By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Sunday Nation
A RESIDENT of Thailand for the last 10 years, South Korean Lauren Kim laughs as she recalls the constant questions from her friends about where they could find premium Korean-style BBQ with free-range meat in Bangkok.
“I couldn’t give them an answer,” she says candidly. “And while I had taken a course in Western cooking at Le Cordon Bleu and had no intention of opening a Korean restaurant, I could see there was a market and changed my mind.”
And so Banjoo BBQ was born. Located in Mille Malle community mall on Sukhumvit Soi 20, the restaurant offers grain-fed and hormone-free beef from New Zealand together with antibiotic-free pork and chicken from Betagro’s S-pure brand.
Rib eye on the grill
Kim is not a newcomer to the food business. Her parents have long run a Korean restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 16, she is a graduate in French cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu Dusit Culinary School and worked as the head chef at Tribeca Restobar in Soi Thonglor, which is known for its Western brunch.
The 60-seat restaurant is decked out simply in black, grey and white, with a cement floor, unfinished concrete and rustic brick walls, exposed metal ducts and a cooker hood at every dark wood table. It all adds up to industrial chic, though there’s plenty of glass to let the natural light stream in. Most of her customers are Korean and the place is still less known among Thais.
“I carefully select premium Angus beef from Ocean Beef farm in New Zealand. The farm is on the shores of the South Island and the cattle have a GMO-free, high-quality grain diet and enjoy the salty sea air. The meat is thus packed with nutrients, is full of flavour and has a great texture,” she adds.
She does not, however, worry too much about marbling, preferring to wet-age the chilled beef herself for 20 days to ensure it retains its moisture before consumption.
A variety of beef cuts are available from rib eye (200 g/Bt620), short rib (200g/Bt650), intercostal (140g/Bt420), chuck roll (140g/Bt450) and wagyu tongue (100g/Bt390). Among the side dishes that can be topped up to order are kimchi, stir-fried Chinese spinach, cooked corn with butter, garlic, Chinese cabbage, egg roll and green salad.
Diners can grill the meats themselves or have the staff do it for them. Non-beef eaters can opt for pork belly (180g/Bt300) or chicken (180g/Bt280). Scallop, squid and prawn are also available and Banjoo offers three sauces –sea salt blended with garlic and curry powder, ssamjang (Korean spicy dipping sauce) and sweet & sour, a blend of soy sauce, garlic and apple cider.
Thais love Korean-style barbecue, but many people, especially women, are concerned about bad odours lingering in their hair and clothes after eating. At Banjoo BBQ, the hood solves the problem and removes all the odours though it is a little noisy.
Restaurants offering both barbecue and traditional cuisine are rare in South Korea – most eateries specialise in a particular dish – but Kim knows that Bangkokians enjoy variety. Diners can therefore also sample traditional Bibimbab (Bt290), an all-in-one, highly nutritious meal, featuring rice topped with bulgogi (marinated slices of beef) and carrot, mushroom, Chinese spinach and bean sprouts. And on top of all that is a sous-vide egg and gochujang – red chilli pepper paste.
The bibimbab is served in a hot bowl imported from South Korea to help retain the temperature of the food and ensures the crust of the rice sticks to the bottom of the bowl. The ingredients are thoroughly mixed just before eating to harmonise the contrasting tastes. A dribble of sesame oil adds to the savoury taste.
Also on the menu is Soondooboo (Bt280) – a spicy soup of soft tofu with shells and prawns. It’s traditionally made with fish broth and seasoned with chilli powder, and is served with hot steamed rice. Another pleasing dish is the pizza-like Kimchi Pancake (Bt290), a crisp pancake with kimchi and octopus.
Kim hasn’t let her training in Western cuisine goes to waste and she offers a variety of fusion dishes. They include Bulgogi Carbonara (Bt320), a white-cream spaghetti with Korean-style beef bulgogi.
To end the meal there’s Strawberry Tiramisu (Bt160) with layers of fresh strawberry slices, fresh cream and breadcrumb, and Waffle with berry compote and vanilla ice cream (Bt220).
Banjoo BBQ is on the second floor of Mille Malle community mall on Sukhumvit Soi 20. It’s open daily for lunch from noon to 3pm, and dinner from 5 to 11pm.
Call (02) 663 6726.