Review: Korean-style grilled lamb in Itaewon
Any meat lover who’s spent time in Korea knows that people here are not at all fond of lamb. It’s uncommon here, not to be found in any supermarkets; Koreans typically complain of the smell, which they find offputting. Generally speaking, the only places that serve lamb are foreign restaurants – Indian, Pakistani and Middle Eastern restaurants in Itaewon, buffets at top-end hotels, and some quirky Chinese eateries dotted around Seoul where you can get terrific little skewers of lamb with a tangy spice rub.
But it turns out that’s not quite all. There are some places where you can get lamb done Korean-style, complete with all the side dishes you’d expect from any regular BBQ place. Here’s one, and it’s right in the heart of Itaewon.
At first glance, it’s just another Korean gogijip (meat restaurant), and indeed you can dine on the regular pork and beef favourites to your heart’s content. But this restaurant also, uniquely, serves lamb. And it’s pretty good, too.
The chops are delivered raw on a tray, and you grill them yourselves. Once they’ve attained a certain level of doneness, you cut them up with scissors just as you would a slab of samgyeopsal, and eat with garlic, ssamjang, lettuce and kimchi, not to mention copious soju. Same as usual, only different. A slightly disconcerting experience, but a tasty one! Before our visit, we worried that trying such an unusual meat in Korea, it might turn out to be of dodgy quality, but not at all; we found it to be tasty and succulent. Gnawing on the leftover bones was, for me, a deeply satisfying experience.
That said, there are two downsides to this spin on regular Korean BBQ which are worth pointing out. The first is that giving the lamb chops the local treatment actually had the effect of masking the taste. With a slice of garlic and a large dollop of ssamjang, you could easily have been eating beef. This might persuade your Korean friends to give lamb a try, but coming from a country where good quality lamb is usually presented very simply so as to really bring out the flavour, it seemed a bit of a shame.
Particularly given the second issue with this restaurant: the price. A 180g portion of lamb costs 22,000 won, and given that a fair amount of that is bone, it really is not good value for money. The two portions we initially ordered added up to just four lamb chops and a cool 44,000 won. Overall, between five people eating and drinking fairly moderately, our bill came to 30,000 a head pretty quickly, and could easily have been higher. The price is understandable, given that the meat is imported (the lamb is from Australia); but if you’re on a budget, or a big eater, this may not be the place for you.
Overall, we had a great time and a very good meal. I recommend it to anyone, and I’ll definitely go back to satisfy my lamb craving, but it won’t be a monthly pilgrimage for me. Not when there are thousands of meat places serving fantastic food for a lot less.
- Category: Meat
- What to ask for: “Yang-galbi” (양갈비) – lamb chops.
- Price: $$$$
- Subway: Itaewon exit 4
- Directions: Come out of Itaewon station exit 4, and head down the road to Taco Bell. Immediately after passing Taco Bell, turn left into the alleyway which is filled with little shops and restaurants. The lamb place is about 50 yards on your left, with a big red and yellow sign outside (see above) advertising “Mutton Lamb”.