Hanwoo is only available in Korea and rarely exported. Korean BBQ is not usually associated with fine dining, but Byeokje Galbi is about change all this.
Byeokje Galbi is a local institution that has been serving legendary barbecued beef short ribs since 1986. The restaurant’s attention to quality begins from the breeding of the cows at a local farm in Pocheon. From a simple meal of cold buckwheat noodles and soup to an elaborate barbecue feast, Byeokje caters to all occasions. This particular branch (The Cheongdam) of Byeokje targets at the fine dining set.
Only the top 1% (BMS No.9) are purchased, whole, at a daily auction, after which they are handled by an artisan butcher. The signature dishes are the beautifully marbled short ribs and ribeye grilled over charcoal.
The Hanwoo Matgimchalim
While the main spotlight is the wonderful Hanwoo BBQ, the matgimchalim 맡김차림 (Korean for omakase) dinner also featured the best of Korean cuisine in the fine dining style.
- Seolleongtang 설렁탕 Ox bone soup
- Banchan 반찬 Appetisers
- Yukhoe Tang Tang-I 육회탕탕이 Beef tartare with live octopus
- Saengseonhoe 생선회 Sashimi
- Sulwha saeng-galbi 설화생갈비 “Snowflake” beef ribs
- Anchangsal 안창살 Outside skirt
- Kkot deungsim 꽃등심 Ribeye
- 소프트 쉘 크랩 튀김 Deep fried soft shell crab
- Yalbge sseon deungsim 얇게 썬 등심 Thin sliced striploin
- Jeonliptu 전립투 Traditional Joseon Hotpot
- Ahnshim 안심 Tenderloin
- Dongchimi syeobeos 동치미셔벗 Water radish sorbet
- Sokkolijjim 소꼬리찐 Braised oxtail
- Yangnyeom-galbi 양념갈비 Marinated ribs
- Godeung-eo abokado maki 고등어 아보카도 마키 Mackerel avocado roll
- Maeun naengmyeon 매운냉면 Spicy cold noodles
- Garibisotbab 가리비솥밥 Scallop Pot Rice
- Yukgaejang 육개장 Spicy beef soup
- Husig 후식 Dessert
Seolleongtang 설렁탕 Ox bone soup
Koreans have enjoyed eating soupy food since ancient times So it is normal that we started with a soup. Seolleongtang 설렁탕 (ox bone soup) is a milky beef bone soup that’s made by boiling down ox leg bones for several hours until the broth becomes rich and creamy white.
This broth is a staple in Korean households, especially during cold winter months. Ox marrow bones, called sagol 사골, is most typically used to make this milky bone soup, but other parts such as knuckle bones (dogani 도가니) and ox foot (ujok 우족) are added for good measure.
Of course, this being fine dining, the soup was upgraded to include bits of abalone and flavour enhanced with goji and ginseng. What I really enjoyed was the bone marrow that was removed from the bones, as well as the cartilage of the knee cap that was cooked to a jelly consistency.
Banchan 반찬 Appetisers
This is a fine dining take on banchan 반찬, which is Korean for appetisers or side dishes that are served before the main courses. Instead of usual selection of kimchis and other small bites, these were well-thought through appetisers.
It was a no brainer that I would love this appetiser because of my love for shellfish. Saejogae 새조개 “Bird Clam” or Common Cockle with perilla oil and leeks. It is so called because the cockle looked like the beak of a bird. Crunchy and tasty, I loved it.
Jokpyeon 족편 is a dish in Korean cuisine prepared by boiling cow’s trotters and other cuts with high collagen content, such as cow’s head, skin, tail and pig’s head in water for a long time, so that the stewing liquid sets to form a jelly-like substance when cooled. A bit like Teochew pig trotter jelly 豬腳凍, but instead of five spice to enhance the flavour, they used yuzu and gelatine sheet to achieve the jelly texture.
Beoljib-yang 벌집양 Honeycomb tripe was braised in doenjang 된장 fermented bean paste, and the result tasted like Cantonese style braised tripe but different texture. The texture was still crunchy but not chewy, unlike how the Cantonese braised it until it was lam 霖 (mushy).
The last of the quartet of appetisers was salm-eun mun-eo 삶은 문어 boiled octopus with chilli served on a bed of salted dureup.
