I have a fondness for small portions that allow me to taste multiple dishes rather than one super loaded plate. When a Korean restaurant called Banchan opened its doors in Parkmore, north of Johannesburg, it provided the perfect opportunity to give in to temptation and go in search of Korean BBQ, and banchan, dishes which consist of smaller offerings such as Kimchi (fermented vegetables). My partner and I were invited to experience this new food adventure by a good friend, who is also our ‘Asian food specialist’ - let’s call her Candice. Disarmingly charming, well-travelled, and adventurous, Candice spent several years in Japan and we reap the benefits of her exposure to a range of Asian foods (our Japanese food stories will feature in a later blog). Banchan is situated in a nondescript building on a side street in Parkmore. The restaurant is not very big and its interior is simple and minimal. What stands out are the elongated, gleaming extractor fans that hang down from the roof over each table. It’s a bit strange to see, but with self-cooking at the table, these fans are crucial to removing the smells from the interior and is in keeping with an authentic Korean restaurant visit. The shiny, silver extractors made me even more curious about the tastes we were going to explore.
We took along a bottle of wine but soon enough ditched that in favour of traditional Korean alcohol. South Korea, is well known for its alcohol consumption and enjoyment of life. Candice selected two options for the table: one was a fermented rice wine with several mixed herbs. It was light blonde in colour with a bit of a sour after taste. The other drink was soju, which is one of the world’s most popular drinks. Its maker sells double digit millions of litres of the stuff. It’s an alcohol made from distilling grains. In Korea, sharing and enjoying this drink is very much linked to the country’s culture. There is a ritual to the process that includes the correct way to opening the bottle, pouring the shot and off-course who at the table drinks first – all in a bid to avoid causing disrespect or giving offense to your fellow diners. Soju is best served chilled in a shot glass and the only part of the Korean ritual that we replicated was simply drinking it with some ice and making certain that none of us drank a shot alone. Almost clear in colour, it was crisp and slightly sweet. Both these flavours were new to my palate and although different to the booze I am familiar with – they weren’t off putting. But the flavours take some getting used to and mayn’t suit everyone’s taste.
With drinks in hand we settled on our meals. Pretty soon we had a large spread of dishes across the table which included kimchi, seaweed and rice. The menu is pretty straight forward and I am going to skip right past the starters we ordered (they were very good) and on to the star of the dinner – the Korean barbeque. We opted for the soy flavoured beef short ribs and the thinly sliced beef fillet smothered in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, green onion, garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil, and ground black pepper. These came with vegetables and sauces. Extractor time baby!
It was a fun and sociable way to spend an evening, taking turns cooking the meat. A more traditional way of enjoying the ribs is to assemble a lettuce wrap: take a piece of lettuce add your grilled meat together with little morsels of kimchi or mung bean and a dash of sauce, fold and eat. But you can enjoy the grill anyway you want. The thinly sliced ribs were tender and flavourful. Who could resist cutting up ribs with these large scissorsJ I enjoyed the ribs with some rice and a dollop of kimchi. Kimchi and rice are Korean staples enjoyed with most meals. Kimchi is made of vegetables, seasoned and salted, which are then either fermented or served fresh like a salad. There are many, many, variations of this dish. Done right, kimchi packs a flavour punch – chilly, garlic, ginger to name but a few ingredients. Banchan’s kimchi was impressive. I have had this dish several times and haven’t often enjoyed it. It’s a tricky thing to get right. Either the fermentation is overdone and that’s all you taste or if it’s a fresh kimchi salad it can often lack seasoning. The kimchi here was the perfect balance of salt and spice. This natural way of breaking down the sugars in the vegetables is good for us, especially our gut health.
It seemed the moment that grill and extractor were switched on nothing mattered except the three of us catching up, cooking, exploring new tastes and just enjoying the here and now – utterly pre-occupied by the culinary journey which gave us a glimpse into a potential night out in Seoul – all the while sitting in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. It was a wonderful way to unwind, relax and connect. But the evening held one more surprise. Bingsu is a popular shaved ice dessert: ice flakes, condensed milk and ice cream – who could resist? I opted for the espresso flavour and Candice had previously enjoyed the bingsu with red beans and so chose the more traditional flavour. I am not usually an ice or ice cream fan. But my espresso ice dessert was the BOMB. After an evening of strong flavours, it was the perfect palate cleanser. Lightly sweetened by the condensed milk, the ice cream added a touch of richness. The dairy flavours and ice were the prefect canvass for the taste of the coffee to shine throughout. If they sold this in a takeaway mug I would be here daily for my first caffeine fix of the day. The red bean version wasn’t to my liking. The love of my life picked the sweet pancakes & ice cream. These pancakes are more like a stiff pastry with syrup. I personally loved that they were utterly crispy on the outside. The sugar and nuts were sticky and gooey in the centre. I was in dessert HEAVEN.
If you, your friends and family are in the mood for a new food experience that is also tasty, fun and unfussy then you better book a meal at Banchan. The menu really is easy to navigate, the staff are helpful with explanations and so too are the owners. I am eagerly waiting my next visit, who wants to join me?
Booking is essential:
Address: Corner and, 10th St & Elizabeth Ave, Parkmore, Sandton
Phone: 072 913 3269