This week we went to Dadam 다담 a Korean restaurant with a more swanky, sophisticated menu and atmosphere than the average sikdangs we usually go to! The interior had a simple design in rustic materials and colours. But there was an air of luxury too – napkins had the restaurant’s name embroidered on them in Chinese characters. And I liked the decadent touch in the bathrooms where individual towels were provided instead of standard paper towels or those embarrassingly noisy air driers.
The menu was in Korean but they obviously have a lot of foreign customers as I was promptly brought an English menu (on an ipad!) They had a huge range of soju from all around Korea so first we ordered a soju from Jeonju called 이간주 – the ingredients include rice, pear, and ginger. (there’s wine too) I enjoyed the whole experience here but I did have an issue with some of the food..
I took this picture on the way out. There are private rooms for those who don’t want to sit in the restaurant with the riffraff. But since there were only two of us we sat in the open dining area (otherwise it would be like sitting at home, wouldn’t it?) The window seats in the restaurant look out onto this entranceway where there was a steady stream of customers arriving for us to gaze out at.
We chose the vegetarian set meal for two (70,000 won each). There is also a non-vegetarian set, or dishes can be ordered individually. The first course was sweet pumpkin porridge (호박죽) with radish water kimchi (동치미). I love the presentation. There’s one slice of jujube in the porridge and one rice dumpling. Sometimes water kimchi can be a bit too sweet for me but this one was REALLY sour and gave a clean, fresh balance to the thick, slightly sweet porridge. The slice of red chilli gave it all a pop of colour. Great start.
Next was a salad with a savoury sesame dressing. I spent quite some time rummaging around trying to work out what all the vegetables were since there were some unusual textures – a detailed menu with all the ingredients for each dish would have been very handy. Anyway, the salad included lettuce, beetroot, cress, raw potato, pear, radish, and some ‘edible flowers’. When I asked what the yellow petals were, the waiter said ‘edible flowers’. Yes I can see that! I was hoping for a bit more information …
The small savoury pancakes – jeon (전) arrived on a large plate! The ones on the left are made of burdock and were definitely my favourite. We both agreed we could have eaten more of these. Very tasty. I’m still happy.
Now this was interesting – wild ginseng (on the left) it’s VERY bitter so it needs something to sweeten it up – hence the dish of honey provided. I like ginseng.
But hmmm… The ginseng came with two slices of yam with a topping of yuzu. Now this was the first disappointing dish for me. The ginseng was great but the yam and yuzu just tasted (and looked) like some marmalade on soggy bread. Potato and yuzu? It just seemed like an odd combination. My disappointment didn’t stop me trying to eat the yellow flower and moss garnish though. They were not edible and just for show. Oh! 😳 I don’t think anybody saw that.
Next up was this rather dramatic looking plate of finely sliced vegetables presented on lotus leaves. They came with the pancakes below – we both got different coloured pancakes which was cute. Then we just had to work out how we were supposed to eat this dish. I was going to eat the whole lotus leaf. But NO you are supposed to take a chopstickful of veg from each leaf and put it on the pancake, roll the pancake up, dip it in the sauce provided and eat. AGAIN, the lotus leaves are just for show. I really need to get a grip!
Unfortunately, I’m going to have to be harsh again, I’m afraid, and say that the presentation was definitely better than the taste. Another problem was that these vegetables had pretty much all just made an appearance in the previous salad too, so I found that a bit samey. At this point I got the feeling that the non-vegetarian set would have been better than this one. I can’t see into the mind of the chefs but it felt as though they didn’t really know what to do for a completely vegetarian meal! Vegetarian food is not common – it’s virtually impossible to find a vegetarian menu unless you go to the temple. I would have liked a fish set – but they didn’t have one.
Having said all that, just looking at these pancakes in different colours makes me happy. There’s clearly a lot of thought that goes into the colour and presentation of the food. I would like to hang this on my wall.
Time for more soju. This is Andong soju which is very famous. Now we were ready for the final dish which was rice, cabbage soup (!) and some pickles and kimchi which were all very tasty.
The rice came served in a lotus leaf. (again – do not eat!)
I think this is acorn and konyak served in a sesame oil sauce. But it was so mild and except for the sesame oil I found it pretty tasteless. It looked great though. Korean food can be so hot and spicy and tasty, yet all these dishes were very mild. This dish really needed something to give it a kick. In my opinion anyway.
And that was the end of the meal. I had mixed feelings about the whole meal but overall I did enjoy it. So I don’t want to end on a negative note. So to finish I’ll leave a reminder of some of the highlights of the evening.