ARIRANG KOREAN RESTAURANT 1102 Times Square, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Phone 506-3298.
UNLIKE many other Korean barbecue restaurants, this eatery ensconced in the slew of high-priced, high-profile establishments in Times Square does not greet diners with the overpowering aroma of kimchi and grill smoke.
In fact, the smoke was missing from this restaurant where most diners opt for pre-prepared dishes. But if the idea of grilling your own meat appeals to you, there are few other Korean restaurants in Hong Kong that are more spacious and where the grills are this user-friendly.
Either way, certain staples in Korean cuisine can be eaten alone or as a complement to barbecue dishes. The haemool pahjuhn, seafood and spring onion pancakes, could be mistaken for omelettes were it not for the mild spices and the flavour of the spring onions that linger on the tongue. The Arirang sahmbahb ($120), steamed leafy vegetables with multi-grain rice, was not quite as successful and really quite bland. The fried vermicelli noodles ($80), topped with strips of carrots, fungus and a sprinkling of sesame seeds, were perfectly flavoured, as was the stone pot mixed rice ($90) served with chopped fried egg, mushrooms and beansprouts.
The cold buckwheat noodles ($80), laced with ox-tongue and cucumber, tasted similar to some Japanese dishes.
Be careful when asking for more appetisers; the little plates of kimchi, beansprouts, tofu and fried fish are $30 a pop. But this is a fun place to bring large groups of friends, even if the tables are placed a little too close together for comfort ('canteen-style', one customer remarked). With careful ordering, and if you stick to the delicious ginger tea to wash down dinner, you can get away with paying about $150 a head.