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Koreana review

Jennifer Choi goes underground for quality nosh from the East

Published on September 24th 2010.

Koreana review

Koreana defines ‘tucked away’.

Perhaps diners are distracted by the bright lights of San Carlo, or maybe its location is made modest by a neighbouring Spar. Perhaps – and the most obvious cause of its invisibility – is all the construction work on the doorstep.

But if a yearning for fresh herbs and exotic spices hits you, and Chinese or Thai just won’t do, then this basement venue is a safe bet. If you can find it.

Koreana looks the part too. There’s the ornate woodwork, an elegant portrait with inlaid mothers of pearl, the intricately carved floor screens and the subtle Korean acoustics. On our visit these struck us a world away from, a) the often dismally tacky decorations that usually plague Oriental restaurants, and b) the Stella-loving lads lingering outside.

My boyfriend and I were greeted by a waitress in traditional togs, who offered valuable assistance on the menu. She also recommended Hite, a refreshing Korean lager. We chose from the set menu which offered three courses for £12.40.

To start with we had Yache and Haemool Twighim, which are tempura vegetables and battered assorted seafood respectively. Poor start: the heavy batter overshadowed the seafood and vegetables, indeed the dishes seemed more suited to a snack platter at Varsity.

Our forgettable starters were swiftly forgotten upon being presented with Mandoo Kuk, which tasted as good as it was described – ‘delicate consommé with beef and vegetable dumplings garnished with spring onions and dried seaweed.’

These were three steaming morsels with perfectly seasoned fillings, beautifully wrapped and floating on a peppery broth. I'm happy to report that they were wolfed down, with none of the elegance of the dish, in the time it took to type this sentence.

We moved onto Dolsot Bibim Bab, a speciality of rice, veg and marinated meat, topped with egg and served in traditional stoneware. I chose Spicy Prawn and my companion the chicken. We found carrots ribbons, bean sprouts, cabbage and mushrooms encircling a glorious sunny-side up, with a generous sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Here, we embarked upon a touch of cooking theatre.

We were told to mix it all up, which would see the egg cooked by the stoneware and the sesame oil at the bottom work its magic. Thus the flavours of the myriad of ingredients would fuse. And fuse they did. This was not a bashful plate by any chance, but for those wanting more heat, the accompanying chilli sauce is there to top it all off.

We found ourselves too full for dessert – a mistake easily made with good food. Can't be helped but the scoops of mung bean ice cream dotted with red beans we spied arriving at the next table looked appealing. Next time.

On leaving I glanced at the door, and was astounded to find a Michelin Good Food Guide 2009 sticker. What, no egos, pretensions or inflated prices, leaving only the food to do the showing off? Subsequent research reveals that several leading foodies have even called this place the best Korean restaurant in the UK. That might be because there aren’t many about, but our experience seemed to indicate it was because the place is quality.

It is little independents such as this that have kept me in Manchester for years. We've vowed to check out their speciality stews and hot pot on our return visit, but in the meantime - I hear they do gorgeous and generously portioned lunchboxes for those who work around Deansgate. You should.

ED – Jenn, the lunchboxes are genius, they come as meaty, veggie or fishy for £2.80 and £4.20 and I adore them. By the way the pics are from a different visit of Gordo and his mate Rambo. Gordo tells me the Cotes du Rhone was a lovely little number for under £14, says it's a good list too, full of surprises.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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17 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

TreveorMarch 16th 2009.

An excellent place, modest, good service and good food.

kimchiMarch 16th 2009.

Good to see you have reviewed Koreana - it's a wonderment and Mr & Mrs Kim have managed to keep it that way - I love it.

louMarch 16th 2009.

From what I have gathered all tips paid by plastic go straight to the bank and don't get seen by the staff. I have always paid cash instead.What is the name of the beef dish they cook by your table and you wrap in lettuce leaves? That dish is amazing. I haven't been to Koreana in ages, I must go soon.

CastlefieldMarch 16th 2009.

Great, often wanted to try this place! May go Tuesday lunch when little rascal is at nursery. Thanks.

JennMarch 16th 2009.

