“Once upon a time there was a South Korean emperor who received threats in his life. To quell his worries, his court ordered the Kingdom's kitchen to replace all the utensils, pots, and pans with titanium cookware. By using such a reactive metal, he would know if his food has been poisoned once his spoon changes its color... This is why we use titanium utensils here in Bulgogi Brothers. That way, you'll know if your food is spoiled,” Yani Albiento, Director for Operations, told me when I asked why they employed such classy looking chopsticks. “Wow,” was all I, who expected a somewhat superficial answer (e.g.“para sosyal...”), mustered to reply.
Now I don't know how much of this story is true (or if it is at all since it does sound like folklore) but this anecdote just exemplifies my point that Bulgogi Brothers, a restaurant that uses titanium chopsticks, spoons, and (some of the) serving plates, pays great attention to the littlest of details. With such verve in pleasing its customers-- even in the most negligible aspects such as its utensils, it's pretty hard not to like this newcomer.
An original concept from Seoul, Korea, Bulgogi Brothers was founded by Korean cuisine experts and an ex-presidential chef. This casual style restaurant specializing in Korean BBQ grew to 28 branches all over Seoul in a short span of time. Just last week, it opened its first international branch at the third floor of Greenbelt 5 in Makati. Finally, Manila can now enjoy “Korea's Best.”
Now, how is Bulgogi Brothers different from the x-number of Korean restaurants in the country? Let me count the ways:
Classy ambiance. A step into Bulgogi Brothers will subject you to the same perky “Annyeong-haseyo!” greeting as in any Korean joint in Manila but will not reveal a fluorescent-lit, smoky, and noisy dining space. Surrounded in floor to ceiling glass walls, the 120 seater place boasts of classy brown-hued interiors, leather cushioned chairs, sleek wine racks, and flat screen TVs. It's quite a small block to work with but the designers managed to make it look comfortable even on a full house.
Music here is a low mix of ambient restaurant sounds and K-Pop tunes that aren't in sync with the projected K-Pop MTV on the screens. Albeit a cheesy choice, the use of K-Pop hits brings cheer to the overall mood of the place.
Another good thing to note is that the exhaust system of Bulgogi Brothers is excellent. It is well-camouflaged up there in the ceiling but it does its job pretty well. Don't worry about smelling like a walking hot pot after dining in here.
Informative menu. The leather bound food list doesn't alienate Korean cuisine newbies. Pictures and translations are beside the dishes' names. Don't worry about the pictures looking “too good” in the menu. The actual dishes are bigger and better; take for instance this comparison of the Dubu Steak (6pcs P245; 8pcs P395) in the menu and on the plate.
Now that's a whole new (and positive) spin to the “Truth in Advertising” issue, don't you think?
Order-all-you-can complimentary food and house tea. It is typical for any authentic Korean restaurant to have small platters of appetizers served without charge per table. But it's only here at Bulgogi Brothers that I encountered bottomless servings of kimchi, spinach salad and kangkong salad.
And in fairness, the kimchi and the kangkong salad are of great quality. Bulgogi Brothers' kimchi isn't as pungent smelling and tasting as its bottled variety available elsewhere. The cabbage crunchiness is noisy and evident in every bite. It's also not keen on numbing your tongue. Moderately spicy, the kimchi's other flavors are still discernible. The same could be said about the tangy-sweet kangkong salad-- of which, I had around five servings of.
The free-flowing Corn Tea, which tastes just like the roasted corn in cobs sold on the streets, was a pleasant company throughout my meal. With a cup always filled to the brim beside my plate, a separate order of drink wasn't anymore necessary.
Note: Of course you are expected to order at least one Bulgogi dish to avail of this serve all-you-can side dishes. Don't expect them to serve you unlimited kimichis if you only ordered, say, a cup of plain rice.
Other complimentary starters
A personal cook. Bulgogi Brothers understands that not everybody who dines in BBQ, shabu-shabu, and hot pot style restaurants can cook (or can be bothered to cook). In Bulgogi Brothers, their servers, trained by a team of Koreans from the main branch, will do the cooking for you. This prevents the diners from eating under-cooked or overcooked meals.
Big portions. A look at the menu will show you that dishes here are on the pricey side but don't let the numbers dishearten you. The portions of most of the dishes (except for the tiny cup of plain rice sold at P75) are good to be shared by 2 to 3 persons.
The Sogogi Nangchae (P350), or simply grilled beef with fresh salad, is large enough to be shared by four people as an appetizer. The bounteous servings of sweet beef strips (tender and flavorful to the last strand!), freshest tomatoes, and crisp veggies of this salad necessitated a unanimous praise from me and my fellow diners.
Well-mastered beef dishes. Bulgogi Brothers prides itself in its array of beef-centered dishes. Yani told me that they use Wagyu beef in the resto. Although the tenderness of all the meat pieces is unquestionable, I wonder how they manage to keep the prices at a minimum if they're really using Wagyu.
Un-yang Style Bulgogi
Anyway, our table's beef dishes-- Galbi Jjim (regular P650), Un-yang Style Bulgogi (6 pcs P595), and Gwangyang Style Bulgogi (P595) served one after the other, all showed masterful marination and cooking. The Galbi Jjim, an extra sweet short ribs slathered in thick sauce, was in its most tender form when it landed the table. Poke a cube slowly with a fork and the piece will effortlessly separate for you. Hours of slow-braising must have done it.
Un-yang Style Bulgogi
The Un-yang Style Bulgogi-- notable for the heart shaped patties, was a different take (at least for me) on the usual bulgogi strips served in the metro. When cooked until 'Medium-well', the browned patties will delight you with its outright juiciness. You'll no longer need to put on it the provided sauces.
Gwangyang Style Bulgogi
The same goes for the Gwangyang (which I like better). Thin and kinky, 200 grams of this will whet the appetite of at least two hungry people.
Korean ice cream. The main branch doesn't offer these Popsicles in colorful wrappers but because they understand how a meal for a typical Pinoy must end sweet, they thought of selling Korean ice creams. Ain't that sweet (pun intended)?
Strict quality control. All the dishes we devoured had taste profiles that were closely similar to one another. The dishes were different mixes of salty, sweet, and sour. Cooking a menu with such monochromatic flavors can be tricky. To solve this dilemma, Bulgogi Brothers issued hi-tech quality control gadgets that would test the salt and sugar levels of each dishes. “The bulgogi you had today is the same thing you'll get on your next visit,” Yani guaranteed as he demonstrated how the gadgets worked.
The titanium chopsticks, the QC gadgets, the unlimited sidings, and the handwritten thank you notes from the servers (yup, they give you one), are little things other restaurants choose to forgo. Bulgogi Brothers doesn't and it gives the impression that there's genuine concern for customer satisfaction.
I told you. It'll be hard not to like this newbie.