Eddie, Dublin Inquirer’s very own ad man, has been banging on about this Korean restaurant Han Sung for quite some time now. He says it’s the best, most authentic Korean food you can get in Dublin.
I’ve never had Korean in my life, so I wouldn’t know, but Eddie lived in South Korea for two years; he knows.
To kill the two birds of filing a food article this week and shutting Eddie up about this restaurant, I head along to the place with him on Monday evening to check it out.
Han Sung is bizarrely located in the back of an Asian supermarket just off the Millennium Walk on Great Strand Street.
Before heading down to the tables at the end of the left-hand aisle, we nose about the supermarket, looking at the richly coloured fruit and veg, Eddie pointing out things like clear containers of kimchi (fermented vegetables).
I’m impressed by the setting; it certainly feels authentic.
You’d see this a lot in Korea, I ask, a restaurant in the back of a supermarket?
Not really, no, he says.
The restaurant is about half full with a mixture of couples, some young, some older with little kids, and a man wearing a suit, sitting and eating alone.
The décor is simple: benches with tables, red-brick wallpaper, paper lanterns.
The glass face of the counter that looks onto the small kitchen is steamy from the colourful food of the set deli-style menu, which has a few traditional Chinese dishes. Above it, are pictures of the dishes from the a la carte menu.
On Eddie’s recommendation, I order bulgogi, a marinated beef stew which comes with a side of rice.
He goes for the kimchi jjigae, which is a spicier stew that comes with pork and tofu. Caroline, the photographer, orders the bibimbap, a bowl of sautéed vegetables, rice, soy sauce and chilli paste, topped with a fried egg.
The food at Han Sung is quite cheap, with dishes averaging about €7. It’s quick too; we’re not waiting ten minutes before one of the chefs sets a tray with my bulgogi, bubbling intensely in an earthenware bowl, on the counter.
Soon after comes Eddie’s kimchi jjigae, and then Caroline’s bibimbap.
I’ve nothing to compare it to in terms of Korean food, but the bulgogi is, no exaggeration, one of the tastiest dishes I’ve ever eaten.
A mixture of marinated beef, vegetables, onions, ginger, soy sauce and glass noodles, it’s as hearty as the very best of Irish stews. It’s primarily savoury, but there’s a sweet kick to it due to the kiwi paste.
We have a little taste of one another’s dishes, and I’m glad I went for the bulgogi.
Eddie’s kimchi jjigae, the most visually appealing of the three dishes, with its vibrant orange colour, is for those who like a bit of kick. As well as pork and tofu, the spicy stew is made up of fermented vegetables, chicken stock and chilli paste.
The bibimbap you can have as spicy or as mild as you like, depending on how much of the side of chilli paste you add to it.
It’s a nice dish, obviously very health, but after the bulgogi, its flavours are too subtle to judge it properly. Caroline gives it the thumbs up, though.
The bibimbap is by far the most interesting dish, because its ingredients are rich in symbolism.
Similar colours are placed together. Dark ingredients like shitake mushrooms represent the North and the kidneys. Red and orange, carrots and chillies, represent the South and the heart.
Greens represent the East and the liver, and whites like radish and rice represent the West and the lungs. The yolk of the egg represents the centre and the stomach.
If you’re bringing a date to Han Sung, make sure one of you orders the bibimbap, so you can talk about its symbolism and show how cultured and deep you are.
If you’re not out to impress, and you like a bit of oomph from your food, hit the kimchi jjigae.
If you’re of the milder persuasion, I’d highly recommend the bulgogi.
Whether Han Sung’s is the best Korean food in town, I honestly can’t say. But I’ll take Eddie’s word for it.