Although I'm seriously in love with Asian cuisine, there are still some oriental favorites that I haven't grown too acquainted to. As much as I love koreanovelas and K-Pop, I still haven't tried a lot of Korean dishes in the Metro. Fortunately, a new Korean restaurant in Bonifacio High Street Central has spared me from running into less-than-mediocre Korean food spots. Hailing straight from South Korea is Sariwon Korean Barbecue.
Being awarded "Best Korean Restaurant" by NBC Broadcasting Company in 2005, and by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in 2007, we knew we're in the good hands of the legendary Mrs. Bun-Im Koo, the founder of the tasty yet diabetic-friendly bulgogi sauce which made Sariwon Korean Barbecue a family-owned empire in its country of origin.
After starting off as a small and humble twenty seven-seater eatery back in 1938, Sariwon Korean Barbecue grew to a three hundred-seater restaurant. And this year, we're very lucky that sisters Diane and Donna Tan have brought us the first out-of-Korea Sariwon branch to give us Filipinos, a taste of Korea.
Inspired by the native Korean Zelkova tree, Sariwon Korean Barbecue has a sleek, up-scale dining space drenched in a warm color palette of oranges and browns. Each wooden table has a state-of-the-art smokeless grill cum boiler which can also be concealed. And to give both Filipinos and Koreans an authentic dining experience, even the stainless steel utensils are imported straight from Korea.
Before we started off our dinner, we were first given a plate of dehydrated tissue tablets. I know this is so trivial, but I can't help but be mesmerized by how the small tablets turned into hot towels after our server poured hot water over them.
The Complimentary Starters
To formally get on with our Korean dinner, our very knowledgeable and courteous server Trixie, brought out a set of refillable Banchan -- small complimentary plates of Korean side dishes which consisted of Sigeumchi Namul (spinach in sesame oil), Kochu Myeolchi Bokkeum (anchovies with green chili), Baek Kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage), Kongnamul (boiled bean sprouts in sesame oil), Musaengchae (white radish in sweet vinegar sauce) and Danhobak Sarada (sweet potato-pumpkin salad).
I really liked every banchan served, and it was quite a surprise 'cause I don't really dig kimchi. If you ask me for my favorite banchan for the night, I guess I have to go with the sweet potato-pumpkin ball and pickled julienned white radish.
While waiting for the main entrées, we were also served with a plate of the restaurant's House Salad -- a colorful ensemble of lettuce, red cabbage shreds and tomatoes in a sesame oil vinaigrette. I forgot to ask though if this is also refillable.
After a hearty start with the tasty and appetite-whetting salad and banchan, it was finally time to sample the well-known meaty treats of Sariwon Korean Barbecue.
And first on the table was this beautiful plate of Galbi (P545), 280 grams of juicy and tender marinated USDA choice beef short ribs that comes with enoki mushrooms, garlic cloves and bell pepper slices for grilling, and served with lettuce wraps and chili paste.
Our server grilled our Galbi to medium doneness before cutting it up into smaller pieces. And upon first bite, I can't help but smile with joy. These marinated beef slices can be eaten without any condiments as every bite is an explosion of sweet, savory and succulent meaty goodness. But of course, we also tried doing the Korean way by adding chili paste and wrapping it up in a lettuce leaf -- spicy, crunchy and very healthy.
We then sampled a serving of Dak Galbi (P350), 250 grams of delicately marinated boneless chicken grilled to a lovely tenderness. Just as how it looks on the cast iron plate, each piece is tender and succulent, spicy and with a hint of a tang. This would be perfect with a bowl of hot steaming plain rice. Too bad though, I didn't ask for one.
We also got to try the Sariwon Bulgogi (P545), 150 grams of thin silky slices of USDA choice beef with mushrooms and vegetables, cooked in a copper griller-boiler, and served with Sariwon's signature sauce along with freshly-made sweet potato noodles.
Seriously, the special broth with sweet potato noodles is a must-try! I've always believed that freshly-made noodles is definitely better. However, this is the first time I've tried noodles made from sweet potatoes. Although it somehow looks similar to Misua, it tastes amazing -- soft, chewy and mildly sweet. The Bulgogi pieces on the other hand, was cooked a little overdone for my liking. However, it still had a nice succulent beef taste.
For some flavorful carbs, we had the Dolsot Bibimbap (P380), a famous variation of the Korean signature mixed rice dish of savory rice with sautéed vegetables, raw egg, sesame oil and chili paste in a sizzling stone pot.
After our server mixed our Dolsot Bibimbap and gave us a bowl each, it was time to dig in. Although I haven't had a lot of bibimbaps in my life, I can definitely say that Sariwon's is one of the best in town. Each spoonful is a beautiful harmony of sweet, spicy and savory flavors. It's so tasty that I can eat this even without meat or any form of a viand.
Of course, a trip to a Korean restaurant wouldn't be complete without trying its rendition of the famous Japchae (P350) -- glass sweet potato noodles, mushrooms and assorted vegetables stir-fried in sesame oil. Honestly, I'm not too fond of the sweet taste of this Korean noodle dish. However, Sariwon's has just the right amount of sweetness I can tolerate. The noodle strands are also a delight to munch -- soft, chewy and quite elastic.
Another Korean delicacy we sampled was the Haemul Pajeon (P350), a traditional Korean savory pancake with squid, shrimp, oysters and green onions, served with a sweet and salty dipping sauce. Being an okonomiyaki lover, this plateful of tasty goodness got me digging in. The pancake itself is soft and a delight to bite, while the seafood toppings came in generous portions. In fact, I loved it so much that I even ordered a serving for take out. And as expected, it gained my parents' stamp of approval.
To end our meal, we had a small cup of Sikhye (P60) -- a traditional Korean sweet drink made with malt and rice. At first, I was surprised that we'd have a beverage-like item for dessert. However, it was love upon first sip. The concoction's sweet and refreshing taste is quite similar to sugarcane. The rice grains were also a delight to the bite. It wasn't soggy, but chewy and very interesting.
Diners at Sariwon are given free barley house tea. But since the restaurant has a nice selection of very interesting beverages, we just can't help but order some.
My choice of drink for the night was a Cherry Blossom Sojutini (P140), a pretty red concoction of cherry brandy, lime and soju. Although the menu claims this drink as a light cocktail for the ladies, this was quite strong for my palate. Each sip gave a strong alcohol flavor, so this is probably a good choice for the true lady drinkers. Two of our companions on the other hand, had the Citrus Herb Juice (P150), a light and refreshing blend of citrus and cucumber flavors.
I also got a sip from my friend's Sangria Soju (P195), a refreshing concoction of apple, orange and lemon slices in a mix of red wine and soju. Compared to my choice of cocktail, this one is definitely sweeter, fruitier and more tolerable for casual alcohol drinkers. And for smoothie lovers, I'm sure an order of the unusual yet refreshing fresh Kiwi Shake (P160) won't fail to delight.
Even with barely three months of operations in Bonifacio High Street Central, Sariwon Korean Barbecue has already captured the hearts and the palates of both Filipinos and Koreans in the Metro. With a selection of excellent Korean food items, a set of very knowledgeable and courteous staff, a tastefully-decorated dining space and a list of awards to boot, I'm sure Sariwon will continue to give us an authentic taste of Korea.
Ambiance - 4/5
Service - 4/5
Price - 3.5/5
Overall Value - 4/5
Sariwon Korean Barbecue, Bonifacio High Street Central
UG/F West Superblock, Bonifacio High Street Central,
7th Ave. cor. 29th St.,
Taguig City, Metro Manila
(02) 621-3205; (0922) 535-2446