Baekdu Korean Restaurant (Elementary A), 77 Shudehill (corner with Hanover St), Manchester, M4 4AN, Tel: 0161 834 2227 GEM ALERT!
I’ve been going to stay with my old buddy Luke in Manchester for over twenty years now. Our shared love of good food has meant that eating well is always top of our agenda when we get together. His flat is in the Northern Quarter, a cool counter-culture area that’s slowly being reborn out of the textile trade twilight zone to the east of the city centre. It’s a great place to live with lots of little boutiques, bars and record shops on the doorstep. Strangely though the restaurant scene here has always been lacking. Sure there are some great curry cafes, like Al Faisal and Yadgar on Thomas St where you can get a good lunch for next to nothing, but there has never been anywhere to get cheap quality food in the evenings. Until now that is.
Baekdu is located on the edge of the Northern Quarter, in an unattractive spot on Shudehill. It’s completely authentic serving classic Korean dishes to a predominantly Oriental clientele. The interior is basic with modern cafe bar furniture and bleak white walls, which make it a little too bright to be truly relaxing, but forget that, it’s the food that you’re here for.
The national dish is Kimchi, fermented Chinese (napa) cabbage with gochujang, which is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can see huge earthenware pots on very balcony in Korea which contain a year’s supply of fermenting cabbage for the family. Done well, it can be really delicious and the version at Baekdu is no exception (A).
Another distinctive Korean dish is Bulgogi (“fire meat”), usually wafer-thin sirloin marinated in soya sauce, sesame oil, sugar and garlic which is then grilled on an open flame. In more upmarket Korean BBQ restaurants the customers grill the meat themselves on small grills built into the tables, or even on hot stones, but here it is pan-fried. We had Dwaeji Bulgogi, a version made with pork, onions, peppers and chilli paste which was pretty good (B).
Also very famous is Bibimbap, literally meaning “mixed meal” which in its most basic form is simply a big bowl of warm rice topped with chilli paste and Namul, various small portions of shredded vegetables, some of which can be quite exotic (Bell flower roots and fern shoots anyone?) but not here as it would add too much to the expense. The version we had was Dolsot Bibimbap (B+) which consists of fried beef and a basic namul of mushroom, carrot, spinach, together with a raw egg which is stirred together will dollops of chilli paste. It’s served in a hot stone bowl coated with sesame oil which is so hot that it cooks the rice and egg forming a delicious crust is on the sides of the bowl (B+).
Some of our favourite dishes were the vegetarian ones; such is Sigumchi Namal, spinach blanched and seasoned with garlic, soy, sesame oil, sesame seeds and sugar (A) and Oi Muchin, cucumber salad, seasoned with garlic, spring onions, sesame seeds and chilli paste (A).
Gal Bi are delicious barbecued spare ribs that have been marinated in rice wine, soy, sugar and garlic (A).
Also the Haemul Pajeon seafood pancake (made with squid and spring onion) is wonderfully crunchy and tasty (A).
The only let down is the Hite beer (C-), which should be spelt with an S at the beginning, but despite that this place is a real find for me. When I lived in Japan, Korean food was a welcome alternative to the delicious but rather bland local fare, kind of like the role curry plays in the UK. Until now I had to go to London to get my fix (in particular Kimchee in Golders Green) but now it’s just a short drive over the Pennines, a sign the world is getting smaller. A real gem, don’t miss if you’re in the area.
With thanks to Luke Una