Wednesday, 26 September 2018

CheeMc, Walworth Road

With deep and heartfelt apologies to those who call the area their home, there aren't too many convincing arguments to visit Walworth Road of an evening unless you have a particular fondness for betting shops, nail bars and standing traffic. Caught in a bit of a no-mans-land between the heaving Elephant & Castle roundabout (more recently less of a roundabout than a strange C-shape, but still heaving) and the genuinely enticing restaurant options of Camberwell, it's more of a conduit than an area, and up until quite recently its most significant impact on my life has been making me late for dinner at Silk Road. And I really do not like being late for dinner.

But, the merest hints of a dynamic food culture are flickering into life. As with so many (for want of a better word) unlovely areas of town, rents tend to be lower and with the freedom to be a bit more experimentational with your concepts and not worry too much about paying large investors back, London's restaurateurs can spread their wings a bit. True, Louie Louie wasn't quite my cup of tea in the end, but I like the fact that it's there, an okonomiyaki restaurant in South London, because why the hell not, a pleasing example that there are some people out there taking risks.

I wish I could tell you that I had a more successful evening at CheeMc than at Louie Louie, that I'd finally found my Korean chicken nirvana and that Walworth Road finally deserves to be spoken about in the same breadth as Camberwell Church Street or Brixton's Market Row. Sadly, we're not quite there yet, but it's still heartening to see a quirky, independent little operation like CheeMc pack them in on a rainy Sunday evening even if, in my usual tedious way, I could still find fault with a lot of the food served.

Partly my gripes were with the menu, which was large to the point of overwhelming and included a rather geographically ambiguous mix of Japanese staples like ramen, katsu, udon and takoyaki as well as Korean classics like bibimbab and soondooboo jigae. Had the food which appeared been better, I could have overlooked the game attempts to be Jack of all trades, but once a rather lacklustre bowl of udon ramen appeared, tasting of packet stock and raw onions, it quickly looked a lot less like idiosyncrasy and a lot more like an identity crisis.

Japche glass noodles were better, containing nice fresh vegetables and a confident hand with the sesame oil, and were pretty easy to enjoy in a straightforward kind of way. £7.90 does seem like quite a lot to pay for a some stir-fried vegetables and noodles, though. I could have them delivered to the door for that from a few places on Just Eat.

Bibimbab was good. Not astonishing, but good. More interesting once doused with gochujang, certainly, and there wasn't really anything significantly wrong with it, it just did its job as much as as a bowl of rice with various bits of veg on top can do.

The only real disappointment was the chicken. I don't pretend to be any kind of expert, on this or anything else, but I've had good Korean fried chicken, and I've had bad, and this was not good. Poorly butchered, in fact hacked into a strange collection of misshapen bits of pieces with broken bones jutting out at ugly angles, they were no less upsetting to eat than look at, being overcooked and tough, and coated in a chilli sauce that tasted of nothing much more than dry chilli powder. We soon wished we'd ordered a half portion instead of a full (£18.90), but even that would have been far too much to pay for a fairly mediocre pile of wings. Even an included bowl of sweet pickled daikon couldn't make this value for money.

With a drink each, the bill came to £16.31/head, great if your life's ambition is to eat vegetable noodles and poor fried chicken, not so great if it isn't. And I'm very much in the latter camp, so it seems my search for the Best of Korea goes on. Perhaps I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and travel all the way back to New Malden; if they can't get it right there then there's no hope for anyone. And for now, the Walworth Road will go back to its primary function of slowing me down on the way to dinner in Camberwell. If anything changes, though, you'll be the first to know.



Alicia Foodycat said...

Interesting - people seemed to rave about the chicken when it first opened. Then it got closed down for mice or something. Now it presumably has no mice but the chicken isn't as good?

jayna said...

I too frequented CheeMc 3-4 times before it was closed down, and the highlights were the fried chicken and Korean food. They were known for Korean. Has there been a change in establishment that they now offer Japanese too?