Staines, as I mentioned in my intro page, is a fairly nondescript dormitory town outside London, but I have to say it is extremely well served for quality eating establishments (see my other tips), there really is an embarrassment of riches. I recently discovered yet another to add to the list, the simply wonderful Ko Gu Ryo restaurant.
As you can see from the photo it hides behind a pretty unprepossessing exterior, slightly off the main drag in Staines but do not be deceived. My companion and I are both lucky enough to have eaten well in a number of countries and we both instantly put this place into our top 5 restaurants worldwide. I can assure you that is high praise indeed.
The first thing you notice on entering is the tremendously friendly welcome. I know Asian hospitality is renowned, but this really is above and beyond. The lady and gentleman serving were helpful to a fault, and unfailingly charming. you can see them in the slightly dark second photo. I really must get a better flash!
After such an intro, you will want to hear about the food, and what food it was. I am certainly no expert on Korean cuisine, so I cannot say if these are typical dishes, what I can vouch for is the taste which was magnificent.
We ordered the obligatory Kimchi which are fermented vegetables and delicious, probably the national dish of Korea. Although we only ordered a basic kimchi, we were presented with about half a dozen dishes of assorted accompaniments, all of which were very good.
For starters we shared YUN UR HOE which is sliced fresh raw salmon with wasabi soy sauce. I should say that all the descriptions of the food are taken from the menu which is available on the attached website should you wish to peruse it. Personally, I salivate just looking at it. The salmon was extremely fresh and set off beautifully by the slightly sharp wasabi and soy.
The other starter we had, chosen probably for novelty value it must be said, now ranks amongst the finest food I have ever eaten. It is YUK HWAE, shredded fresh raw lean beef marinated in sweet corn syrup , sesame oil sauce over a bed of fresh pears. I do like steak tartare but this really took the concept of raw beef to a different place. It worked on so many levels, texture, appearance and, most imprtantly, flavour. I know raw beef and pears perhaps sounds an odd combination but it is divine.
The highlight of any Korean meal for me is the table barbecue, where food is cooked for you over a burner set into the middle of the table. We had a couple of barbecue dishes to share both of which were excellent and cooked, along with some interesting conversation, by the smiling Korean lady.
For me the pick of the pair was the SO HYU, ox tongue served with seasoned sesame oil sauce. Succulent and flavoured to perfection, it was a treat.
We accompanied the meal with another taste that was new to me, soju, which is a Korean alcoholic drink apparently made from sweet potatoes and served with liberal amounts of cucumber. Not too harsh, it complemented the food beautifully.
I suppose you have gathered by the tone of this tip that I was hugely impressed by this place, and this is indeed the case. Were the Ko Gu Ryo in Central London, they could easily charge twice the very reasonable prices they do now, and people would be happy to pay them. As it is, all I can say is that whatever it takes you to get there, get there and enjoy a magnificent culinary experience. Top class in every respect.
Update, October 2009.
Since writing this tip originally, I have had the great pleasure to have eaten here several more times, and it seems to just get better and better, which I would have thought impossible. There is always a worry that re-visiting a restaurant where you have had a great meal that the subsequent visits will be a disappointment, but this is certainly not the case.
My last meal was this week, and I asked my companion to choose. Feeling adventurous, we opted for a jellyfish salad as one dish. Yes, you read that correctly, jellyfish, slimy thing that floats about in the sea and stings you if you are unlucky. It was with slight trepidation that I tried it, but it was absolutely delightful, served in a salad with pear, red pepper, cucumber, carrot and a gorgeous dipping sauce. A word of caution though. Jellyfish and chopsticks are a challenging combination!
For the main dish we decided on the seafood stew, which was not cheap at £25 but the end result certainly justified the expense. A huge dish filled with succulent large chunks of fish, prawn, various shellfish and tofu all cooked to perfection in a delightful sauce. I have included photos of both to show the beautiful presentation and wonderful food that is on offer here. Again, I can only say, go.
Update November 2011
Readers of my pages will know that I like to keep them updated when I can in order to keep them current. I dined here again in late November 2011 and was, as always, very satisfied. Excellent food and friendly service as always, indicating that that very high standards here are being kept up. As a new departure, my companion and I dined on a dish (the name of which I do not recall) but which I can best describe as Korean haggis if that makes any sense. The photo gives an idea, and it was delightful. Still highly recommended.
Favorite Dish: A difficult choice as all the dishes were superb, prepared from fresh ingredients and with obvious care, but as described above I would have to say my favourite dish was the shredded raw beef and pear. Quite sensational.
