3 famous Korean chains to launch in Singapore
This story originally appeared in The Sunday Times on Sept 30.
Korean barbecue restaurants are sizzling hot in Singapore, with three well-known Korean barbecue chains launching here.
Two that have already opened are Boss BarBQ at Clarke Quay and Kkongdon BBQ at Marina Square while Bornga will open at The Star Vista by the end of next month.
At Tanjong Pagar Road, home to many Korean restaurants, two Korean barbecue restaurants - Supulae and Mini Korea Bistro & Izakaya - opened within the past four months.
There are no fewer than 150 Korean restaurants islandwide feeding the community of about 30,000 Koreans in Singapore.
The local visitorship to Korea has also increased steadily over the years, and the Korea Tourism Organisation expects 150,000 visitors this year.
According to a spokesman for government agency Korea Agro-Trade Centre which promotes Korean cuisine, 80 per cent of the Korean restaurants here serve Korean barbecue. Korean beef is banned in Singapore, so generally the beef served here would be from Australia or the United States.
Diners whom SundayLife! spoke to enjoy going for Korean barbecue meals because of the variety of side dishes which include kimchi, beansprouts and pickled cucumbers, as well as the fun of barbecuing with friends. Other traditional items on the menus include seafood pancake and kimchi stews. The condiments and dips for the meats - beef, pork and chicken - are also a big draw.
Engineer Gareth Lim, 27, who goes with his friends for Korean barbecue sessions every few months, says: "As guys, we love that there are a lot of meat and free flow of sides to fill us up. The spicy sauces are also very appetising and tasty. Even if I have my own version of barbecue at home, it wouldn't taste the same and won't be as rowdy."
Cashing in on this foodie K-wave is Boss BarBQ, which opened last month at Clarke Quay. This is the first outlet outside of Korea and it has a bar and live K-pop entertainment as well.
Its Korean-born managing director Victoria Im, 51, says: "All the recipes and sauces are brought in from Korea to ensure that it tastes the same. Everything is prepared in the kitchen so that diners can eat, drink and chill without smelling of the smoke."
The restaurant's extensive menu includes ribs and charcoal-grilled wings.
JP Pepperdine, which owns local steakhouse Jack's Place, has also jumped on this barbecue trend, adding Kkongdon BBQ from Korea to its list of restaurants.
A spokesman for JP Pepperdine says: "From our earlier market survey, we see the growth of Korean cuisine which lacks casual mid-priced Korean restaurants. We grabbed the franchisee opportunity when it was available."
Within the next three years, it will open eight more outlets. The second branch will open at Safra Toa Payoh on Oct 9.
Bornga is another franchise from Korea which has outlets in the US, China and Indonesia. It is fronted by Korean chef Paik Jong Won, who has established 24 franchised food and beverage brands. He opened Bornga in 1993 and it now has more than 415 outlets in Korea.
Mr Chee Haw Teo, 42, director for Bornga's holding company in Singapore, says: "We think Korean culture is very popular in Singapore with Korean TV dramas, singers and food making a big splash here. There is more room for Korean barbecue restaurants to bring authentic Korean flavours to diners here."
For older players such as Korean barbecue restaurant Ju Shin Jung, sticking to tradition has proven successful.
Managing director Yun Ul Young, 37, says: "Traditional Korean barbecue has never changed for more than 50 years in Korea and it still remains good. Of course, we maintain our facilities and invest for better food quality."
It has three outlets, the first of which opened in 2003 at Yess Centre, and also owns Korean restaurant Bobby Good at China Square Food Centre as well as Damotory Korean Wine House at Robertson Walk.
For barbecue chain Seoul Garden, which opened in 1983, the strategy is to target the younger crowd with special deals and improving its facilities and menus to attract customers.
While most of the Korean barbecue restaurants include pork on their menus, Seoul Garden is halal-certified and 40 per cent of its diner base are Malay customers.
Of their improvements, Zingrill Holdings' director of marketing Benny Lee, 50, says: "We have evolved from a simple buffet line to computerised ordering at selected outlets. Also, we have changed from using gas to induction cooking. Our flagship outlet at Marina Square also has a churrasco machine to provide grilled items."
Zingrill Holdings owns Seoul Garden, which has nine outlets to date and a 10th branch slated to open at nex in December. The company also launched its Seoul Garden Hotpot restaurant in April last year, and runs a catering arm.
Law undergraduate Bong Yumi, 20, who has Korean parents, notes that not many restaurants can compare to what she eats at home. She says: "I have tried various Korean barbecue outlets such as Seoul Garden and Auntie Kim's. So far, I think Boss
BarBQ comes closest to what my parents cook. I would like to see more barbecue restaurants of a higher standard that is not watered down for Singaporeans' tastes."
Hot off the grill
What: Unlike most of the Korean barbecue restaurants, the meats here are already barbecued over charcoal in the kitchen, to minimise the smell of smoke clinging on to diners. The dishes are served on hotplates to keep the food warm. Try their special dishes such as Bo Ssam, which is steamed pork ($38, far right); charcoal barbecued chicken in spicy, not spicy or soy sauce ($22 or $38), smoked duck ($38, right) and barbecued pork ribs ($22 or $38). The 2,700 sq ft restaurant, complete with plush sofas for chilling out, also has live K-pop entertainment from 11pm every night except Mondays.
Where: 3C River Valley Road, Clarke Quay, 01-04, open: noon to 3pm (lunch daily); from Sundays to Tuesdays, 5 to 2am (dinner and bar area); from Wednesdays to Saturdays, 5 to 3am (dinner and bar area)
Info: Call 6336-3393 or go to www.facebook.com/bossbarbqsingapore
What: Menu highlights include Tong Samgyeopsal or pork belly ($16, above), and Ojingeo Bulgogi Jeongol, which is a beef, squid and vegetable hotpot ($28). Their kimchi salad bar offers various types of kimchi including cucumber kimchi, garlic soya sauce kimchi and white radish kimchi. Three types are prepared daily and they are free flow. The outlet is run by JP Pepperdine, which owns steakhouse chain Jack's Place.
Where: Marina Square, Marina Link, B1-01/02, open: 11am to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6336-2580
What: Besides the usual meats, look out for the fish roe seafood soup ($16), and sour and spicy topshell ($28). It also has two barbecue sets ($48.90 each) which includes pork with either beef or chicken, as well as chicken sausage, steamed egg and a choice of either bean paste soup or kimchi soup.
Where: 80 Tanjong Pagar Road, open: 5pm to 3am daily
Info: Call 6225-2248 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Mini Korea Bistro & Izakaya
What: At this four-month-old outlet, order the Korean fish soup ($35) or kimchi soup ($15) to accompany your barbecued meats. Beef cuts start from $22 for 200g.
Where: 98 Tanjong Pagar Road, open: 5.30pm to 5.30am (Mondays to Saturdays), 5.30pm to 2.30am (Sundays)
Info: Call 6223-6785
What: The signature items include Woo Sam Gyup (below), which is thinly sliced beef brisket dressed with Bornga's special sauce and Chadol Doenjang Jjigae, a beef soybean paste stew. Prices are not confirmed yet.
Where: The Star Vista, 1 Vista Exchange Green, 02-24, open: by the end of next month
“All the recipes and sauces are brought in from Korea to ensure that it tastes the same. Everything is prepared in the kitchen so that diners can eat, drink and chill without smelling of the smoke.”
Ms Victoria Im, who owns Boss BarBQ with her husband Steven Lim, on the food served in her restaurant