I can’t quite remember the first time I actually ate Korean food. I can remember the first time I had a Korean BBQ (1986 in Hong Kong, my cousin and his gf treated my sister and myself) and it was *so* different to what I was accustomed to. I mean, the idea that you would cook your own meat at your table wasn’t something I’d ever seen and it’s stuck with me ever since. I’ve always moaned about the lack of a proper Korean restaurant or BBQ in Birmingham – There are places where you have the hot plate on your table and you can cook your own meats (be them on skewers or just marinated), but they tend to be Chinese regional variants rather than the Korean variety with Bulgogi or beef kalbi. So I would have to get my Korean Food fix either during a visit to Londinium or New Malden. So you can imagine my excitement when I first saw that there was going to be a bona fide Korean restaurant opening in Birmingham, but even that seemed a bit too much given how the sign saying it was “Opening Soon” and recruiting staff remained the same for about 7 months. However, a chance passing by (OK, I may have deliberately gone out of my way to check) showed that it had not only opened, but was doing brisk business. It was only a matter of time before I tried it for myself;
Miss Korea is located on the edge of the Chinese Quarter in Birmingham on Bromsgrove St, in a newly built building opposite the entrance to the car park for the Arcadian Centre. It seats about 50 ppl and given it had been open for barely a month when I visited with my family, it still had that newness look about the place but was still busy, which was heartening to see. Given there were 10 of us, I took the opportunity to order as much from the menu as possible, choosing dishes from each section that I could. Of course, I would happily have ordered the entire menu but we got a good selection of everything to cover all bases.
First off, we got some different kimchi to try. I was saddened to see that they fell into the trap of Korean restaurants in the UK charging for kimchi and other banchan when traditionally, they are free as they’re accompaniments to the main meal. We ordered the mat kimchi (chinese leaves/cabbage) and the cucumber kimchi only to later discover when they brought out the starters that you get a complimentary selection of different kimchi anyway – which included the mat kimchi. D’OH! Never mind as the kimchi was home-made so there wasn’t the tang from preservatives added to the kimchi I’m so accustomed to from packets, which made it all the more tasty. The cucumber kimchi was delicious – crunchy, a slight tang and kick to it and very moreish. I very nearly had to fight members of my family to finish it. As with the cucumber kimchi, the mat kimchi and the mouli kimchi were equally good, definitely a good start to the meal.
YML requested a yuk kwae which is best described as the Korean equivalent of a beef tartare; the meat is cut into thin strips and marinated with Korean seasonings before assembled on the plate with a raw egg yolk on top (as you would get with beef tartare) and served with shredded Ya pear on the side incase you don’t like the idea of eating raw beef, but it also adds a textural sweetness and crunch to contrast the marinated beef. The yuk kwae here was very good and surprised a few people around the table whom weren’t expecting the asian seasonings (it was slightly sweet, had a hint of sourness and a good splurge of sesame oil), but it was a hit amongst everyone.
