Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: Faro (화로), Newmarket

The best, and perhaps only, modern Korean BBQ restaurant we knew of was Faro in town, and I'd been meaning to write about it for a while.  We were therefore excited to hear that a new branch opened just over a week ago in Newmarket, where HP8 on Nuffield Street used to be.  Not only that, there were new items on the menu, including sesame leaf rolls!

We headed off immediately to try this new venue out.  It seemed to be less dark than the Faro in town, and tables were partitioned off to give a sense of privacy.  There was also an area to the right that could accommodate larger groups.  Otherwise, it was much the same, with a grill ring in the middle of the table for you to BBQ your food, a button on the side of the table for summoning your waiter (common to Korean restaurants) and a pipe which you can adjust to hang above your grill, for extracting the smoke from your cooking.

Extraction pipes hung above each booth.
Floor seating for a larger group.
After perusing the menu for some time, we decided to go for a selection of entrees, as well as getting some meat and veg for the grill.  We also opted to try a rice dish with radish greens called shiregi (시래기영양밥), and were mildly surprised when the outgoing waitress suggested that it would taste "healthy" and that she wouldn't recommend it.  The vegetarian had had enough of bibimbap (비빔밥) though (mixture of vegetables, optionally with egg and/or meat, on rice, served with a fermented chilli sauce, which seems to be the safest vegetarian option), so we ordered the shiregi rice despite the warning.

Our entrees came first, the stir-fried peanuts labelled kong (땅콩무침) to begin with, then the sesame ssam with rice (깻잎밥).  And here I have to digress...

Sesame ssam: rice and black sesame seeds wrapped with a pickled perilla leaf.

While I was looking up the Korean for this dish, I discovered that kkaenip ssam (깻잎쌈) is actually a wrap with a perilla leaf, not sesame, the common mistranslation.  I confirmed this with a Korean friend:
Perilla is correct. Because both perilla and sesame seeds are used in the Korean cuisine in similar (but distinct) manners, one word, '깨', refers to both.

참깨 ('true' 깨) refers to sesame, usually more expensive, used as garnish or to get sesame oil (참기름, or 'true' oil)

들깨 ('field' or 'wild' 깨) refers to perilla, used for flavouring soups, or making oil (들기름), which is used as marinade or dressing for vegetables. 

Because the word '깻잎' simply means the 'leaf of 깨', not many Korean people would know which one it refers to. But the correct answer is perilla :)
Yay.  So we seem to have eaten a green version of what is growing in my garden.  It was a bit soft and fibrous, quite unlike the crisp and juicy feeling you would expect with a lettuce leaf, though perhaps not so different from a stuffed vine leaf in Greek or Turkish cuisine.

A couple of dishes from the Dinner Special page came out shortly after this (though they still looked like entrees to me): stuffed chillis called gochu jeon (고추전) and chicken on fried tofu, or dubu dak (두부).

Dubu dak and gochu jeon.
Then came the food for the grill, along with the usual Korean side dishes.  Each person was given two varieties: the pickled onion and a daikon salad.  We also had four larger bowls to share between the table, which contained kimchi, a green salad, a white jelly made of mung bean starch, and a sliced soy egg.  When we polished them off, they were later replaced by battered courgette slices and a mung bean salad.

Marinated boneless beef rib fillets, fresh cut top blade, marinated chicken with hot hot hot sauce, and side dishes.
I guess the thing about cooking your own dinner is that you've only got yourself to blame if it's burnt or otherwise suboptimal.  When the bars on the grill got black and sticky, a waiter would come rushing up to replace it for you, so vegetarians don't even need to worry about contaminated cookware.  Our marinated meats were good, but we could have done with some salt for the plain one.  Thinking back afterwards, they must have just forgotten to give us the sauces they'd advertised on the cover of their menu, which were supposed to be:
Galbi-Jang: best with marinated beef
Roast Salt: best with fresh beef & pork
Ssam-Jang: best with vegitable wrap

Marinated beef rib fillets on the grill.
You can also grill vegetables, though they were quite dry and tended to burn easily.  The tomato, in particular, wanted to disintegrate and stick to the grill.  Again, these could really have done with some sauce.

Grilling vegetables.
Finally, we received the shiregi rice, which was the $17 bowl of grains that the waitress had tried to dissuade us from. Yes, it did taste healthy, but it was also delicious.  I would have liked it more if it had had more radish greens, and where was the chilli paste mentioned in the menu?  It was also served with a decidedly unvegetarian soup: we found a prawn, some little clams and dried shrimps in the doen jang soup (된장찌개), which had tofu and vegetables in the soybean base as well.

Shiregi rice with doen jang soup and soy sauce.
We were so full after all this that we unfortunately had no room for desserts.  We were happy pandas after a fun and pleasant meal.  Although some of the food was bland, partly due to the missing sauces, this was no doubt due to the fact that the restaurant had opened less than two weeks ago, and we look forward to coming back when these mistakes will have been sorted out.

Panda Recommends

Mains: something off the grill menu ($11 - $13).  This is a Korean BBQ restaurant after all.  Don't forget (as we did) to ask for your sauces.

Vegie Pandas
Unlike the menu from Faro in town, the vegetarian options are not clearly marked here.  There are a number of beautiful entrees which you could order, as well as a plate of vegetables to grill, or go for the default option of vegetarian bibimbap (비빔밥).

Menu - page 1
Menu - page 2
Menu - page 3

Restaurant Details

49 Nuffield Street, Newmarket
(09) 529 4040

Opening hours:
Mondays to Sundays 11:30am - 3pm, 5:30pm - 10:30pm

The Newmarket branch of Faro is not far from Hansan, where HP8 used to be.

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  1. I have been meaning to try out this place for a while. Thanks for sharing your review Nom Nom Panda.

    lol @ the healthy warning. I don't think I've ever come across that at a restaurant. Good to know it was delicious despite being healthy!

    I've had shiso a few times before, sometimes I liked it, other times, I found the licorice too strong tasting and overpowered whatever I was eating. What do you use use the perilla in your garden for?

  2. The problem when someone tells you not to order something is that you never know whether it is because the item truly isn't good, or whether they just think you won't like it. I recently rewatched that Hong Kong episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, and it was both amusing and cringeworthy seeing the stall holder object to selling him pork intestines and chicken kidneys.

    As for my red perilla, I've only used it in Vietnamese noodle soup so far, with other strong flavoured herbs such as sawtooth coriander, mint, coriander and Thai basil. I might try making wraps with it when the leaves grow bigger.


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