Update - the beef is still favourite but a very honourable mention for the seafood stew.
Update March 2011.
I like to keep my tips up to date when I can and have to report that I ate here recently and had an excellent experience. On an early weeknight, there were not too many patrons and my companion and I chose to eat in the bar rather than the restaurant which is a pleasant space, unfussy but cosy and the service was friendly and quick, a feature I had noted on previous visits.
The menu has changed a bit from my last visit and there seems to be a preference now for classic British cuisine with only a few little twists. The fact that the relatively new chef is a Scotsman may explain the slightly incongruous (for the Home Counties) but very welcome addition of haggis, neeps and tatties to the menu.
My companion and I both plumped for the devilled kidneys (pictured) to start and they were a delight. I had always associated them with breakfast, normally in upper end places but they were equally delicious in the evening, featuring just enough spicing to give an interesting kick and aftertaste without being ludicrously hot.
On to the main course, and I was overjoyed to see an oxtail and root vegetable casserole on the menu. Oxtail? In the UK? After the BSE / mad cow disease scare of a few years ago? Well, there is was and it provided an absolutely obvious choice. Genuinely, I do not know where I would go about buying oxtail and it is such a procedure to cook it, so having someone else do it was just brilliant. I suspect it must have been slow cooked for about as long as it would have taken the antipodean barman to fly from his home, it was so tender. I mean, for a so-called "cheap" cut of meat, it was the most succulent meat I have eaten for a very long while and perfectly complemented by the hearty roast veg.
There seems to be a penchant for serving most dishes here with large chunks of various rustic / artisan breads on large wooden platters. Whilst it obviously assists the restaurant in terms of dishwashing, it is a style I quite like, eating out of the cooking vessel. I practice it myself a lot at home, but then again I haven't got a dishwasher.
Obviously, I had eaten here before (see the existing tip below) but the standards here seem to have gone up a notch or two and it is definitely recommended.
I ate here in the summer, and the riverside terrace on the Thames provided a wonderful setting for what was a very pleasant meal.
The menu is a little eclectic with various influences including Asian although the backbone of the place is traditional British food.
I had a perfectly cooked lamb shank, which is a particular favourite of mine and it was very good.
The price quoted is for two courses and coffee, without wine, although there is a good wine selection.
Favorite Dish: Lamb shank.
As I have mentioned in other restaurant tips on Staines, the town really does bristle with excellent establishments, so I suppose it is no surprise that it should have a very good Indian restaurant as well, and Roshni's certainly is that. It is slightly hidden down some steps approaching the river path at the side of Staines bridge but it is well worth seeking out.
I am somewhat spoiled living in the East End of London, and a short walk from the world famous Brick Lane, so I know what constitutes a good Indian meal. Roshni's certainly provides it. Whilst all the old favourites are in evidence, there are some slightly more unusual dishes, all of which are cooked to perfection. A local Sikh taxi driver (usually good sources of information, in my experience) told me that the head chef is from Delhi, although there are influences in the food from all over the sub Continent, from Goa to Darjeeling and all points in between.
An example of this is the Bhel Puri starter, a Mumbai favourite, consisting of roasted rice, diced potato, chopped shallots and tomato mixed with coriander chutney. A very pleasant dish and a bit of a change from the more usual bhaji / samosa / kebab. Another favourite starter is the Chowk ki Tikki, from Northern India, essentially a fried potato and pea cake served with a delicious mint and tamarind chutney.
Main courses are similarly adventurous, although as I said you can certainly get all the old standards. Whilst an honourable mention must go to the chargrilled tandoori cooked duck breast, my absolute favourite amongst them is the delightfully named Roast Ghost. I am sure there must be an Indian word for roast! Name aside, it is a delighfrul dish, consisiting of roast lamb shank served in a cumin, ginger, green chilli and garlic gravy. The meat literally falls off the bone and the flavours are noticeable without being overpowering, allowing the flavour of the meat to take centre stage as it should.
Although not normally a great fan of Sag Paneer (spinach and Indian whey cheese), my companion ordered it one evening and it was extremely good. Other vegetable accompaniments are similarly well-cooked and presented.
Although I have never visited, I believe there is a lunchtime buffet, which appears good value. The prices I have shown are for an evening al a carte meal.