What was special about this appetiser was this stalk of sogeum-e jeol-in duleub 소금에 절인 두릅 salted dureup. Dureup is the shoot of the Japanese angelica tree and tasted like asparagus crossed with mountain yam. Not sure why people took the effort to harvest these when you can eat asparagus.
Yukhoe Tang Tang-I 육회탕탕이 Beef tartare with live octopus
Not for the faint hearted, this course featured live, wriggling chopped octopus tentacles and Hanwoo beef tartare using the tenderloin cut. Called yukhoe tang tang-i, after the sound made from chewing the live octopus tentacles.
Yukhoe translates as ‘beef tartare’ in English, but it tastes and looks different from Western beef tartare. The umami of high-quality beef fills your mouth as you chew, followed by pears with a crisp texture and mild sweetness, and the flavour of pine nut powder and egg yolk decorates the finish.
You have to try this yukhoe tang tang-i at least once in your life. Chewing the wiggly octopus tentacles and beef together fills your palate with rich umami and set your adrenaline pumping.
Saengseonhoe 생선회 Sashimi
The final appetiser before the barbecue began, this Korean-style sashimi featured a single type of fish, the red snapper called chamdom 참돔 in Korean (or tai 鯛 in Japanese) from Jeju served as sashimi, aburi and with a ferment bean paste. In Korea, red snapper is processed alive and served a la minute. You really have to trust the modern aquaculture as it live fish can have parasites living them.
And after the sashimi, the waitress cleared the table and placed some kimchi and salad. We knew we were ready for the highlight of the evening.
At first glance, I thought it was baby cucumber or tomatoes, but it turned out to be baby eggplants pickled with vinegar and soy sauce. Very refreshing.
This particular kimchi is made using Gat, which are mustard leaves, coated in a mixture of red pepper, chili flakes, and more. Since the leaves themselves taste rather sharp and pungent, it tastes rather unique compared to the usual napa cabbage kimchi.
The main attraction was four different cuts of the finest BMS No.9 beef. The cut on the right is Korean beef ribs called hanwoo saeng-galbi 한우 생갈비. And next to it, beautiful cuts of tenderloin 안심, ribeye 꽃등심, and outside skirt 안창살. They were quite generous with the portion – there was at least 300g of meat for the premium cuts per person.
Sulwha saeng-galbi 설화생갈비 “Snowflake” beef ribs
They are so confident of the marbling that they named this the “snowflake” saeng-galbi. The knife work on this piece of short ribs was amazing. I have only seen this “diamond” cut in Korea as the rest of the world are familiar with what is now known as the LA cut.
I love KBBQ in Korea. No I am trying to be cheeky, but they grill the beef for you no matter what price point of the restaurant you go. And they know their beef. Excellent beef perfectly grilled! I asked for some lettuce to wrap with the galbi, but it was rejected as the manager explained that the beef they used were top notched and they wouldn’t suggest that you desecrate the beef like the cheap KBBQ outside.
After working through the galbi, our personal BBQ chef brought the premium cuts over to the charcoal grill.
Beef is a serious business in South Korea: local butchers typically identify 120 different cuts (as opposed to the western 20 or 30) that run from the tenderloin to obscure parts of the tail. Hanwoo beef is considered the most luxurious of its offerings, but although renowned in South Korea it is less known outside the country as so little of it is sold abroad.
There were two accompanying condiments – a dried mushroom infused salt (L) that was full of umami, and a chopped leek and sesame oil sauce.
Anchangsal 안창살 Outside skirt
The first cut of steak that we tried was the outside skirt. Outside skirt steak is the cut of beef that comes from the cow’s diaphragm muscle, located between the sixth and twelfth ribs. It is thicker and more tender than the inside cut because it comes from an area of the cow that gets less exercise.
This cut is known for its robust flavour profile and perfect for grilling. We were not disappointed. Even without a marinate, the cut was flavourful and had great texture. It did not disappoint.
Kkot deungsim 꽃등심 Ribeye
Next up, the ribeye. It is both flavoursome and tender, coming from the lightly worked upper rib cage area which spans from the sixth to twelfth ribs of the cattle. Its marbling of fat makes it very good for fast and hot cooking.
