Saturday, October 21, 2006

Korean Experience

165 Tanjong Pagar Road,Level 2, Amara Hotel,
(S) 088539
Tel: 6220 7160

The last time we had Korean food was during our second honeymoon to the US. That round wasn’t too pleasant as the restaurant we popped in was quite deserted on a weekend night. Not a good sign of course. Plus the English translation on the menu was so misleading that N was quite upset when the food arrived. After that we stave off Korean food for a while.

My faith in Korean food was revived after watching Da Chang Jin and certainly the Korean heart warming series has enlightened many in the country’s cuisine. Feeling inspired on one weekends, we tried to walk in to Hyang To Gol @ Amara Hotel whom 1 was recommended to by the word of mouth, only to be told that they were fully booked till 9pm.That was how we ended up at Silk Road.(See review in September 06)

This time we were cleverer and N booked the seats ahead as I was running a double workshops session that Saturday. Arriving promptly, the waft of grill aromas from tables that ordered the Korean specialties of grilled meats greeted us before the hostess came by. We could see that the restaurant was packed and another couple was turned away because they had no reservations and were not willing to wait. As the hostess led us to our seats, every table we passed by had a lovely visual displayed of the small bites, which is the signature of every Korean meal and their respective main courses. Air flown US chilled beef is the highlight of the menu and you can choose to have it grilled plain or marinated.

Owner Kim Ho Jea opened the restaurant about three months ago and it has since become a hit among members of the Korean expat community based here. There were more Korean expats and their families eating in that locals and thats a walking testimony on the authencity of the food served.

To me, Korean food beyond the bulgogi selections is a cross between Chinese and Japanese cuisines. Ingredients used in Korean cooking are pretty much the same as the two cuisines with a stronger Japanese influence. One of my favourite Korean dishes is the Glutinous Rice Stuffed Chicken and Ginseng Soup (Samge Tang) to which I must say that Hyang To Gol makes a wonderful recipe here.. This soup can be quite filling on its own as but what makes it standout is the subtle flavours of ginseng, ginger and gingko nuts simmered together in a rich stock. The glutinous rice gives the soup a richer taste with a congee like texture and the chicken meat is super tender from the hours of simmering.

The small side dishes of pickles and marinated vegetables were wonderful to nibble on before the arrival of the other main dishes. From marinated soy beans to kimichi, bean sprouts and other pickes, they represent the novelty of appreciating Korean cuisine and habits. Coming in next was the Grilled Eel with
Kochuchang or Fermented Spicy Red Soya Bean Paste. The eel was mouth melting tender and had a nice aroma from the fermented soya beans. It was very good with the steam rice though I had some problems trying to get used to the Korean chopsticks.

Tangsooyook 糖醋肉 or Crispy Pork in Vinegar Sweet and Sour Sauce was a clear cut adaptation of our Chinese cuisine version. Unfortunately it did not turn out as well as I had expected with less sharpness and sweetness than our Chinese version. Still it was manageable as it was a familiar dish to all.

Our main highlight was the grilled marinated prime rib fillet, which came well seasoned and neatly rolled up. As part of their impeccable service, the waitress will not only set up the stove for you, they will cook the meats to your preferred doneness. Well marbled and perfectly grilled, the meats were tender and juicy with flavours of the marinade coming through with each bite. Throughout the meal, the service was also very attentive but not intrusive. Towards the end of the meal, we were served a complimentary chilled sweet ginger broth with just one wolfberry and a pine nut, which I found it very pleasant yet a tease like amuse bouche. It was so good that N asked for another serving.

Hyang To Gol has not only served us good food, we have also found remarkable service which is rare in Singapore.

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