Seoul food this might be, but soul food this was not
The homogeneity of Mumbai’s culinary scene can sometimes induce a sense of ennui. The meats can grow to be fairly bog standard, as can the cuts, and the only variation from one place to the next are the sauces and vegetables that go into its preparation. Where oh where can one go to satisfy one’s cravings for all things meaty?
And so it was that on one very rainy Saturday afternoon, a slice of us Gobblegangers met up and huddled around the Korean barbeque table at Heng Bok. As dear leader would say, there is no Korea like best Korea and on the day, we were hoping to be blown away by the power of proteins.
The menu here has clearly been crafted for those with little or no prior knowledge of Korean cuisine, such as yours truly. The menu offered up pithy one-liners and photos of all the dishes on the menu, and the only thing that disappointed me was that it wasn’t a pop-up book. I half expected it to be so, but I was wrong. We oohed, aahed, hemmed and hawed our way through the menu as we took our time to decide what we wanted on the day, and there were several good reasons for us to linger longer over the menu. With several steaming hot pots, glistening pork appetisers, slices of barbequed meat, sushi and much more on the menu, Heng Bok could leave you in a tizzy with the choices at your disposal.
To begin proceedings, we ordered for the Prawn Tempura and some Rock Shrimp and it was a bit of a case of a job well begun being half done While the Prawns Tempura was a bit lacking in flavours and crunch, but the sheer size of the Prawns made up for it.
The Rock Shrimp too featured some crustacean friends that had been hitting the gym and while this was a much better dish then the Tempura, it was oddly slathered in mayo. It not only made the dish substantially messier, but also drowned out the flavours of the prawn itself and any accompanying spices. A better idea would have been to put it as a side.
The Haemul Pajeon we were served was supposed to have been a seafood pancake, but I strongly believe someone somewhere cocked things up and it was served as a purely vegetarian preparation. How else can one describe its flavour palette and the almost total lack of seafood? A vegetarian omelette more than a pancake, it was a bit of a oddity and even likened to a Besan Chilla, and you know things are bad when that comparison is not too far off the truth. I’d give this a skip any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
What followed was a revolving door of disappointments. The Grilled Salmon was tougher than Hulk at the height of Hulkamania, and when we pointed out how it was drier than British humour and its innards were devoid of anything resembling tender moistness. When we remonstrated with the staff, another Grilled Salmon was brought out, this time a little undercooked as asked, but it lacked any character whatsoever and was as bland and characterless as the venerable Dr. Manmohan Singh.
The Pork Belly BBQ was brought to us, and we couldn’t wait to dig into this baby. The cuts looked succulent and the pieces of Mushroom on the side were fairly inviting then.
That was as good as it good, because from that point on it went into freefall. The meat, once done, was way too chewy to be enjoyable and it was only after remonstrating twice with the staff did we get a replacement for it because “this is how it is”. All that we enjoyed were the (only ever so slightly) Magic Mushrooms.
The Dolshot Bibimbap and Korean Fried Rice too were disappointments, with the former a mish-mash of flavours that would have been better off left in the bowl and the latter too dry to be enjoyable in the slightest.
With this, we were served 4 disappointments in a row and we just couldn’t wait to find one tiny sliver of hope in the midst of the darkness before us.
In the land of the one-eyed man, the blind man presides over all, and while the Beef Bulgogi might have been bang average on other days it was a relief on the day. Sweetish with a hint of soy, the marinated meat was nice and enjoyable but not something you’d write home about.
The Japanese style Ginger Pork was similar in terms of flavour profile with its sweetness and soy levels being much the same. It was mildly spiced, but still not a big win for any of us and by this time we had had enough in more ways than one. We could have no more of this mediocrity, be it in the food or the service, such as asking repeatedly for glasses of water and changes of plates only to be ignored. We moved on to the desserts only because we needed to end things on a sweet note, lest we leave with a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.
As my hair starts to get flecked with more grey and my head starts to get filled with more sense, I find myself warming up to healthy alternatives like Salads, Green Tea and the like. So who am I to say no to some Green Tea Ice Cream with fruits and shaved ice? I think it’s only fair, in the name of science, that I had as much of the Green Tea Ice Cream while leaving the fruits and shaved ice to everyone else.
Clearly, I wasn’t the only person to have the same thoughts and soon enough we were left staring at a bowl of fruits and ice where once Green Tea Ice Cream existed. We laid waste to it, and soon the emperor was without its clothes, so it was only fair that we ordered for another bowlful of the stuff with two scoops. Rich, creamy and delicate, it was a wonderful way to end the meal and while the mains were a wash-out, much like the weekend, this dessert was not.
Ironically, Heng Bok translates to ‘Happiness’ in Korean, but on the day we found none of it. The mains were almost universally disastrous, the service was apathetic in places, the starters were a bit hit and miss and the only redemption was the sweet note we ended up on. Even so, Heng Bok was very disappointing on the day, and much as we sought to fall in love with it, it just simply gave us little to no reason to do so. Maybe we caught it on an off day, maybe we didn’t. But what I do know is that I didn’t find the haven for meat lovers I was promised, and that left me a bit cold on the place. Your mileage may vary, but I wouldn’t bank on it.