I have eaten here more than once and it is unfailingly good. To be honest, were it not for the excellent selection of reataurants locally, which I mentioned, I would eat here on a more regular basis. If I had one slight quibble, and it is slight, it is that they will sometimes close early if they are not busy, so if you intend eating later in the evening, probably best to call first.
Update July 2010.
I like to try to keep my tips up to date if possible, as people may think the information is out of date. I ate here a fortnight ago, and found that standards have not slipped at all, excellent food. The caveat about closing early still stands though.
Update February 2011.
As mentioned above, I like to try to keep restaurant tips up to date as best I can. Restaurants can come and go very rapidly. I ate here recently, and the food is still of the highest quality, with friendly service. Again, my only very slight complaint is that they do like to rush you out the door if the place is quiet, but that is a minor quibble.
Favorite Dish: As described, the oddly named Roast Ghost. A perfectly cooked lamb shank in a very tasty gravy.
This place is indicative of the revolution that has taken place in British eating habits in about the last 20 years. whereas once your choice of food in a pub was peanuts or perhaps a pickled egg, now there are pubs serving food that is certainly of restuarant quality at a much more affordable price, and the Bells is one of the best examples I know. It is well off the beaten track and does not attract passing trade, I only found out about it from a friend. However, I have been in there on a Monday night in winter when it has been packed with diners, which must say something about it's popularity with local people.
The pub itself is pleasant with a very well appointed heated outdoor area for those of us who like to smoke. There is a large back room which hosts occasional music events (I believe there is a folk club there), service is good and there is a genuinely friendly atmosphere in the place. However, it is the food that draws me back here time and again.
I have eaten here several times and hope to do so again, and the food is unfailingly excellent. There is an emphasis on simply cooked good ingredients which never fails to delight. I know for a fact that the fish is sourced daily from Billingsgate Fish Market in London (a bit of a drive at 4 in the morning!) and I believe that the pork is actually sourced from the vicar in the church opposite who raises pigs as a sideline from saving souls.
Apart from the standard menu, there is a daily soup, a daily homemade pie and at least two specials. I tend to choose one of the daily specials, and I have yet to be disappointed.
I really cannot recommend this place highly enough, it is definitely worth seeking out.
Update 22nd June, 2009. I ate again here last week and had yet another superb meal. When I found out that the head chef was on a day off and saw the apparent youth of the two chefs on duty, I was even more impressed. Top quality food from two young chefs who, I would suggest, have a big future ahead of them. Well done all.
Update, July 2010.
I like to keep my tips up to date if I have revisited a place so that the information does not get stale. I have eaten here several times recently, the last time two nights ago, and the Bells never fails to delight. The standard is consistently good, the service remains friendly and I continue to recommend it highly.
Update February 2011.
As mentioned above, I like to keep tips, especially restaurant tips, as up to date as I can. I am glad to report that I ate here recently and standards are as high as ever. The oxtail suet pudding was simply wonderful. As it was a quiet early weekday, I had a chance to have a chat to the firghteningly young chef, who impressed me greatly with her knowledge and passion for good, simple food. she, like the Bells, deserves to continue to flourish and it is still very highly recommended.
Favorite Dish: My favourite dish? What a difficult question. Certainly an honourable mention for the cod with parmesan crust, but I think the nod goes to the beef and stilton pie with possibly the creamiest mash I have ever eaten.
As I have said in other tips, there is a great divergence of opinion in the UK amongst drinkers concerning the J.D.Wetherspoon chain.
Some say they are destroying the traditional local pub, others hail them as a cheap option for food and drink in what are generally pleasant surroundings. For non-UK readers, the situation is basically this. JDW, as they are known, open pubs in buildings that generally were not previously licensed premises. I know, for example, of old banks, office buildings and even a postal sorting office that have been so used. They tend to be large buildings and the business ethos is that they work on economies of scale. They will consistently undercut other local places on both food and drink. I, personally, have nothing against them.
One of the reasons I like JDW outlests is that they serve a very good breakfast, and at £3:89 (just under $6:50 US, June 2009 price), I do not think I could buy a comparable meal in a cafe locally as cheaply.
They also have an extensive menu of meals available during the day and evening (up until 10p.m.) with some value options. Additionally, they have a Tuesday Grill Club, Thursday Curry Club and a Sunday Club (basically roast dinners). All these deals come with a drink from a selected range and are very good value.
Certainly, it is not a top-class restaurant, nor does it pretend to be but the service is good and quick and the food very tasty, so what more would you want?
Favorite Dish: I have only eaten the Big Breakfast here, which is consistently good.