Soondooboo Chiagae at Koba

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Korean food is still a bit of a mystery to me. I think it remains a mystery to many people who are totally at home guzzling miso soba or steamed dim sum. It’s not at all that I don’t like it – a good bibimbap is easily up there with the perfect, reliable comfort foods, with the added joy of scrambling it together yourself and the need for a special bowl. So the opportunity to be challenged to try a different dish that I would probably never think to order really appealed.

“We’d have to come back for barbecue”

As soon as we got inside the restaurant, I knew I’d have to return. Everyone else was eagerly devouring centre-of-the-table barbecue that seemed to be the place’s signature offering. We’d have to come back for this.

This was a spicy, tomato, seafood stew, with a tangy Eastern flavour, served with plain white rice. Bites of squid, octopus and mussels swim with a variety of tasty vegetables.

Our fellow diners ordered – you guessed it – bibimbap, and I’m glad they did, since it had just that mix of tastes, textures, colours and heat that pushes the dish into the pantheon of superb national staples. Which isn’t to say that our seafood soup-slash-hotpot wasn’t superb, but it didn’t seem the most exciting thing on the menu.

I’d have hoped that each different type of seafood would have a distinct flavour, above the spicy, tomato-y broth, but apart from their textures there was little to distinguish each forkful. The overall result was delicious, but not as varied as I was looking forward to.

I’ll be back, probably, but for barbecue. And maybe bibimbap.

82/100 best Time Out dishes

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