Korean Barbecue is one of my family’s favourite foods so suffice it to say we’ve eaten our fair share. Most of our local Korean BBQ meals were had at Korean-owned restaurants like Korean Village in Ermita, so in terms of authenticity I don’t think there’s much question. But then I get a taste of Namoo House’s Premium offerings, and suddenly the game has changed.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the media preview for Namoo House in Uptown Parade BGC. This is the first foray outside South Korea for the Maple Tree chain, and while I wasn’t able to eat in any of their restaurants during my last visit to Seoul, I have heard about them. Due to trademark reasons, they couldn’t use the same name with their newly opened branch here. Instead, they opted to call it ‘namoo 나무’, which is Korean for tree.
The original Maple Tree House opened in Samchong-dong, Seoul last 2005, and thanks to its warm reception among Koreans and tourists alike, three other branches have popped up all over Seoul since then. This branch in BGC is actually the fifth branch of the Maple Tree House chain, and its first international franchise.
The Maple Tree House restaurants were founded by Canadian-Koreans Jun Park and Paul Hong, and Mr. Park himself was present to greet our group of foodies and talk us through each and every dish. He went from table to table, describing the differences between their premium branding versus other regular Korean BBQ places. He gave us tips on how to enjoy each type of meat to their fullest too!
When I hear the word ‘premium‘, the immediate thought that comes to my mind is ‘high quality‘. To some people though it might mean ‘expensive‘ or something akin to a suit-and-tie affair, but Mr. Park reiterated that this is a casual restaurant with a friendly vibe. (The man’s pretty friendly himself so I think everybody fed off his energy!)
Keeping true to the unique concept of the original Maple Tree House restaurants, the BGC branch also boasts a beautiful contemporary-industrial interior. Natural elements such as wood, stone, and copper make their presence felt in the decor and cutlery, alongside modern materials such as glass and steel. It’s fun how you can choose to sit at the area that feels more one with nature versus the more modernistic side!
The soju-bottle stacks (which my OC side approves of!) and the tall Korean birch trees are the signature elements you will see in Maple Tree House restaurants in Seoul. They did a great job of bringing it here! The hanging copper exhausts really add a decidedly steampunk vibe, kind of like pipes.
The first thing you have to understand about Namoo House is that they are unabashedly a Korean BBQ place. They don’t try to be your one-stop shop for every Korean dish craving. Instead, they have a commitment to a special and specific type of offering: Premium Korean Barbecue. And after the meal we had, I’m inclined to say they do it well!
Following the Korean tradition of offering banchan 반찬 at the start of every meal, Namoo House offers their own unlimited set of side dishes which include marinated king oyster mushrooms (yum!!), seasoned spinach, kimchi, and a tasty black sesame salad.
There’s also some lettuce and perilla leaves, along with marinated green onions, sliced garlic, and ssamjang, for those who enjoy a good Korean BBQ veggie wrap. I can’t get enough of these things.
But if you’re more into the rice scene, of course, Namoo House will gladly serve you with a piping hot bowl of their Japgokbap (잡곡밥) 🌟, essentially a multigrain rice dish with brown rice and purple sticky rice. I really like the texture of this rice, and I feel like it’s a dangerous thing for rice-lovers to have alongside your Korean BBQ. You will end up eating a lot! (I’m glad I prefer the veggie wraps. :D)
Now before we move on to the meat, I wanted to talk about the dipping sauce. In typical Korean fashion, Namoo House serve their Korean BBQ with a rock salt-sesame oil dipping sauce, but here they take it a step further by roasting their salt a little bit first to remove that overly strong salty hit. There’s a good bit of sesame seeds in there too for added scent and flavour. Just a light touch of the dipping sauce is all you need to level up your Korean BBQ experience!
Namoo House is a full-service restaurant, which means someone will be doing the cooking for you at all times. So you can just sit back and relax while a friendly staff member prepares your food. (Shout out to Lovely, who was our server for the day!) The whole barbecue process is not smoky thanks to those extendable exhausts, so the only smoky thing you’ll be having here is the charcoal-grilled meat!
Aged USDA Prime Striploin (Php 795 per 150 grams) 🌟
Namoo House prides itself in its premium beef cuts, which have been aged perfectly to maximize flavour and ensure tenderness and juiciness in each bite. The minimum ageing time is 2 weeks, so you can imagine how much flavour develops in the meat as it sits in optimal chilling conditions for that amount of time! Just take a look at the marbling on that beef!
The best way to eat this is medium well, but the server will ask you what degree of doneness you prefer. We decided on medium-rare. I had a piece of the striploin without anything on it just to appreciate how much flavour it had on its own. (And the next piece had a touch of salty sesame dip.) Oh boy! Juicy, tender, so full of flavour it makes your mouth water in anticipation of your next piece immediately after you swallow.
Since I am addicted to veggie-wrapped Korean BBQ, I had my fair share as the meal progressed. Just put some garlic, green onions, a piece of meat, (some rice and kimchi, if you want) and then the ssamjang onto the center of the lettuce or perilla leaf. Wrap the leaf all around the filling into a little package, as small as you can, then stuff the whole thing in your mouth.
The Koreans always eat these in a single big bite, which is something I practice myself. So if you want to eat like a Korean, you know what to do! Ugh, I really want some of this right now.
Kurobata Pork Belly (Php 595 per 150 grams)
Because Namoo House like to do things at a higher level, even their samgyeopsal (pork belly) isn’t an ordinary affair. They serve the Kurobata pork belly, which is highly regarded as one of the highest-quality pork there is. This black pork is imported directly from Japan.
