Hwang Kum has people lining up to taste its pajeon, bibimbap, japchae-bap and other Korean delights
I’d been to this Korean restaurant before, years ago, I was sure, but only recalled basic decor. But the place has changed. Hwang Kum now has dark wood panelling upon which are hung white bas-reliefs of flowers, attractive photos and framed traditional children’s costumes in the back. Thick swaths of green fabric thrown over the backs of the wooden chairs add comfort. You almost forget the kitchen is at the front of the room.
We showed up at the 6 p.m. opening time on the nose, and within 15 minutes every seat was full. There’s a chef and a server and that’s it. Service got busy, sometimes a bit erratic, but not overmuch.
The menu has many stew, soup and noodle options. Curiously, there’s a house specialties page near the front with stalwarts like the rice-meat-veg bibimbap in a stone bowl and japchae-bap, those bogglingly transparent glass noodles made of sweet potato starch. There’s also a specialties page near the back of the menu with less common offerings, like spicy octopus, conch, and sliced pig foot with black sauce.
Each table gets little dishes of accompaniments first. White radish cubes almost felt effervescent with sour fermentation, potato chunks were brown-sugar sweet. There were crunchy emerald-skinned cuke slices and black-peppery bean sprouts. And kimchi, that emblematic pink pickled cabbage of my hot dreams.
Our pajeon, the seafood pancake, arrived next, a thick bird’s nest tangle of squid, potato, carrot and green onions. We recognized it as being the item most frequently dotting the other tables too. "It’s like a potato latke," my friend explained to his young daughter. It was an excellent change from the usual gummy pajeon, crisp and even tastier with the house blend of soy sauce and vinegar added.
For glutinous texture, we had rice sticks in spicy red bean paste sauce. The hot dog-sized sticks were springy to the tooth and fun to chew. A barbecue chicken dish was similarly flavoured and soon had my wuss-palated friend sweating from his brow. His daughter was happy with the easy-pleasing japchae-bap with beef and veg.
I was warned that the spicy kimchi pork (from the back end specialties page) was sour, but I found it nicely tempered with sweetness and pepper. The dish also included plain soft tofu cubes, for variety I suppose.
My friend’s daughter leaned on him, tired. There was a queue by now, and lots of patient, eager faces were looking towards us. It was time to go. Now, I just have to find time to go back.
5908 Sherbrooke St. W.; 514-487-1712
Dinner for two: $30-$45