This month’s Cracker has been rather delayed, owing to both disorganisation and illness on my part; this may or may not have contributed to the fact that I really felt like something relaxed, low-key and “ethnic” for this month. We ended up trying Park’s Menu, in Durban Rd, Mowbray, at the recommendation of Jo & Stv, who have eaten there a couple of times. This was, it transpires, a genius suggestion that seriously hit the spot, even before the bit with the evening’s special which entailed the cute pirate-chest dicebox and the free bottle of wine. (Snake eyes! our third bottle of wine for the evening, and it’s probably lucky I didn’t roll the free dessert, we’d never have fitted it in).
Although this is a Korean restaurant, the décor is really more English cottage chintzy than anything else – painted wooden furniture, cottagey still lives on the walls, odd bits of Victorian bric-a-brac, floral cushions on the chairs. It has a lovely, relaxed vibe, and the stainless steel stove tables for the hotpot really don’t feel as incongruous as you’d think. The staff are Korean and absolutely lovely – attentive, warm, relaxed. I had the impression that our table guy was (a) probably the owner, (b) probably the chef, and (c) really loved what he was doing. He apparently exports wine as another venture, and it’s entirely possible that Park’s is a sideline he does purely for his own enjoyment. If so, it shows.
I have to digress a moment. They brought us kimchi and bean sprouts as nibbles while we swigged rosé, and I have to say: kimchi? why has no-one ever told me? It’s marvellous stuff. This was quite bitey, but in a really good way, and the bean sprouts had a subtle spice thing going on that was also excellent. I am a new convert to Korean food. Bring it on, preferably instantly.
We stretched this out into three mediumish courses rather than the traditional starter/main, and had dumplings to start with. I adore dumplings, and these were particularly good – we had the steamed chicken and the fried pork ones. The fillings were distinctively spiced, and the fried pork dumplings were excellently crispy. Probably the best dumpling experience I’ve had in Cape Town, actually. I’m wishing I still worked at home, so I could head down the road and have lunch there. Often. I am fast developing a love affair with the Korean spicing.
Phase one of the mains comprised two of their dishes, Galbi and Ssambap, and I have to add in parenthesis that I’d be madly inclined to eat a lot more Korean food not just because the flavours and textures are lovely, but because the names are too. Galbi is an odd concept, beef rib that’s basically been long-stewed so it’s soft and tasty, but served in a broth with a lot of vegetables that have clearly been added at the last minute. You get the best of both worlds – tender, falling-off-the-bone stewed beef with crispy vegetables. Really excellent. The ssambap was probably my favourite, though – a spicy pork/rice thing which you ladle onto lettuce leaves and eat like a wrap, with various spicy sauces. I love self-constructed finger food, and this was a particularly good one, with very much what seems to be the signature Korean thing of lightly-cooked, low fat dishes with interesting spices. The portions are generous, we were starting to be full after two starters and two main courses between the four of us.
Phase 2 of the main course entailed a move to one of the fancy hot-plate tables, for hot-pot. They bring out a stainless steel dish with a sort of off-centre yin-yang curvy partition in it; sweet broth in one side, spicy in the other. Then the nice waiter main struggles out from the back with a giant trolley laden with raw food – mussels, prawns, crab sticks, bok choy, mushrooms, tofu, and a huge plate with carefully-rolled strips of thinly cut pork. The broth simmers on the hotplate; you have chopsticks and a couple of ladles, and you fling the food into the broth and cook it lightly before dipping it in peanut and/or chilli sauce, and noshing like mad. When you have, in defiance of the enormous meal you already ate, polished off the entire contents of the platters, you tip the last of the peanut sauce into your bowl with scoops of broth, and drink it like soup. This was enormously good fun, and I rather fell for both bok choy and tofu prepared thusly (the tofu explodes in a shower of broth when you bite into it), but in comparison to the flavours in the more conventional main courses, I found it a bit bland. (I may also be biased in that I’m not a huge fan of seafood). This will not, however, prevent me from instantly trying to emulate it at home with a fondue pot. Oh, no, indeedy.
It was a lovely evening. I really like this place, and propose to upgrade it instantly to the status of “neighbourhood hang-out”. I also note, with sadness and disapproval, that it was almost empty; it deserves to be popular and bustling and disseminating its culinary happiness to a much wider clientele. I therefore exhort anyone reading this to rush off immediately and eat there. If you don’t it may go under, and I’ll be devastated.
Assessment on the Patent Jo Scale, with a terribly uniformity because I really had a great time:
Atmosphere: 8/ 10 (a warm and distinctly original vibe)
Staff: 8/ 10 (lovely people, attentive and engaged)
Service: 8 / 10 (quick, attentive)
Food: 8 / 10 (large menu, lovely cuisine, nicely prepared)
Value for money: 9 / 10 (good lord, it’s absurdly cheap)