This was a really tasty piece of steak. Luckily it wasn’t a large piece because the greasiness from the marbling was quite overwhelming. The beef browned perfectly and those bits were all flavour.
소프트 쉘 크랩 튀김 Deep fried soft shell crab
The next course is 소프트 쉘 크랩 튀김 Deep fried soft shell crab served with pickled pepper and onions with ponzu sauce.
Was not expecting soft shell crab as it was not native of Korea. This course was so off tangent, I did not enjoy it.
Yalbge sseon deungsim 얇게 썬 등심 Thin sliced striploin
The next course was made with a thin sliced striploin that has not been marinated. If it has been marinated, it would qualify as bulgogi.
Jangajji 장아찌 is vegetable pickles made with a simple brine with 3 ingredients — soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. The pickle juice was used to flavour this cold broth with a general sprinkling of chives.
In the broth was a half-boiled egg that you can use to dip the beef with.
But I prefer to just eat the molten egg yolk with the beef – creamy egg yolk, savoury broth with the fattiness from the beef. Delicious one bite.
Jeonliptu 전립투 Traditional Joseon Hotpot
This is a 18th century recipe that was lost but now resurrected. It reproduces the taste of a hearth meeting where the scholars Jeong Yak-yong and Janggak sat around with their friends to light a charcoal fire over a Joseon military cap called beonggeoji to enjoy grilled meat with a drink or two. The recipe called for a traditional cooking ware called jeonliptu 전립투 (氈笠套), the helmut said to have been used as a pot to boil broth and cook vegetables and grill meat on the brim.
While this was not the historic reproduction, the soup was more like a clearer version of the seolleongtang we had earlier. The soup used the same beef stock that was used to make the seolleongtang, and that’s where the similarity ended.
In the stock, pieces of grilled matsutake mushroom and boiled beef finished the soup. It tasted like the seasoning from one of those gomtang instant noodles from Korea. After the opening soup, this was an anti-climax if not for the history and story behind this soup.
Ahnshim 안심 Tenderloin
I saw them on the grill but it only appeared on my plate after the jeonliptu. I was surprised by the extra resting time needed for these cubes of tenderloin.
It was served with grilled zucchini and eggplant. I dipped the medium rare tenderloin into the sea salt. The beef was so tender and juicy. The long period do f resting had not overcooked the meat at all, perfect skilling and timing.
Dongchimi syeobeos 동치미셔벗 Water radish sorbet
Dongchimi is a mild water-based radish kimchi. During fermentation, acidity and sweetness develop, producing a tangy, refreshing broth. This broth was used to make this sorbet as a palate cleanser
The sorbet has a very distinct kimchi taste, that is tangy and slightly spicy. Worked well to clear the palate for the next dish.
Sokkolijjim 소꼬리찐 Braised oxtail
Oxtail was braised to tender together with the radish in the Seolleongtang 설렁탕, at the oxtail was pan fried before serving. This gave the already flavourful oxtail another dimension of protein caramelisation.
Yangnyeom-galbi 양념갈비 Marinated ribs
All the beef we had so far were not marinated. You can taste the natural flavour of Hanwoo, and I have to admit I enjoy them even better than Japanese Wagyu (too fatty) or Certified Angus Beef Prime (too dry). But for a complete experience, the omakase continued with some marinated beef.
Galbi 갈비 is made using short ribs that are cut across—rather than parallel to—the rib bones into long, thin pieces. This cut of meat is best cooked over a hot grill so that the fat can render and the meat can cook evenly.
Galbisal 갈비살 on the other hand are rib fingers. You can get more flavours of the beef but they tend to get chewy when grilled. But nothing to worry about as these have excellent marbling.
The yangnyeom galbi was lightly marinated to let the excellent beef shine though instead of the sauce.
Godeung-eo abokado maki 고등어 아보카도 마키 Mackerel avocado roll
I could not make out what this was at first – A maki roll? A tempura? Firstly there’s no sushi rice in this maki roll. It’s made with mackerel rolled with avocado, battered and deep fried. It was served on a gochujang pumpkin sauce that provided the heat and savouriness to the mackerel “tempura”.
