Park’s Menu

After a year of Korean food (sometimes unwillingly), I came home and found myself missing it. Since then, I have struggled to find a Korean restaurant anywhere. To be fair, I haven’t spent a lot of time in major metropolises and I haven’t tried as hard as I possibly could, but I was still very pleased when I discovered that there was a Korean restaurant around the corner from the guest-house where I was staying this past week.

Park’s Menu is a small restaurant on Klipfontein Road (Durban Road) in Mowbray, Cape Town (Campground Centre for those who are familiar with the area). It’s bigger, inside, than it appears from the street. Chairs and walls are white, with collections of odd, old wall-cabinets decorated with old books and china and flowers, creating a comfortable, airy feel. The place is a little quirky, but not in any way pretentious or annoying. Gentle jazz in the background completes the relaxed, warm atmosphere. It’s a bit of an oasis on a busy road.

The menu is properly Korean, ranging from manduguk and bibimbap to galbi and ssambap. Also, a take-away menu that says “there is more dish if you eat at the reastaurant”. I was standing outside, reading the menu in the window when the waiter came out and handed me a take-away menu. I think he was a bit taken aback when I immediately said I was coming inside.

I sat at a pretty white table next to the window. The waiter was super-friendly and efficient and, interestingly, not Korean, although all of the other staff do seem to be Korean. I took ages to order – how do you choose when you haven’t eaten any Korean food in 8 months and you know you won’t be back soon? Eventually I settled on mandu for starters and haemeul pajeon for mains.

As I waited, it struck me that the place smelled Korean. Not overwhelmingly and not in a bad way. It’s a smell that is difficult to describe but I think probably has something to do with bean sprouts and tofu. I never noticed that in Korea but it triggered such strong memories of so many Korean dinners.

The mandu (steamed dumplings) was great. Just the way I remember it. And distinctly different to the dimsum you get at other places. It’s tough to identify exactly the difference but I think it’s the filling. And the dumpling bit is softer. Also, joy of joys, proper chopsticks. Not metal chopsticks, sadly, but flat chopsticks, the shape of the Korean metal chopsticks. So much better than other chopsticks!

The haemeul pajeon (seafood pancake, but that translation is wrong and I have yet to find a better one) was great. Apparently it’s the chef’s speciality. It was thicker than I’m used to, which made it a little difficult to cut with chopsticks, but it was delicious. The mains come with kimchi and beansprouts (namul). Nothing quite like the spicy, sour, crunchy, juicy joy of fermented cabbage. Nothing in the whole world. It’s definitely an acquired taste but once you’re used to it, it can be really good. This was good kimchi. Not too spicy, perfectly crunchy and sour.

The restaurant also has, specially imported from Korea, tables with the stove-top grill so typical of restaurants in Korea. It’s a great way to eat. There is a particular stove-top table section on the menu. If you’re up for spicy food, try the kimchi-jeongol. Or (less spicy) the Bulgogi (delicious beef stew).

They also have a Korean-food buffet once a month – 12 March 2011 is the next one – which would be a great opportunity to experiment if you’ve never tried Korean food. The menu doesn’t offer alcoholic drinks (so strange to eat Korean food without Hite or Cass) but they seem fine with people bringing their own wine (corkage R25).

I’m delighted to have found a great Korean restaurant in South Africa and will definitely be back. Just thinking about it now, I’m wishing I was close enough to pop through for lunch. If you’ve never tried Korean food, or you haven’t eaten kimchi in a while, Park’s Menu is a great place to spend some time and enjoy the tastes of kimchi-land.