Vicky Andrews enjoys a fast and fun piece of food theatre - but could do with a hand
ONCE in a supermoon Facebook ‘memories’ throws up a welcome blast from the past and it was an amusing coincidence that my first visit to a Korean barbecue would mark exactly seven years since I’d been in Seoul, heavily jet-lagged, stumbling around historic palaces in subzero temperatures by day and drinking soju bombs with loud Americans by night.
In my mind, I was Bear Grills. In reality, I was The Muppet’s Swedish Chef
I’m not saying I’m an expert in Korean cuisine, but I was at least one step ahead of my partner in dine, whose only previous experience of Kim Chi was the contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Ban di Bul has been hugely popular in Manchester for eight years and now the owners have brought the successful DIY cooking concept to Liverpool. Unlike their Bold Street neighbours ‘Pho’ - who do Asian food, Western style - Ban Di Bul is unapologetically Asian food, Asian style.
With over a hundred options on the menu, you’ll find exotic and dangerous sounding dishes such as eel ‘thop bub’, sliced ox tongue, fried octopus and chicken gizzard, alongside more traditional family favourites of fried teriyaki chicken and spare ribs. But the main attraction here is to try your hand as chef by ordering raw meat, fish and vegetables to cook at the table.
Amid the noisy clatter and chatter inside was a piece of design genius - all of the tables had extractor fans above the stoves to remove the cooking fumes. All except two tables right at the very back. One of which was ours.
Our host tolerated my amateur dramatics with a smile as I wiped a cloud of grease from my forehead and peered at the menu through BBQ-glazed eyes. We weren’t brave enough for the sweet and sour whelks or beef tripe casserole, but grabbed the Bul by the horns with a slight variation on the set BBQ menu, replacing the marinated beef with sliced rib eye steak that would have me cooking with gas like a ninja.
I was reminded of a Korean proverb; “Don’t drink the kimchi soup first,” meaning, be patient and don’t get ahead of yourself too soon. The first time I tried kimchi, I wanted to spit it straight back out onto the host, but after eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, I learned to love the famous fermented pickles that claim to boost the natural ‘good’ bacteria in the human gut.
Keeping digestive health close, we ordered a Ban Di Bul Beer (£4.20) and a glass of Coke (£2.50) and raised our glasses to the arrival of the Kimchi Set (£6.50) including spicy pickled Chinese cabbage, crunchy ‘Oo E Kimchi’ pickled cucumber and sweet ‘Kak Too Gi’ pickled white radish.
Utensils and plates continued to land on the table without much explanation as our host whacked the gas burner up and disappeared off into a puff of smoke, leaving us in a hot-spot with a combo of raw ingredients and two bowls of steaming soup.
The ‘Yuk Ke Jian’ (£2.90) was a deliciously fiery red broth packed with shredded beef and vegetables, while the ‘Mi Yeok’ seaweed soup (£2.90) was reminiscent of drinking from a garden pond. The ‘Key Ran Mar Yi’ egg and vegetable roll (£8.90) was a fluffy treat, complemented by a sweet red ‘Korean sauce’ that Mr Heinz himself would have been proud of.
Appetisers done and the steaks were high to make sure my meat cooking skills were a cut above the rest. In my mind, I was Bear Grills. In reality, I was The Muppet’s Swedish Chef, juggling a massive pair of scissors, meat tongs and chopsticks across smoking hot metal.
Once cooked, the meat slices were stuffed inside delicate lettuce leaves (Sang Chu, £1.90) with ‘Pa-Jio Ri’ sweet and sour spring onions that held some superb Asian flavours and topped off with sliced garlic and chilli (£1.90) plus sesame oil and pepper sauce.
The ‘Dung Xim Gui’ sliced rib eye steak (£9.90) didn’t live up to the rich succulence that I was expecting but the ‘Sam Giem Sal’ sliced pork belly (£9.90) was perfect for the burner and the juicy meat came off golden brown and crispy on the outside.
With our plates clean and picking at the last of the kimchi, it felt like a satisfying meal and a fast and fun piece of food theatre. Not the best Asian flavours I’ve ever had, but definitely an enjoyable experience that’s best shared with good friends.
As we sorted out the bill (which you need to pay at the front desk) the booths rotated quickly with Western and Asian customers. Two lads on the next table had left quite a scene and incinerated everything on their hot plate including the cold sides and lettuce leaves. I’m pretty sure they were more pickled than the kimchi, but it would definitely help first-timers if the staff offered more help on how to be a master of the Korean barbecue.
Ban Di Bul, 55 Bold Street, Liverpool L1 4EU
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Mi Yeok Soup 3, Yuk Ke Jian Soup 7, Kimchi Set 7, Key Ran Mar Yi 6, Dung Xim Gui 6, Sam Giem Sal 7, Pa-Jio Ri 7
Super efficient but need to help first-timers
Smokin’ - bag a table with a vent