Michael Deacon reviews Oshibi, York: 'Essentially, you’re holding your own little indoor barbecue'

Oshibi in York
This week, Michael Deacon tries his hand at CYO (cook your own) Credit: Mark Whitfield


Oshibi 9 Franklins Yard,  Fossgate, York YO1 9TN 
Contact: 01904-593649 oshibi.co.uk 
Price: Dinner for two: Around £40 without alcohol

Bit of a change of pace this week. Normally I review other people’s cooking. But not today. Today I’m reviewing my own.

The diners of Britain can rest easy: I haven’t started working in a kitchen. But I am covering a restaurant where the key dish requires diners to do the cooking themselves. An interesting experience, and therefore, I think, worth writing about.

On the other hand, it does present the reader with a small problem. Namely: given that the dish I’m reviewing was cooked by me, how do you know whether it’s any good or not? If I say it’s awful, that may well only be because my cooking is awful. And if I say it’s brilliant, that may well only be because my cooking is brilliant. Or because I want you to think my cooking is brilliant.

People who frown always look as if they know what they’re doing. No one dares question a frowning man

Either way, my verdict isn’t much use to you, because if you visit this restaurant and order the same dish I had, it won’t be cooked by me, it’ll be cooked by you. And therefore your verdict on that dish may be utterly different from mine, depending on how much better or worse you are at cooking than I am. Maybe in your hands the dish will be a five-star masterpiece. Or maybe it will be a one-star atrocity.

Still, you can see the advantage from the restaurant’s point of view. After all, if you do think the dish is horrible, you can hardly blame them. At most, all you could do is summon the waiter, demand to speak to yourself, give yourself a good dressing-down, and then afterwards subject yourself to an excoriating write-up  on TripAdvisor. ('My cooking really is the most appalling I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across. Quite frankly, I had a good mind to send the food back and order myself to cook  it again.’) But perhaps I’m exaggerating the risks slightly.

Let me explain. Today’s restaurant is Oshibi, a tiny Korean place in York. As is traditional with restaurants in Korea, your table is fitted with a special grill. If, as I did, you order from the Oshibi Korean Table Grill Menu, you will be brought a selection of dips and vegetables, plus your choice of meats – which you will be left to cook for yourself. Essentially, you’re holding your own little indoor barbecue. My meats were the squid and the beef. 

The elements of an Oshibi Korean Table Grill Menu, alongside the tabletop grill Credit: Mark Whitfield

I heated my grill, slid some lumps of meat on to it, and then used the tongs provided to prod them around while frowning furiously. I wasn’t cross or anything; I was just frowning for effect. Korean restaurants make me feel a bit self-conscious, cooking my own food in a public place – and in the presence of restaurant staff, too.

I must admit I find tofu a mystery. Lukewarm cubes of glistening grey rubber. I admire vegetarians. It must take real courage, forcing stuff like that down their throats

Frowning made me feel better. People who frown always look as if they know what they’re doing. No one dares question a frowning man. 

I spend a lot of my time at work frowning. Mark my words: if you see a man frowning furiously while engaged in some task, odds are he hasn’t a clue how to do it but is extremely keen for you not to notice.

If you don’t fancy cooking the meat yourself, not to worry – you can get the kitchen to do it for you. To be honest, though, that would make me feel even more self-conscious. It would be like using a fork in a Chinese restaurant: easier for the novice, sure, but not exactly entering into the spirit of things, and rather bad manners. Yes, I know: I’ve effectively just said that it’s bad manners to ask a restaurant to cook your dinner for you. But in this case, I think  it’s true.

Yachae mandu (pan-fried dumplings)  Credit: Mark Whitfield

Anyway, you don’t have to order from the grill menu: there are plenty of dishes that require the diner to do nothing but eat them. For example, I enjoyed the yachae mandu: pan-fried vegetable dumplings, greasy but squashily succulent. There’s also a range of hotpot dishes known as bibimbap. The word translates as 'mixed rice’, and it comes in a bowl topped with egg and a choice of vegetables, meat and tofu.

I was eating with my parents, and my mother, being vegetarian, ordered the tofu. She thought it was good, so I’ll take her word for it. I do eat tofu at home sometimes, because my wife’s vegetarian too, but I must admit I find the stuff a mystery. Lukewarm cubes of glistening grey rubber. To be clear, I’m not knocking vegetarians; on the contrary, I admire them. It must take real courage, forcing stuff like that down their throats all day.

But back to my main. My beef and squid were great, if I do say so myself, and went especially well with the ssamjang (a livid red spicy dipping sauce).

Bibimbap (mixed rice with meat and vegetables, topped with an egg) Credit: Mark Whitfield

A Korean grill like this, though, is best enjoyed as a party, with everyone at the table cooking together. Go in a group, all of you ordering the table grill menu but with different meats so that you can share.

The staff are nice and friendly, and after a few bottles of Hite (a refreshing Korean lager) you’ll probably forget that the restaurant itself is somewhat functional and drab-looking.

The puddings, meanwhile, are all ice creams with Far Eastern flavours, such as lychee or green tea. I had the Vietnamese coffee flavour, which was pleasantly bitter.

On the whole, then, Oshibi’s a pretty nice place, even if you are, in part, paying for the privilege of cooking your own meal. Fortunately, I was quite pleased with my efforts, and made sure to slip myself a generous tip. 

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