Hi ADI'm sorry to hear about your disappointing meal - may I ask what you ordered? I'm afraid as in many great places the quality and authenticity of dishes do depend on what you order.Without wishing to state the obvious, they do Korean food and they do that best.Understandably, like many other oriental restaurants however, they incorporate dishes with south-east asian influences into the menu to cater to variety of tastes, so that diners with more conservative tastes (in my view, 'fussy') can enjoy a meal alongside their more adventure friends.So.. what did you guys have?

Jamie CravenMarch 16th 2009.

Absolute little gem this. I was in there about twenty years ago when I saw Barry Humphries dining with a load of guests and making them laugh their heads off. Food is excellent, tightly cooked and very tasty.

ADMarch 16th 2009.

The waitress told us not to bother leaving a tip at all if it was going to be on a card...

ADMarch 16th 2009.

On the basis of this review I ended up in Koreana for dinner last night and it was unfortunately a big dissapointment. we ordered four dishes, three of which were tasteless, they could have come from any "all you can eat" oriental buffet restaurant. The fourth dish was good tasty and enjoyable but one out of four is a pretty poor ratio. I dont know whether this is just hit and miss place, but on last nights meal it just doesnt deserve the praise you gave it.Just one warning though we were going to leave a tip using plastic - our waitress told us that tips left on cards dont go to the staff - only the cash tips do... shame on the management for that!

esquiloMarch 16th 2009.

I love Koreana - a real hidden pearl. And - even better - on a beautiful day you can get a lunchbox (or two) and eat it in the sunshine in Parsonage Gardens and pretend you're in the orient. Warning: don't attempt to eat a lunchbox at your office desk. You will be besieged by slavering vultures asking "what? where? how much?" until you've either given most away or it's gone cold while they keep you gassing.

van ser sarMarch 16th 2009.

Class food, used to go there loads at lunch, highly recommend !

JHMarch 16th 2009.

I went for meal again here last night, great food, as usual. I was curious about the tips after the last couple of comments, so I asked the waiter who was serving us.He told me that they do see tips left by card, but they prefer cash tips as the management has to take a small percentage for card commission. I suspect that waitress was just trying to get u to pay cash tips...

CastlefieldMarch 16th 2009.

I went for lunch today as I said I would. Was brill! Loved the Korean starter from ancient royal courts (or I think it said that). Had to convince my two fellow diners it was a better option than San Carlo, but they were very happy too. Thanks ManCon.

Gastronomique JoeMarch 16th 2009.

Yummy, lovely, fab. Unpretentious little darling of a place. Really recommended.

BonhoefferFebruary 15th 2010.

Great little place Koreana is. I go there most days for lunch.

Chicken noodle box all the way!

NorthernGeezerNovember 19th 2011.

WHAT A F****** DISASTER!!!!.........................

I can usually find something positive in any dining experience, but not this time.
Booked a table here for 7.30 on a Saturday night, the place was rammed, which is usually a good sign for the food, but a bad one for the service.
We were sat promptly however.......at the table near the door where the wind howls in!.
Unexpectedly, our order was taken very quickly, unfortunatley, 45 minutes later we still hadnt had our starters.
So, i got my complaining head on, the waitress trundled off to find out how much longer before we starved to death.
She returned, the bearer of bad news....................OUR FOOD HAD BEEN GIVEN TO ANOTHER TABLE!!!!.
Apologies were given as she said we would now be served as quickly as possible.
This smacked of desperation and i had visions of our meal being hastily cobbled together, so i refused there kind offer and refused to pay for the drinks we had.
Ah well, as Kim Jong Il often tells his people, learn from every experience life has to offer you, AND DONT F****** GO HERE AGAIN!!!!.

Kim Il-SungNovember 20th 2011.

Like it here - don't know what you're on about.

Maybe you need to get a 'stage presence' like me?

AnonymousDecember 20th 2011.

First and last time I eat at Koreana. We pre-booked a table at 7.00pm on a Saturday night 2 months ago. It was well over 20 minutes before our order was taken which should have been a warning sign!
Like Northerngeezer we found serivce was diabolically slow. Okay if you have the whole evening free to spend there but not if you have other plans later in the evening like we had! It took nearly an hour for our mains to arrive and suspect they had forgotten about our order. Trying to get the waitresses attention to pay the bill was a trial also. Neither myself or my 2 friends had eaten Korean food before but all found the mains bland and tasteless.

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