow site was previously occupied by Didsbury Lounge. The odd spiral staircase leading up the atrium survives but the rest has been de-blinged. The golden look has been replaced by pink and turquoise and after losing the ‘library look’ wallpaper there are now huge, slightly scary geisha heads.

Yukhoe (£8.80), beef tartare Korean style, has its own scary Seoul mate Gaphoe – made from raw liver, kidney and hearts. Yukhoe, mercifully, is tender steak strips and thick matchsticks of Korean pear, speckled with sesame seeds and topped by a raw egg yolk, which – tartare style – you mix in. Soy, sesame oil, spring onion, garlic and back pepper all add flavour but it is the crisp pears that make it glorious.

So on to another stranger I’m delighted to make the acquaintance of – Osam-Bulgogi (£9.60). This is a satisfying variant on the national dish of marinated beef shavings grilled on a barbecue preferably. This dish offers a duo of squid and pork given the same treatment. They arrive with a squad of pickles and lettuce ‘cups’ for scooping both up with. 

2018 10 28 Okitchen Review Geisha
Slightly scary geisha heads keep watch

The BBQ list at OKitchen jostles with offerings of tempura, teriyaki, stir-fries, rice-based dishes casseroles/hot pots.

This was a solo visit, otherwise I would have been tempted by a large sharing stew for two called Budae-jjigae (£25), which translates as ‘Army Base Stew’. This one-pot oddity dates back to the Korean War in the 1950s when food was scarce in the country and the surplus processed foods from the US military bases were a great supplement to the national diet. Hence the Budae-jjigae.

I’m not sure what goes into the Didsbury version but for authenticity’s sake you’d expect spam, frankfurters, canned baked beans and sliced cheese alongside mushrooms, stock, and the inevitable kimchi.

Now that’s what you call cultural appropriation.

OKItchen, 43 Barlow Moor Rd, Manchester M20 6TW. Tel: 0161 434 1854.

The scores

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.

  • Food 7/10

    Chicken gyoza 7, raw beef yukhoe 8, mackerel nigiri 6, octopus nigiri 5, kkakdugi 7, osam bulgogi 8, kesi ni giri 7

  • Ambience 3/5

    Cosy with unsettling geisha heads

  • Service 3/5

    Helpful Malaysian served talked me through unfamiliar dishes.