Seoul food

A couple of missteps with the appetizers, but the main courses and soups are bang on at Seoul.

Just across from the cobblestone shopping area of Granville Mall, a sandwich board with the daily specials at Seoul Restaurant is plopped in front of its simple storefront. The restaurant itself is equally simple, down a few stairs in a basement space.

Though it lacks windows, it's still bright, and the servers are exceptionally friendly. The room is filled with tables, though sparsely decorated with very little personality in the decor. A wall at the entrance is covered in writing, an expressive anomaly in what feels like a bit of a blank space. A little box of markers sits waiting for anybody to write their greetings or thoughts.

The menu has write-ups that explain some of the preparation and ingredients, with photos of all the dishes; a full page is devoted to each entree. It's handy for those who are unfamiliar with the cuisine. The prices run a little more expensive than I like for lunch, but we are hungry.

We're drawn to almost every photo in the menu, but eventually settle on jaeyuk bokum ($14.50) and naeng myeon ($12.99). At the last minute we also decide to split the kimchijeon ($5.99) as an appetizer.

The first thing to emerge from the kitchen is a simple salad of lettuce with a soy sauce and sesame dressing, a side dish of the jaeyuk bokum. While it was nice to get a bit of greens before a meal that was essentially all meat and starches, we tire of it after a few bites.

The kimchijeon arrives soon after, looking terrific. At first glance it is a crispy, fluffy pancake, speckled with deep brown blisters. When we taste it, however, it's almost soggy, as if it had been made in advance and microwaved before serving. It is tangy and orange with kimchi, and tastes good with the sesame and soy sauce dipping sauce, but we are disappointed. We are more impressed with the accompanying small bowl of pungent, fresh-tasting cabbage kimchi, which is crunchy and refreshing.

Halfway into the pancake, our entrees arrive. The jaeyuk bokum is impressive in its simplicity. The huge pile of tender, marinated pork loin is only complemented with a bit of shredded cabbage, julienned carrot and finely sliced green onion. The meat is deliciously tender and the veggies still crisp. The sauce at once has spice and tang, but remains surprisingly mild and is wonderfully complex, with the bang of garlic and ginger and hints of sweetness surviving what could have been a napalm spread of red chili paste. Served with a big bowl of white rice, it's easily enough for the two of us. But there is still the soup.

Mild and refreshing, the naeng myeon is everything I had hoped for. Subtly sweet, with just the slightest bit of tang, the broth is bright and cool, an oasis in the middle of the hot summer day. The soup is served in a huge metal bowl, chilly to the touch, with slices of fresh daikon and cucumber perched atop a huge, twisted pile of chewy buckwheat noodles. Half of a hardboiled egg and thinly sliced beef, under a sprinkling of sesame seeds finish the dish.

The noodles are a bit of a sticky jumble; the server offers to loosen them up with a few snips of some scissors, making them easier to pluck from the bowl. The beef is a little fatty and tough, the only blight on the dish. I just cast it aside, content with the rest of ample bowl of food.

We sit lazily, still pecking away at the food for around an hour, but simply can't finish. We pack up about half to go. The prices don't seem so bad as we walk out the door with the leftovers, tempted to scrawl "We'll be back!" on the wall as we leave.

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