With close to 800 restaurants in Richmond, it can be challenging to stand out. It’s hard to carve out a niche all your own that isn’t so radically different as to scare away all your potential customers, but also one that isn’t so commonplace as to simply blend in with the rest of the crowd either.
So, what can you do with a treasured classic like Korean BBQ to deliver something new and innovative to the bustling Richmond foodie scene?
To answer this question, we visited the relatively new Dolpan Seoul BBQ (#1123 – 3779 Sexsmith Road), located inside the same Continental Shopping Centre as Dinesty Dumpling House, Pot Belly Mini Hotpot, and Old Xian’s Food.
At the most fundamental level, Dolpan Seoul delivers a traditional Korean BBQ experience. It doesn’t take long for you to realize, though, that this isn’t your traditional Korean BBQ restaurant. There’s a fresh modernity about it, like how you can take the tops off the barrel-shaped stools to store your belongings.
Also unlike many other Korean BBQ restaurants, the BBQ grill is not built into the table at Dolpan. Instead, there’s a portable burner, topped with a uniquely angular grilling surface. The geometry is such that you get a flat grilling surface with triangular sides so the food is easy to access, and a handy drip tray off the end.
While there are other items on the menu, like the potato pancake and the bulgogi japchae, the star of the show here is the Dolpan BBQ Grill Set, which comes with “an assortment of banchan, egg volcano and soybean soup.” You won’t want to come here solo as you will need to order a minimum of two servings, though you can mix and match the meat to your preference.
The main thing the grill set does not include is rice, which is $1.50 a bowl. And while there does not appear to be a charge for extra banchan, additional egg volcano or soybean soup is $3.00 each.
Most Korean restaurants will supply you with an assortment of small appetizer dishes, called banchan. Dolpan Seoul is no exception. Several common mainstays are included, like soya sprouts and kimchi, as well as some pickled spicy onion and a tiny dish of japchae noodles. I liked the thinly sliced pickled daikon, offering a nice textural contrast to everything else on the table.
The “egg volcano” is the most unique accompaniment to the grill set. Think of it like an egg souffle. It arrives piping hot, so you may want to wait a few moments before diving in. The sesame seed and chopped bell pepper garnish on top doesn’t do much to add to the flavour, but the egg itself is wonderfully light and fluffy.
The grill set also comes with a bowl of soybean soup, which is somewhat similar to a Japanese miso soup. This is not the same as the spicy sundubu jiigae, or Korean spicy soft tofu stew, that you may find at some soft tofu hot pot restaurants. It’s not spicy at all, but you do get a few pieces of tofu in there.
For our meat, we selected one portion of Honeycomb Samgyeopsal (Pork Belly) for $19.95 and one portion of Thinly Sliced Beef (Deckle Point) for $24.95. Those prices are per portion and, as mentioned, there is a minimum order of two portions if you would like to enjoy the BBQ grill. The pork belly arrived as two extra thick slices, whereas the beef came in very thin slices, similar to what you’d might find at a hot pot restaurant.
Whereas you are left to cook your own food at Sura Korean BBQ in Aberdeen Centre, the staff at Dolpan Seoul actually come around to each table to monitor and cook for the food for you. I’ve been told that both dynamics are common in Korea, so it’s not that one is any more traditional than the other.
In addition to the meat, which is placed on the grill after it gets to temperature, the staff also season the grill with a single slice of onion, as well as two brown mushroom caps and some enoki mushroom. To help minimize the inevitable splatter of pork fat, they also place a sheet of parchment paper over the grilling meat. It may not block everything, but it certainly is an appreciated touch.
After grilling the pork belly to a nice sear on both sides, it is then cut up with a pair of scissors and pushed over to one side of the grill. The staff told us that pork belly is one of the most common and most popular meats for Korean BBQ in Seoul – and for good reason. This version arrived wonderfully crisp on the outside and succulent on the inside.
Pork belly may not necessarily be the best option for diners who are being extra mindful about their fat intake, but it is a deliciously savory treat for everyone else. This is also the first time that I’ve had enoki mushrooms grilled in pork fat, which gave the mushrooms an entirely different kind of crisp, almost chewy consistency.
Also included with the BBQ grill set is some green leaf lettuce. This is one of the best ways to enjoy Korean BBQ, using the leaves to create your own custom two-bite lettuce wrap. It’s advisable not to over-stuff your lettuce unless you want to end up with a dripping mess.
The goal is to finish your lettuce wrap in about two bites. I find that using the whole leaf is far too much for that, so it’s a good idea to rip the leaf in half lengthwise to create two wraps instead. The version shown here includes some pork belly, enoki mushrooms, soya sprouts and kimchi. Condiments are also available to kick the flavour up another notch.
Even if you’re not especially familiar with different cuts of beef, you likely recognize terms like eye round steak or top sirloin. Deckle point (or deckle of beef) isn’t quite as well known; rib eye steak consists of the rib and the cap, the latter of which is also known as the deckle. Sometimes also called the second cut of brisket, deckle contains the fat and muscle that attaches the flat to the rib cage on the cow.
Technicalities aside, deckle can be a tremendously flavourful and well-marbled cut of meat, but the connective tissue can make it tough if it is overcooked or served in too large a portion. That’s why it is so thinly sliced here. It picks up a nice char from the grill and cooks very quickly.
On some level, Dolpan Seoul is like every other Korean BBQ restaurant. On another level, it’s not at all like any other Korean BBQ restaurant. The unique grilling surface is certainly a departure from the norm and the egg volcano is hardly commonplace. Service is on point with staff coming by to check on your grill on a very frequent basis.
Perhaps the biggest challenge you’ll encounter is getting a seat. It’s definitely a good idea to get a reservation if you can (they accept reservations for three or more people), but you’ll certainly be in for a treat when you do sit down for a meal.
The total bill, after taxes and gratuity, came to just over $50 for two adults and a toddler.