The rest of the starters consisted of some lamb skewers which were dusted in ground and whole cumin seeds before cooked on a barbecue which gave them the requisite smokiness as well as the spice kick from the cumin. At £1 a skewer, you couldn’t really complain too much and I suspect that some friends of mine would happily go there and spend £13 just on lamb skewers and call that a meal. I didn’t get to try the tempura myself (too busy taking photos) but they certainly looked the part and I am reliably informed by those who did get to try them that they were indeed crispy and not at all soggy. The japchae had a lot more vegetables than I was expecting (and compared to when I cook it at home), but everyone was still lapping it up and let’s be honest, it was nice to get some vegetables compared to the protein-fest that was the BBQ to come. The seafood pajeon was probably the weakest dish of the night in that there wasn’t a great deal of seafood in it (as L, my nephew pointed out) and although the inside wasn’t as soft and fluffy as other renditions I’ve had, it was still crisp on the outside. I’d probably order it again to see if they can get it right next time, but it was the only dish of the night that disappointed. The dolsot bibimbap suffered a bit with me faffing about trying to get photos of it before everything got mixed up so the stone perhaps lost a bit of heat, but I don’t think it would have lost *that* much heat in the few mins I was taking photos, so I think the stone could have been hotter – Although I do sympathise in that they may not have got it *too* hot incase customers burn themselves. Like in all Asian restaurants, as soon as the initial starters of the kimchi came out, *EVERYTHING* came out at once and we couldn’t eat quickly enough to make room on the table for everything. With that point in mind, that probably had something to do with them holding back a bit before serving the bibimbap to us. Yes I’m being nice to them but there really wasn’t any space on our table between the drinks and the amount of food that was being brought out.. Anyway, the lack of heat from the dolsot meant that although there was enough heat to cook all the food once you mixed everything together, there wasn’t any of the crusty parts you’d get at the bottom of the dolsot as you would get if the dolsot was fiercely hot, which was a shame given it was a nice rendition inside.
Of the 2 soups we got, the (not very) Spicy Tofu Soup has some almost impossibly silken tofu which was different to the stuff my family and I are accustomed to when we buy fresh beancurd from Chinese Supermarkets, and was very VERY tasty. I asked the waitress if they could tone it down given it was listed as a spicy tofu stew and was meant to be for The Mothership who doesn’t like hot or spicy foods, only to be told that it wasn’t really *that* spicy anyway (!!). We all felt obliged to point out that the menu lists it as Spicy anyway.. Still, when it arrived it certainly wasn’t spicy but was very tasty and with the tofu, one of the hits of the night for all whom tried it. The kimchi jjigae was nice but if I’m to be completely honest, I think my own version is better.
Bearing in mind what the waitress said about the Spicy Tofu Soup, my overriding opinion on all the food thus far was that although it was certainly very tasty (well, apart from the pajeon), the food lacked that chilli kick. I mean, where was the gochujang? I could see the gochugaru in the kimchis we tried, but nothing really had that much of a kick to it as I was expecting, much less the slow gochujang burn which I love. I wonder if they toned the food down slightly given we asked for one of the items to be milder, but it may be worth considering that when you order there.
As everything came out in quick succession, we could barely clear the table quickly enough when they brought round the coals for the BBQ. Coal in place, hot plate greased, we waited for the hot plate to heat up sufficiently enough to cook the meat. We opted for the “Beef Selection” because we really couldn’t choose one cut over the other and it seemed a good chance to try the different cuts and marinades, plus L was keen to try the chicken gizzards and well, I felt my heart sing with pride knowing he was one of us when he asked for that – I’m very happy to see the next generation in my family keen on innards too. Oh, we also got some sweet potato for The Mothership but to be completely honest, they were a bit of a waste of time as they were too thin to retain any textural softness (especially after grilling them) and they weren’t the most flavoursome of vegetables anyway. If you’re going to get any vegetable for the BBQ, don’t go for the sweet potato!
I didn’t actually get to eat much of the food, if I’m completely honest because I was either too busy cooking the food, or taking pictures of it. However, the bits of beef I did try from the “Beef Selection” which included Beef bulgogi, kalbi and sirloin which was particularly well marbled, were all very nice and good for people whom can’t decide which cut of meat to have. For us, it was good to try all the different cuts to see if there was any one better than the rest (which there wasn’t, they were all just as good. It just depends if you want bones or not).
All in all, Miss Korea didn’t disappoint too much – Charging for banchan and an apparent lack of chilli aside (which is easily rectified by adding a load of gochujang). But the food overall was enjoyable and service was pleasant and attentive. Despite the fact that this was one of the last times we went out for dinner with the Mothership, I’ll definitely be going back – The very fact that even a fusspot eater like the Mothership enjoyed the food there says it all for me. Besides, I like Korean food too much not to go back!
You can view the full set of photos on my Flickr page