The principal idea behind the décor of Gung The Palace at City Centre, Sector 29, Gurgaon, seems to be to recreate a traditional dining experience for the Korean guests—who are missing their kim chi; and/or for the Indian gourmands who know their Bulgogi from their Manchurian.
Created with theatrical aplomb, the imaginative interiors boast of enclosed private chambers—with traditional floor seating; rice paper screens, Korean pottery, an elaborate bamboo water feature; and pretty Korean ladies dressed in their exquisite flowing hanboks (Korean national costume), eager to help. A make believe façade, but expertly done.
However, the star of the restaurant has to be Jinbum Kim, the affable and dashing director of the eatery, who floats from one private room to the other—humoring clients with folklores behind each dish, the latest Korean gossip, and anecdotes about his experience as a student in Delhi University’s Ramjas College—from where he graduated.
As we sank into our sitting alcoves, our personal server advised us to wear our aprons, and roll up our sleeves—which seemed like an auspicious start, as it gave us an indication that we were in for a big treat.
According to Kim, Koreans follow strict dining and drinking etiquette, but the one that suited me most, was that it is considered rude to decline a drink even if you are a non-drinker; and that it is courteous to have at least the first glass, so as not to ruin the drinking mood. “In Korea, the proper amount of alcohol to drink is described as “il bul, sam so, o ui, chil gwa”, meaning “don’t stop with one glass, three glasses lacks, five glasses is proper, and seven glasses
is over drinking,” explained Kim.
Bekseju is a traditional Korean wine made with fermented glutinous rice; and the fact that it contained up to 12 Oriental herbs—including ginseng—possibly gave us the extra energy to reach the five-glass mark quite comfortably.
As we sat sipping seju with Kim, 12 types of complimentary Banchan or side dishes of varying ingredients, textures, aromas and colours were laid out on the table—almost like a ceremony. These included different types of kim chi (fermented vegetables), gaeran mari (rolled egg omelette) and tteok (Korean rice cakes). “Traditional dining table was classified into a three-ch’op, and five-ch’op, and a seven-ch’op table, depending on the number of side dishes—with 12-ch’op used in Korean royal courts,” explained Kim. The classic cabbage kim chi, made under the strict supervision of Kim’s mother, who is the restaurant’s executive chef—had a clean bite, and a vivid garlic tang.
Just so that we could have a wholesome experience of food eaten by commoners as well as royalty, the next dish served was wang galbi (Rs 1,200)—barbequed pork ribs which were marinated in soy sauce and gochujang sauce (red chili paste), and then grilled to perfection at the table itself. “Pork ribs are cheaper than beef ribs, making them a common man’s dish,” explained Kim. Till just a few years ago, there were hardly any modern dwaeji—galbi—gui (Korean grill) restaurants with a ventilation hood installed on each table. Barbecue houses used a specially-designed drum can as a table. Inside of the large drum, there was a briquette, over which a gridiron was placed to grill meat. Sitting on a round-shaped stool around the drum, customers roasted the meat by themselves, bonding over pork ribs and seju.
If you thought Korean cuisine was just about barbequed food, think again. A must try is samgyetang (Rs 800), ginseng chicken soup, in which the whole young chicken is stuffed with ginseng, sticky rice and jujubes (Korean dates), and braised in a broth containing 17 kinds of Korean herbs—none of which are oppressively medicinal. Mandu jeongol (Rs 1,600), another favourite, is a hot pot containing beef dumplings and vegetables in a beef stock. Cooked on a brazier placed besides the table, it is a perfect dish for the approaching winters.
As the portions err on the generous side, a far cry from the tiny morsels served by nouvelle cuisine restaurants these days, we were stuffed—and passed on the offer of a fresh fruit platter, that also comes complimentary with main course orders. The venue is charmingly intimate and the service is attentive. For those looking to shake a leg and exercise their vocal cords after the five-glass rounds of seju, Gung The Palace has two karaoke rooms.
While it is not really a restaurant for the herbivores or the weak hearted, it is a must-do for those who enjoy their meat; and are ready to experiment with a far eastern cuisine that is distinctly different from that of its neighbours.
Gung The Palace
Plot 27-28, Sector 29, City Centre
Ph. No.: 0124 4383101, 9811911925
Timing: 12 pm - 3 pm, 6 pm - 10:30 pm