Maeun naengmyeon 매운냉면 Spicy cold noodles
Besides Hanwoo, Byeokje is famous for their naengmyeon (Korean style cold noodles). They even have a Michelin Recommend restaurant that served this North Korea specialty called Bongpiyang.
The maeun naengmyeon 매운냉면 was made with their own homemade noodles with a high buckwheat content, and served in a flavourful chilled beef broth, topped with slices of grilled yangnyeom galbi and yangbaechu kimchi (green cabbage kimchi).
And to spice up the wonderful treat, a liberal scoop of gochujang was added. You mix the noodles and chilli paste together evenly, and slurped it up with the chilled broth. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Garibisotbab 가리비솥밥 Scallop Pot Rice
The main course is a claypot rice with locally sourced scallops. Korea is blessed with a wonderfully long coastal line and there are many rich fishing grounds around. The scallops are not as big as the ones from Hokkaido, but they pack as much flavours.
Halfway through the matgimchalim, the waitress brought out a claypot with some soaked raw rice and chopped raw scallops. After the presentation of the ingredients, it was brought away to be cooked in the kitchen. It only reappeared after we have finished the naengmyeon course, which I mistaken to be the only main course of the meal and I finished up my companion’s portion as she was already full.
It was revealed with pomp and fragrance of cooked rice with seafood whiffed through the room. The cooked rice was sprinkled with a generous amount of chopped scallions.
A bowl was scooped into a beautiful ceramic bowl and served with a tray of assorted banchan and a bowl of yukgaejang (spicy beef soup). More on the soup like, but I was not impressed but the variety of banchan. There were only three small saucer plates of matsutake mushrooms, the garden-variety kimchi and some boiled spinach. And of course, nori sheets that Koreans eat their rice with.
You can taste bits of scallop skirtings in the rice, which was sweet and full of umami. It was like little bursts of flavours to otherwise a rather boring bowl of rice. This was meant to be a filler, but given the number of courses in this generous meal we were quite filled by now anyway.
Yukgaejang 육개장 Spicy beef soup
Yukgaejang 육개장 made from shredded beef with scallions and other ingredients was served with the rice. In the humble soup that is rated as the hangover cure was added beef intestines and tripe, which were music to my ears. And the soup tasted great as well.
Husig 후식 Dessert
The dessert was presented on a beautiful plate with embedded butterflies and flowers. Byeokje not only is an excellent purveyor of the best Hanwoo in the country, they have also gone into the business of high end dinnerware. All the dinnerware used tonight were from their own collection.
Gotgamssam 곶감쌈 Dried persimmon wrap is usually made with walnut, but in this case they have used chestnut paste as a substitute. Although gotgam 곶감 dried persimmons often have a slight bitterness when eaten on their own, combining it with sweet chestnut paste creates a depth to the flavour, using the subtle bitterness as an accent.
Hongsi pyule 홍시퓨레 Ripe persimmon purèe with a dollop of Greek yoghurt, crushed walnut and puffed red yeast rice. Very sweet because the persimmon puree was all natural. I couldn’t finish this sweet soup.
Sikhye 식혜 rice punch with sweet pumpkin is a traditional rice beverage that is served as the final course or dessert just before you get your bill. It tasted like Chinese 酒釀 wine lee, adn thankfully because of the pumpkin it was quite pleasant. Hopefully it aided digestion like what it was supposed to do as we had a really filling dinner.
PS: it didn’t.
This is the up-market version of the KBBQ chain Byeokje. Besides the same high quality Hanwoo beef on offer, this restaurant made the whole dining experience top-notch, very suitable for business gathering. The privacy of the room, the excellent ventilation meant that you will not smell like BBQ after the meal.
The dinner quality was excellent, and the number of courses can be overwhelming. You have to cater at least 2.5 hours to finish everything at a leisurely pace. Service was impeccable, the waitress did not speak English but tried her best to explain the proper method to eat some of the unfamiliar items on the list. Overall, I recommend this place for those tired of the tourist-class KBBQ in Myeongdong.
Hansik Byeokje Galbi (The Cheongdam) 한식벽제갈비 더청담
1F, Joeun Building, 118-4 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 강남구 청담동 118-4번지 조은빌딩 1층
Tel : 02-512-9593
Visited Mar 2023
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