The graffiti strewn back walls that line the start of Kimberly Street, a small lane parallel to Kimberly Road in TST, didn’t seem to promise much in the way of eating here. But moving further along the street revealed a hidden cluster of Korean restaurants and food stores.
In the middle of these was the glowing orange sign of Chung Gye Chon, one of two restaurants on the street offering proper ‘at the table’ Korean barbecue. Inside the restaurant was full, and more people were lining up out the front. We waited about twenty minutes and then were given a table.
Chung Gye Chon’s menu has an impressive range of different meat, seafood, and vegetables for barbequing and a decent variety of other dishes. I wouldn’t say it is quite as extensive as Sorabol (Hong Kong’s more famous Korean restaurant) but there was still plenty to choose from.
Our pork ribs came smothered in a red paste, much thicker than the meat marinades that I’ve seen in a lot of places. This marinade clearly had a very carefully considered blend of spice and other ingredients, giving it a very distinctive pungent and spicy flavour. As the pieces of meat were laid out to hiss on the metal, the paste’s flavours seeped into the flesh so that it was subtly tinged by them. Bits of the paste stayed on the outside, going a deep red and becoming slightly charred, so each piece ended up with a great-tasting smoky, spicy skin. The marinade also meant the cooked pieces were also amazingly soft and loaded with a gentle, but tasty spicy flavour.
The bibimbap (stone pot rice) was also an excellent version of the dish. Just the right amount of the pungent-tasting red gochujang sauce was added to coat everything but not completely overwhelm with its flavour – so that the freshness of the vegetables could still come through. All these vegetables were prepared really well, chopped into quite delicate pieces so none of their textures or tastes seemed overly weighty.
Thin green strands of spinach added a bit of earthiness and twisted through the rice to give a complimenting texture. Mushrooms with a strong flavour were finely sliced to moderate this impact. There was also the really nice addition of some thin fibrous brown strands which I think were mushrooms of some kind and had a really nutty, woody taste. It was great to scoop up a ball of soft plump rice and fresh bits of vegetable, all infused with the pungent and spicy sauce.
The dish kept hissing and cooking for a long time at the table, so that all the vegetables and rice warmed, softened and combined nicely – adding to their hearty comforting feeling. And then when you turned the rice over from the bottom of the pot it had fried a light golden colour and turned into crisped pieces that were equally impressive.
The beef sirloin steak for the barbeque was less stunning. The piece of steak looked very high quality, with little seams of fat cutting through it. The waiter cooked it for a long time on both sides, so that it was heavily browned on the outside and the meat was cooked right through to the centre. I would have preferred it a bit less well done. This long cooking time meant that while the meat had a good flavour it was a touch tougher than I would have hoped for. It also tasted a little bland when placed alongside the marinaded pork.
We also had a kim chi pancake. This was really very doughy, like a heavy omelette and quite hearty tasting, but a bit stodgy, as a result. The batter was stained a deep red colour. It tasted strongly of the pungency and spice of kim chi. But unlike the cabbage dish, where the tastes can be quite sharp, here they were nicely balanced by the softer tones of the egg and dough.
As is fairly standard for Korean food, the main dishes came with a staggering array of side dishes that crowded over the table. All of these tasted very fresh and made a nice compliment to the main items. There were fairly standard things like bean sprouts and the spicy pickled cabbage of kim chi, along with some more exotic items like a chestnut jelly that had a cool and savoury flavour.
Based on the excellent bibimbap and barbecued pork ribs, I would definitely recommend visiting Chung Gye Chon for authentic and well cooked Korean food. It is a good, and probably slightly cheaper, alternative to a trip to Sorabol or one of the other better known Korean restaurants scattered across Hong Kong.
Shop A and B, 1J Kimberly Street, Tsim Sha Tsui
+8542 2367 8895