In the marketplace of Asian cuisines, Korean food is in a tight spot. Given its location, sandwiched between the culinary behemoths of China and Japan, it would not be unreasonable to expect a degree of assimilation. Slightly against the odds, though, the best Korean food stakes out its own distinct ground, to the point where any echoes of the neighbouring cuisines are intriguing talking points, rather than similarities that hint at fusion.
Certainly, Kongju at Pathumwan Princess proudly brandishes its rigorous adherence to authenticity. The decor and the materials of the interior – the wood paneling, the floral motifs – all hint at the refined elegance common to Asian design, while retaining an essentially Korean quality.
It’s worth checking out the cocktail menu – Kongju has a long list of international staples (B280), while their cocktail blend of pineapple, ginger and rose blossom is a startlingly refreshing combination.
The starters offer a more vivid demonstration of how Korean food distinguishes itself – using recurring flavours of soy, bean paste and fermented chillis alongside salt, garlic and ginger. As ever though, food and history walk hand in hand and the presence of some seasonings, black pepper, for example, can be traced back to the Mongol invasion of the 13th century.
Among the specialties is ho bak kal bee tchim (B330), a stew of beef or pork ribs in pumpkin. Equally, the gogi pyene chae (B390), beef or pork rolled up with green vegetables are ideal for bite-sized sharing. The dam kang jeong (B340) is fried chicken with garlic and fried chilli – another dish with discernible Chinese notes, although the Korean offering is crispier and with less oil.
No visit to a Korean restaurant would be complete, though, without going for the DIY barbecue; a circular grill is revealed in the centre of the table before assorted meats and seafood come flooding out, already marinated and seasoned. All that’s left is for diners to start it sizzling away.
The options here are vast, but a well-rounded selection includes the yeon-o bulgogi (B500), which is sliced Norwegian salmon and the yang yogi guyi (B820), or New Zealand lamb chops. If you’re with a big, hungry group, add the doe gee kal bee (B330), or pork spare ribs, and the classic bulgogi (B390), sliced beef.
Overall, Kongju is a thrilling, illuminating experience that will leave diners with a deeper appreciation of a cuisine that deserves greater exposure.
Pathumwan Princess Hotel 444 MBK Center, Phayathai Rd
02-216-3700 | 11.30am-2pm, 5.30pm-10pm | pprincess.com