The Korean wave is not limited to just pop music. The country’s food, too, is very popular here, with more and more eateries opening.

New Korean restaurant Bornga has barely opened at The Star Vista for a month and it was already packed when I was there last Monday night.

It is the first outlet here of a well-known chain from South Korea started by Jong Won Paik, a celebrity chef from Seoul, in 1992. But since he is not exactly a household name here, I suspect the crowd was there more for the food than for him.

And the food was certainly worth a trip to the new mall. The menu, while not big, offers good-value items for barbecue, as well as classic Korean dishes such as bibimbap and kimchi stew.

Bornga Korean grillIt also helps that prices are within comfortable reach of middle-income diners. Servings big enough to be shared among three or four people are priced below $20, while the most expensive item, beef ribs for barbecuing, costs $45.

To be honest, the quality of the beef here is not as good as what you get in South Korea. But Korean beef, which is good and affordable, is not allowed to be imported here, so Australian and American beef take its place.

Still, for the price you pay, the meat is more than decent.

The ribs are certainly good and the marinade very tasty but the dish to order is the restaurant’s speciality, woo samgyup ($22, on the left). This is thinly sliced beef brisket but unlike normal Korean bulgogi, the meat is not marinated for hours.

Instead, a specially formulated light dressing is added to the meat only just before serving.

This allows you to better taste the flavour of the beef. Also, the meat’s colour stays naturally light and those trying the dish for the first time may well mistake it for pork belly because of the way it looks.

The streaks of fat are what make this so delicious. They shrivel up on the sizzling barbecue grill, releasing the oils to flavour the meat. You can eat the cooked meat as it is or roll some thin strips of leeks with it and dip it in an accompanying thick, spicy sauce.

Another meat to order for the grill is the ggot sal ($38), a thicker cut of unmarinated beef. This is evenly marbled and goes well with a dip of sesame oil flavoured with salt and pepper.

Or wrap the cooked meat with some of the lettuce leaves that come free with any barbecue order, a clove of garlic and some spicy sauce – you get more complex flavours and a healthier meal.

Compared to the beef, the samgyupsal or grilled pork belly ($18) is rather characterless because of its mild flavour. It is also tougher. So, I’d recommend you spend the money on another order of beef instead. Or, if you crave variety, get one of the cooked dishes.

The chadol duenjang jigae ($16) is a good filler to continue your meal of beef. It is a stew of sliced beef, vegetables and beancurd flavoured with soybean paste.

You spoon it over an accompanying bowl of rice and greens and mix everything up to create a sort of bibimbap. For some spice, add a dash of red pepper paste as well.

Another satisfying dish is kimchi jigae ($15), a stew made with the popular Korean preserved cabbage, beancurd and a piece of meaty pork rib. It is spicy, sour and salty and perfect for rainy weather.

On a hot day, however, order the bom-ga naeng mun ($15). The buckwheat noodles are served in an icy broth with shredded vegetables and pear, as well as a hard-boiled egg.

It may sound strange but tastes refreshingly good once you wrap your mind around the idea of cold noodles.

I find it easier to get used to than the bibim naeng myun ($15), which is also chilled but comes in a sweet and spicy paste instead of soup. It’s the sweetness, not the temperature, that turns me off.

Other dishes I am not partial to include the jap chae ($23), a stir-fried dish of pork and glass noodles, which lacks the aroma of sesame oil I’ve come to associate with this dish.

The haemul pajeon ($22), a pancake made with scallions and seafood, is disappointingly bland other than the seafood bits.

The best item is left till the end. And even better, it is free. It is the chilled omija tea that is served to all diners after the meal.

Made from dried omija fruit, the drink is sweet, sour, spicy, savoury and bitter all at once and leaves a very pleasant citrusy aftertaste.

SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.


BORNGA

#02-24, The Star Vista, 1 Vista Exchange Green, tel: 6694-4696

Bornga Korean grillOpen: 11.30am to 10pm daily

Food: *** 1/2

Service: ****

Ambience: ** 1/2

Price: Budget from $30 a person

MUST TRY
Chadol duenjang jigae ($16)

Perfect for rainy days, this stew is so satisfying stirred into a bowl of rice and vegetables. Add some red pepper paste for kick.

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on December 9, 2012. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.