As some may know, or maybe you’ve been able to tell through the blog – my favourite cuisines are Modern Australian, French, and Japanese. I don’t really have much of an interest in other cuisines – not out of snobbery, don’t get me wrong, but because looking at the menus and the flavours that are used, it generally doesn’t instantly jump out and appeal to me.
For this reason I’ve never tried Korean cuisine. I’ve been briefly exposed to it through the infiltration of Korean owners into Japanese restaurants across Sydney (dishes such as kimchi on a Japanese restaurant’s menu is a dead giveaway), but I’ve never set foot into a Korean restaurant. Or even into a Korean hot pot restaurant. Although I don’t count hot pot as strictly Korean as so many other Asian restaurants do it now as well.
With Sunday lunch dawning on us, the Sister and I were stumped for options. Our favourite Japanese restaurant in Chatswood, Hinode, had changed owners and so we were no longer inclined to go there as our loyalties didn’t extend to the new owner. I suggested the cafe at Bathers’ Pavillion, Balmoral Beach, and she agreed, only for us to be stuck in traffic when we were not yet even outside of the borders of Chatswood. Defeated, we made a U-turn back into Chatswood and discussed our available options, with the Sister suggesting Soban, a Korean restaurant that she has previously visited with friends. I was a little reluctant to try something new, as one always is, but eventually agreed.
Soban is situated in Westfield Chatswood next to the ever-bustling Kam Fook Seafood Restaurant, on the same level as the Hoyts Cinemas box office. We went in a little late for lunch, about 1.45, and were seated at a table for four. I was quite amused by the waiter call button on the table, and it was very effective.
The interior is uber-clean. Polished wooden tables and floors, fairly comfortable plastic chairs, dark walls and lights in the form of bulbs hanging down low from the high ceiling. Wooden screens separate the front tables from the back tables.
As I was new, I left the Sister in charge of the ordering, although I did have the discretion of selecting my own drink. I had a Gorgeous Geisha tea ($2), while the Sister had a Peach iced tea for $3.90 (Nestea brand). My Gorgeous Geisha tea was a T2 teabag in a little teapot and matching cup. I was pleased that the water wasn’t boiling hot, as it’s a big no-no for green tea.
A selection of little dishes then arrived, which the Sister said was the norm for Korean cuisine.
The tofu (top left) was firm but not overly so, still retaining most of it’s silky texture. The potatoes in the chilli sauce (top right) might have done with a little more salt seasoning, and funnily enough I didn’t find it as hot as my sister, when generally our chilli tolerance is the other way around. The beans (middle left) were blanched well and slightly crisp, although neither of us really touched the kimchi (middle right) as we’re not fans of cabbage. The Sister downright refused to try the picked onion (bottom left), although I did try a small sliver and found it quite sweet. Not really ideal date food though. I found the presence of the pasta salad (bottom right) quite funny as it just stood out like a sore thumb, but the pasta was cooked well and the coleslaw-like dressing quite light.
We had ordered two beef dishes to share between us, the Bulgogi Chap-Chae and the Bulgogi Bibimbap. As an afterthought, it was maybe a bit too much beef between us two girls.
The Bulgogi Chap-Chae ($18.90) was a generous dish of stir-fried potato starch noodles with mushrooms, chives, carrots and other vegetables, and grilled Bulgogi. The Bulgogi beef had been heavily marinated in soy and garlic, with the beef evidently pounded into submission until it was tender and thin before being grilled. It was lovely with a smoky, charred flavour, particularly with the sesame seeds sprinkled over it. The glass noodles were slippery and maybe a little on the chewy side, but they went down well. It was an incredibly flavoursome dish.
The next to arrive was the Bulgogi Bibimbap ($14.90), which came out hissing and popping quietly in a stone bowl, served on a small wooden tray with a bottle of chilli sauce and a bowl of light seaweed soup.
The Bulgogi had been grilled in the same manner as the Chap-Chae above, seated on a bed of lightly blanched zucchini, turnip and carrot slivers and fresh bean sprouts, and then hot steamed rice. The Sister, with great enthusiasm, proceeded to squeeze in a generous amount of chilli sauce into the rice bowl before mixing it through very energetically. While I loved the freshness of the dish and the stickiness of the rice that had stuck to the sides of the stone bowl, the Sister had added way too much chilli sauce for either of ours liking and while we were eating with our noses running – so attractive! Luckily the seaweed soup helped with that (obviously its purpose!), with thin seaweed strands in the clear dashi-flavoured broth.
Ultimately, we finished more than half of both of the main dishes and made an exit soon after, packing the rest into a takeaway box.
My first proper experience with Korean food! I loved how fresh the Bibimbap was, although it was a stark contrast with the rather heavy garlic marinade of the beef. Service and cleanliness of the establishment was impeccable, and the food had been brought out speedily. An classy, Korean fine-dining addition to the hustle and bustle of Chatswood’s Westfield :)
6/1 Anderson St, Chatswood NSW 2067
(02) 9415 2028