It’s easy to tell that there was deliberate thought and care put into perfecting the art of the Korean BBQ, because Namoo House actually uses different grills depending on the meat being cooked. If you’ll notice, the grill used here is not the same as the previous one for the beef. Since pork has more drippings compared to beef, this grill has smaller openings and a slanted grooved surface to help catch the oil more effectively. It also prevents the oil from dripping into the flames.
Pork should be cooked all the way through, and as always, you can eat this with rice or inside a lettuce wrap. Or you know, add rice to your lettuce wrap along with the meat! Put in some grilled kimchi while you’re at it. The Kurobata pork belly is nice and juicy, but to be honest, the striploin is hard to top!
Marinated Boneless Short Ribs (Php 750 per 150 grams) 🌟
The last meat dish we were served is this marinated one– also the most flavourful one! As such it had to be served after the two non-marinated meats. The special house fruit marinade composed of pineapple and pear (and other secret ingredients) adds a glorious sweet punch to the short ribs, and the acids from the fruits help tenderize the meat too.
Our server suggested that this should be eaten with a slice of pineapple, so she grilled the pineapple briefly for us as well to give it a nice smoky flavour.
The pineapple and short ribs really complement each other, and the juiciness the meat gives off is nice and sweet. Mr. Jun Park predicts that this will probably be the most popular choice in the Philippines because Filipinos really like sweet and flavourful things. I would have to agree with his analysis, because I think many people will surely enjoy the wave of flavours this juicy marinated short ribs carry.
These short ribs are something that would pair better with rice rather than as a wrap, in my opinion.
Stone Bowl Bibimbap (Php 395)
Probably the prettiest looking Bibimbap bowl I have ever seen! Topped with assorted veggies and meat with a layer of rice underneath, bibimbap placed in a stone bowl typically stay warm for a longer time. The portion of the rice that touches the bowl become crisp and toasted, and that’s about my favourite part so I like to let the bibimbap sit in the bowl as long as possible to let it develop that.
This is also the first bibimbap I’ve ever eaten with fish roe on top. You have the option to put either soy sauce or the gochujang-based bibimbap sauce to season this dish up. I always go for the red stuff because I like it spicy. For the Namoo House version, they use their japgokbap (mixed grain rice) in place of plain white rice.
While the flavour is spot on for a classic bibimbap taste, I think I enjoy bibimbap more with white rice. Since the multi grain rice is a bit mushier, it doesn’t develop that toasted rice texture that I like in my bibimbap.
Bean Paste Stew (Php 195 Small / Php 350 Large) 🌟
The doenjang jjigae 된장 찌개 is a fermented bean stew with assorted veggies, typically served with bibimbap. Koreans like to eat them together because the stew does a great job of boosting the flavours of the bibimbap. I thought this was an absolutely delicious bean paste stew, but then again, I enjoy a vast majority of Korean stews because they do a good job of warming you down to your soul!
Special Jumbo Beef Rib Stew (Php 475) 🌟
A large beef back rib is boiled for hours on end, and the result is an excellently soft meat but an even more excellent-tasting broth. In Korean, this dish is called the galbitang 갈비탕, and it is served with a soy-based dipping sauce. Your server will help you cut the meat off the bone, and you will see that it literally just falls off without a lot of prodding.
The broth in this dish is particularly flavourful. It’s simply amazing how they managed to capture the taste of the beef so fully into the broth!
I should mention that Namoo House also offers special lunch sets to those working in the area, and these lunch sets can usually be shared between two people. You can choose from certain types of meat only– mostly bulgogi, as well as the subtly marinated short-plate brisket slices woo samgyup 우삼겹 (below). We did not get to taste this one unfortunately, but it does look yummy.
If you look solely at the price aspect of the meat dishes, it might feel a little expensive at a glance. However in my experience, there’s never been good meat that did not come with a higher price. For the premium quality of meat you get at Namoo House, I do think you get your money’s worth.
House Blend Iced Tea (Php 100)
When you’re eating a lot of savoury dishes, it’s nice to have a tall glass of cold iced tea to wash it all down. I personally drank only hot tea during this luncheon, but my brother gave the house iced tea a go.
Soju (Php 230)
Any Korean would tell you that soju makes a great companion to Korean BBQ. I started appreciating soju only recently when I visited Seoul. At first I was drinking it to ward off the cold weather, but then I started genuinely enjoying it.
When you open up a bottle of soju, the first thing you have to do is pour some into your companion’s shot glass before allowing them to pour some into yours. It’s simple manners, and that’s how the Koreans are always doing it on TV. 😀
Finally, the meal is ended with a complimentary cup of Plum Tea that helps aid in digestion. It’s also a wonderful last sweet note to a sumptuous meal! This drink is so good I would pay good money for it. I need more than this teeny cup!
The dishes I put stars on are my recommended ones, but by far my favourite among the grilled meats is the Prime Striploin. The juicy flavour of that beef is simply unadulterated and divine! Most people will probably go for the marinated short ribs, but I really appreciated the pure taste of the beef more.
Another highly recommended dish you should not miss is the Special Jumbo Beef Rib Soup. I don’t think I have ever eaten a beef-based soup that is as rich and flavourful as that one. Just thinking about it fills me with a desire to go back to Namoo House, only this time I have to try the other different dishes on the menu, especially my favourite bibim naengmyun!
This place isn’t cheap by any means. Just the location is enough of an indication! However in my opinion, the restaurant manages to hit value for money right on the head. The premium quality of their meat is definitely a very real and very obvious thing the moment you take your first bite. Yes, you can literally taste the difference! Not only K-food lovers will enjoy dining at Namoo House; anybody who likes some good meat should give this place a go!
Namoo House Premium Korean Barbecue
Full disclosure: I was invited to a media preview at Namoo House, but all opinions stated above are 100% mine alone.