For a while now, people have been saying that Korean food is set to become the next big thing. Move over, macarons. Buh-bye, bacon-laced everything. Sayonara, izakaya-style Japanese. Whether or not that’s true, in my mind, Korean food has always been a thing.
I’ve been converted, since my first nibble on a piece of kimchi, and so I find myself naturally drawn to anything even remotely Korean, like a moth to a butane-fuelled table top flame.
So when I passed a new Korean restaurant, B.Box in Mount Lawley – you can be sure I made a mental note.
J and I visited on a rainy Friday night. It was getting busy, but we were seated quickly. We waited a little longer than I’d expect for an average dinner service – blips like not being given two menus, and not being shown a drinks menu drew out the process longer than I’d anticipated. The no-nonsense efficiency of other Korean restaurants which can be intimidating to some was noticeably absent here.
As I watched the wait staff moving around, avoiding our hunger-induced stares, I found myself wishing for the no frills alternatives that usually involve table top buzzers and numbered utilitarian menu descriptions (e.g. ‘beef intercostals’).
Our banchan (side dishes) arrived quickly, which was a relief. The kimchi was a lightly fermented style, and didn’t pack much heat. We both chuckled when we saw the tiny serve, which the staff were only too happy to top up mid-meal. The pink-tinged pickles were a surprising standout, in a sweet-sour pickling liquid and a crisp texture.
The deep fried chili chicken, $11.00, was my pick. I confess I may have just read ‘deep fried’ and zoned out. Maybe it was chicken and chili. It was cold and I wanted something spicy. It was cooked well, but we found the chill sauce just too sweet and sticky. It lacked any real zing from the chili, which I found disappointing.
It was better in that it was a more generous portion, for two people, but we found the meat surprisingly tough and quite bland. The wood-fired cooking didn’t really add anything special to the flavour or texture of the pork, as far as I could taste.
Pork belly cuts are favoured in Korean barbecue restaurants, but they’re often sliced much thinner (between 8mm – 1cm) which allows the meat to be cooked quicker to help it stay juicy and more tender.
Even if the meat is served without being seasoned, it’s common to be offered sesame oil, salt and gochujang (chili bean paste) so that you can season your own meal.
The grilled vegetables were a nice add-on, but not very exciting. I don’t think they added much value, overall, though they did bulk things out.
The stand out of this meal, was by far the tofu stew (Kimchi jjigae), $15.00, which included a mix of seafood (large prawns, squid rings, mussels and clams), as well as soft tofu and vegetables.
It was a well reduced seafood soup, with a decent kick from added kimchi. Great spooned over rice, and even better if you’re suffering a cold. I swear this stuff will help you sweat it out. In a good way.
Though the food at B.Box wasn’t terrible – in terms of quality and value for money – it wasn’t the most authentic, and wasn’t a good representation of all the things I think make Korean food great.
There’s certainly been a lot of thought and effort put into this place – from the industrial chic decor, to the snazzy point of sale screens – not to mention the completely translated English menu.
I think I get what they were trying to achieve, but for me, B.Box just missed the mark. In making Korean food seem more ‘accessible’, I fear they’ve just watered down the flavours that make Korean food worth eating.
Sidenote: The all-English menu completely messed me up. I don’t know how to order ‘tofu stew’ … is it Soondubu or Kimchi Jjigae? They both have tofu. But they’re not quite the same.