Mr Lemur likes most things but for some reason he is highly skeptical about Korean food. Maybe it’s because of the infamous New York Korean gristle palace, where we managed to order giant plates of chewy tendon with no actual meat, and the waitstaff looked disparagingly at us when we asked for rice? Or maybe he’s scared of the little fishes you usually get in your banchan? I actually think of the Korean vs Japanese food divide as one of those key ones, like Italian vs French, that defines what kind of food lover you are. Everyone likes Japanese food; refined, complex, sophisticated, I get it. But I (often) find Japanese food boring and bland whereas Korean food is rustic, spicy, meaty. Mr Lemur often drags me to Japanese restaurants and I’ve learned to appreciate some aspects of that cuisine, but I rarely manage to get turnabout. It’s got to the point where one of the Crocodiles and I have been threatening to ‘cheat’ on our spouses by going off together for a lunchtime Korean food orgy. Secret Soho kimchee assignations! But this week I somehow talked Mr Lemur into lunch at Binari, the new Korean place in Brighton.
I was immediately drawn to bibim-naengmyeon, a cold dish of buckwheat noodles with thinly-sliced Asian pear, radish and cucumber, plus a generous dollop of gochujang, or fermented red chili paste. (Ok, it also had a hard-boiled egg, but that shit came off PDQ.)
It was beautifully presented and a wonderfully light dish for a summer day, with juicy pear and cucumber constrasting nicely with the richness of the chili paste. Despite the deep red colour, it isn’t very hot but it has a lovely umami flavour that comes from its base in fermented sticky rice and soybeans. The noodles were also perfectly cooked.
Mr Lemur went for kimchee jjigae, a thick soup of soft tofu and kimchee that came in a cute little cast iron casserole with a side order of rice.
The waiter, who was adorable, said this was one of his favourite dishes and it had exactly the kind of homestyle comfort food quality designed to appease a Korean-food skeptic. It was pleasantly spicy, with the sour-sweet qualities of good kimchee, as well as a background of good fish stock.
Mr Lemur must have been won over, or the kimchee made him punchy or something. We ended up in hysterics over a fly that I rescued from the pool of chili paste at the bottom of my dish. (It flew in after I finished eating, I should say.) I picked it out with my chopsticks and we watched transfixed as it slowly washed the chili off its wings. For some reason, we got strangely invested in its rescue, willing it to make it. Finally, it seemed like it was about to fly off when our waiter came over and wiped our table clean, squashing it in our discarded napkins. Oh well, circle of life and all that.
The restaurant is airy, if somewhat lacking in ambience. Granted, we went at lunch where the only other customers were some Asian students – it’s probably more hopping at night. We caught a glimpse of night-time at Binari in a row of colored jars on the bar. These turned out to be Korean wines, with various fruit flavours steeping, like pomegranate and blackberries. I think I might actually be able to persuade Mr Lemur to come back in the evening to give these a shot…
Binari, 31 Preston St, Brighton BN1 2HP